Blessed Benedict Daswa 30th Anniversary
His manner of life is unlike that of others and his ways are strange
Wis. 2: 15.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The reason why we listen to the Scripture Readings at the beginning of every Holy Mass is that we want to know our service of worship is going to help us to understand what God’s will is for us and how to do that will. So, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Benedict Daswa, we want God to tell us what he expects from us today, in order that we might be like Benedict Daswa.
Here are two very important questions to ask yourself:
As I listen to the readings, what do I hear God saying to me? Do I hear him explaining that what happened to Benedict Daswa must have a special meaning for me? And that what I hear today I must share with those that I live with or meet?
For instance, here in the 1st Reading, I hear God warning us that even today there are people who do not like us; indeed there are people who hate us, and hate us so much that they want to see us come to harm or even death!
Why? For the simple reason that we do not live the same way as they do; that we do not hold the same values they hold; that our ways are different, even strange to them!
In fact for them the values that we believe in and live by, are like poison. So they think they must defend themselves from us and our values even if it means killing us!
We, on the other hand, believe in values that say that every human person is called to live the life of a child of God, i.e. according to God Law and Commandment, not out of fear, but out of love, and because we want to be the way God created us to be. In other words because we want to be like God, since he created us in his own image and likeness.
In this Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, St Paul is telling those first Christians and us, how to prepare for the fight with the enemy. He tells us clearly that we will be successful only if we do things the way Jesus Christ did them; the way he showed us how to do them, and finally the way he commanded us to follow his example.
In the Gospel, St John reminds us of the words which Jesus used to tell us how to succeed in life. But he means real life, life with God, and the way God wants us to live that life.
To do this Jesus uses a very simple parable, an example or story which each of us can and must take home, reflect on it and apply to our everyday way of life.
By this story Jesus teaches us how to be just like him. In telling us this story Jesus is explaining his own life, and the reason why he came to be with us on this earth.
He says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains itself alone. But if it dies then it produces many more seeds like itself”.
This is exactly what Jesus did; he died for us; he gave up his life so that we could have life, and have it to the full.
Not so long ago there were very few people in this area who even knew about Jesus. And even fewer knew him well. Look at all these people here today. They know Jesus, they love him and that’s why they are trying to be like him.
You see when we plant a seed, it dies in the soil, but then it begins to grow and produces new seed, not just one new seed but thirty, sixty or even a hundred time more seeds.
Walking with Jesus
It is quite clear that the Scripture Readings we are using for the 30th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Benedict Daswa have been chosen for a very special reason, namely to tell us how God wants us to understand what happened to Benedict Daswa, in exactly the way that Jesus is teaching us in this Gospel passage.
So, what does Benedict Daswa’s death teaches us who are gathered here today?
First, it is true that once Benedict showed that he was not happy with the decisions taken by his community in response to the lightning strike that had damaged a number of houses. He was clearly not happy about the people’s interpretation of that lightning strike. He wasn’t happy because he knew that the community’s decision was going to bring trouble on the community.
Why did Benedict react in a different way from others in the community?
The simple answer would be to say that he reacted differently because he believed what his Catholic Faith taught him, and he was committed to acting according to that Faith!
Here are three things which made Benedict react differently from his community. As an educated man, teacher and a principal even, he knew that lightning cannot be controlled by any one human being. So no one could have sent that lightning to damage those houses.
Second, as a father and a leader man in the community, he was very concerned that if the community took the decision to consult a sangoma to “smell out” who was responsible, some innocent person, perhaps a defenceless widow, would come to harm, would even be killed.
Third, as a Christian, and especially as a Catholic, Benedict knew that it was wrong to believe in witchcraft and even worse to practise it!
Therefore he refused to pay the 5 Rands which the community meeting had decided would be contributed by every man to pay the sangoma’s fees for “sniffing out” who was responsible for sending the lightning to destroy those houses in the village.
As Reading 1 warned us, some members of the community were so angry with Benedict and what he was saying and doing, that they decided to get rid of him. Perhaps they even used the words like those in the Book of Wisdom: “his manner of life is unlike ours, his ways are strange, he is not like us, so he is bound to bring misfortune upon us”.
Clearly, they were afraid, very afraid! The main question in their minds was what were they to do?
A group of them decided to act in order to protect the community from the bad fortune that they feared would come upon them if they ignored the instructions of the sangoma.
That Day 30 years ago
What happened on that day 30 years ago?
Benedict went about his business as usual, at home, at school and even in the community. He went to town; on the way back he helped someone by delivering the groceries he had bought to his house. Then he headed home. But he never got there. A group of men from his own village ambushed him; chased and attacked him, beating him up severely, before smashing open his head and killing him.
For us followers of Jesus especially in this community, Benedict is that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died. Over the past thirty years that grain has germinated and begun to produce many fruits. Some of those fruits are here today. Indeed we who are here today are those fruits, plus many others who are not here but are praying with us.
I was reminded of those fruits last Thursday when I was part of a delegation of Catholic Bishops that met with President Ramaphosa. Before he said anything else, the President reminded us that it had been a great privilege for him to have been at the Beatification of Blessed Benedict Daswa led by Cardinal Amato, on behalf of Pope Francis. That was five years ago on the 15th September 2015.
The President reminded us that it was a great occasion not just for Catholics, but for all South Africans. You will also remember that he used what happened to Benedict Daswa to call for a real conversion (turning away) from witchcraft. He told us to seek the best education available and to defend and affirm life by always showing complete respect for life.
Jesus’ challenge to us today
I believe that today we are being challenged to go even further, that Blessed Benedict Daswa is calling us to conversion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
Only his Gospel can lead us to die to everything that is evil, everything that is sinful. That Gospel is the only thing that can change us into grains of wheat that will change our own lives, the lives of our children and all the men and women who want to be grains of wheat like Benedict. It is men and women like Benedict that we need desperately to build up the real New South Africa, the South Africa we dreamed of 25 years ago, the South Africa with a new spirit and a new life in Christ.
The truth is that we are not really learning to be like Benedict Daswa, if we do not use today to make a new start; if we do not begin to believe and live as he did, even if it means dying like him in some way!
One thing is certain, we will never build up the South Africa we all dream of, if we continue to loot and steal the resources and money needed to help care for the poor and needy.
I want to congratulate and thank all of you who are here to celebrate Blessed Benedict Daswa’s Feast; all who are doing the same in the parishes and homes around the country. You are showing that you believe in the same values as Benedict, and that like him you want to draw strength from your life with Jesus just as he did.
Remember what our Readings say: “our manner of life must be unlike that of others and our ways must be strange, because like the grain of wheat we are ready to fall into the ground and died, so that many more seeds of faith can grow up. Remember it is only by losing our life that we will have life with God our Father.
May God bless you with that special grace today!
+ Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM
Archbishop of Durban