The new offices of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) were recently blessed and officially opened. Below is Bishop Jan de Groef’s homily from the opening Mass of the Bishop’s January plenary session for 2020. In it, he reflects on how the offices must function as a heart that encourages action.
My dear brothers and sisters,
I think that we all had the same experience at one or other time when we had to meet with one or other office bearer in a government department building. You must make an appointment much in advance and always be prepared to get a cancellation even at the last minute. Arriving in the building you must present your ID document for identification. Then you must make sure which office room you are supposed to go to. It can be so frustrating at times.
But I did not have that experience here at Khanya house. You are welcomed with a smile and the persons you meet at the reception or elsewhere in the building are all too ready to show you to the right place. That is what I would call the difference between just an office and a place you could call your home.
Perhaps you are a bit surprised why I chose to keep today’s first reading from the first book of Samuel talking about the rejection of Saul as king and the choice of another shepherd king among the sons of Jesse. This house has gone through a whole process, not just of renovation but also of acquisition of ownership having to wait until the old Khanya house, which was no longer fitted for an efficient and friendly use, eventually was sold.
One could compare the old Khanya house with Saul. What should the new Khanya house be like? Jesse made his seven sons pass before Samuel but Samuel said that none of them had been chosen by the Lord. The Bishops, Sr. Hermenegild, Fr. Patrick and others involved in the sale of the old Khanya house surely remember the tedious process of getting potential buyers, even being led down by them when an agreement seemed to be in reach. Also before acquiring this house a number of options were put on the table until we all opted for this house. I am sure that the Holy Spirit was not on leave when this decision was made.
Samuel did not give up and inquired of Jesse :“Are all your sons here?” Jesse replied: “There remains the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” When he was brought in, he looked handsome but also had a gentle heart though he did not have that powerful appearance.
Could the new Khanya house not be compared with him? Perhaps the building, especially the main building where most of the offices are, did not look that impressive at first – the offices also being quite a bit smaller in comparison with those of the old Khanya house – but the final version after the completion of the renovations has a much more homely atmosphere and shows much more cost effective in its running.
Of course a building is not enough; what makes it a home are the people living and working in it. As a bonus we inherited a very nice chapel and spacious dining room and hall and some attractive meeting places, not forgetting the peaceful and friendly surroundings. We could all join in, with joyful thanksgiving: “we have found our servant David, the new Khanya house”.
I now turn to what, one could call, the mission of this house. As the gospel text, chosen for this occasion, spells out: its mission is to be light, the name of the house ‘Khanya’ says it all. But how can it be light? It is important to notice that the chosen gospel text from the gospel according to Matthew just come after the Beatitudes which indicates how we, Christians, can be light to others, through living in the spirit of the Beatitudes: to be poor in spirit, to be gentle, to be longing for what is right, to be merciful, to be peace makers.
How do we see this house? As a brain directing all the activities of the body or as the heart which makes the life-giving blood flow throughout the body to energize and purify it? I see the function of this house, as the seat of all the SACBC Departments, more in the heart without excluding the brain. A body with only a heart without a brain would not work neither. Yes, a lot of thinking, planning and evaluating has to be done in this house, of course always in union with the Bishops, the shepherds of their local Church. But the heart gives the activities impulse and perseverance, enthusiasm and attraction.
We Bishops often warn that the tail should not wag the dog indicating that Khanya house should not act as the headquarters which commands and regulates whatever is to be done or not in individual dioceses. No, Khanya house is there as a heart encouraging and supporting action in the diocese as a service to the individual dioceses and the whole SACBC body. This is crucial as we now enter into a new phase of our SACBC history with the launching of the new pastoral plan this coming Sunday.
Let us pray during this Eucharistic celebration of thanksgiving that the Lord, through his loving presence, may continue to shower his blessings on this house and all the people working here for the well-being of the Church in Southern Africa. May St. Agnes, who still being a young lady gave her life professing her faith in Jesus Christ, intercede for us.