25 March, Monday – True Obedience

25 Mar – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

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Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then he said:
Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God is with us.’

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Hebrews 10:4-10

Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin,and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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Let what you have said be done to me

How many times have we said ‘Yes’ to our parents or to our superiors and then acted against their orders, thinking either that we know better or that those who have instructed us have lost touch with reality? Many of us face that dilemma at work, especially those of us in middle management who have teams reporting to us or groups of colleagues working on a particular project, which we just want to complete without too much ‘interference’ from our superiors.

I cannot imagine the turmoil within Mother Mary when she first heard the words of the archangel Gabriel. And while she posed a fair question, I for one would have been thinking to myself, “Alright, how can I get out of this? There is no way I will be able to do this no matter what this strange figure with wings says. What are my exit strategies going to be?” Unlike Mary, we lack absolute faith in God and the humility to trust in His hand within our lives.

So how can we reconcile this tension within us to live a life that is dedicated to God yet having to deal with the various challenges that seem to surface just when we think we’ve struck a balance? It is something that I have not been able to put my finger on until a recent testimony given by a retreatant who attended CER61. He testified that after not stepping into a church since he was 12 years old, he now found solace in reciting the rosary after his conversion. He said that he had always been skeptical about having to repeatedly say the prayers but now, he found comfort in saying the rosary each day. He began to understand humility required in order to bow down and accede to God’s call each day, and as a result, he is a much calmer, more loving individual who now cares for his family.

Brothers and sisters, let us embrace the humble rosary and make a pledge to say it every day. Because it is the one thing the devil fears – this devotion to our heavenly Mother. When our hearts are focused on Mother Mary, the Lord will mould us to become humble of heart and teach us true obedience to Him so that we can live the lives that He intended for each and every one of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for giving us Mary as our loving Mother.

24 March, Sunday – Time to Mature

24 March 2019

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Exodus 3:1-8,13-15

Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said, ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’ Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ Moses answered. ‘Come no nearer,’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,’ he said, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

And the Lord said, ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow, the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.’

Then Moses said to God, ‘I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I Am who I Am. This’ he added ‘is what you must say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’ And God also said to Moses, ‘You are to say to the sons of Israel: “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.’

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1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12

I want to remind you, brothers, how our fathers were all guided by a cloud above them and how they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in this cloud and in this sea; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them as they went, and that rock was Christ. In spite of this, most of them failed to please God and their corpses littered the desert.

These things all happened as warnings for us, not to have the wicked lusts for forbidden things that they had. You must never complain: some of them did, and they were killed by the Destroyer.

All this happened to them as a warning, and it was written down to be a lesson for us who are living at the end of the age. The man who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.

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Luke 13:1-9

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

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It may bear fruit next year

It has been just over a year since a few of us decided to take the plunge and step up to certain core leadership roles within our ministry. Since then, there has been attrition due to various reasons and as I look around, there are probably a quarter of us left still earnestly striving hard to make the necessary changes in a few areas so that we can continue to attract new members and retain some of those who recently joined us.

In order to move forward, I have always believed that a community needs to take a long, hard look at themselves to see where the weak links are so that they can be addressed strategically and systematically. One key area is succession planning, something which is not uncommon within parishes and even in successful organizations. This time last year, I made a commitment to myself that I needed to step up and improve on certain competencies if I was going to be taken seriously in my eventual role within my ministry. So I embarked on a few small initiatives and, looking back, I can see for myself the growth that has occurred. Like the fig tree in today’s gospel, I have undergone fertilization, pruning and a bit of nurturing through one of our leaders. While it has not been an easy journey, I believe that I have come out a lot surer and more confident in my current role. And I am under no illusion that if I were to continue, it is only going to get more difficult and arduous.

Brothers and sisters, when we say ‘Yes’ to God and decide to devote time in his vineyard, we must be prepared to endure all kinds of hardship. Hours spent in meetings may come to nought because of indecision, a well-laid plan may be turned upside down because of a last-minute decision by a priest, a piece of equipment that worked during practice or rehearsal may just decide to not function 5 minutes before a worship session. This is when a certain maturity and understanding is called for, especially from those in leadership roles. No point getting irritated or staring daggers at the ministry member(s) involved, nor panicking and throwing a tantrum. When the fires rage, cool heads are called for and most certainly prayer and intercession.

Our spiritual director recently exhorted that should the devil decide to attack the archdiocese, he would attack two pillars here in Singapore, and his primary tactic would be to sow discord and disunity among ministry leaders. Therefore we all need to make sure that we are able to stand firm by nourishing ourselves with the Word of God each and every day. Constant prayer and constant intercession are crucial if we are to continue bearing good fruit and reaching out to others in need. A steady diet of good Christian literature and daily celebrations of the Eucharist will ensure that as we mature in our spirituality, we will not allow ourselves to be toppled nor have our faith uprooted.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we ask you to continue to tend to us and to nourish us daily with your Word as we toil in your vineyard. Give us the strength to persevere and be patient as we grow in our own spirituality

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for always being patient with us and for your kindness and mercy.

23 March, Saturday – Not Forgotten

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt

grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

 ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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My son, you are here with me always. Everything I have is yours

I remember my baptism, and the preparation leading up to it. I had been on the RCIA program and I remember thinking at the time if I would be able to get through the year-long program. But the year sped by quite quickly and before you knew it, we were at Lent, getting ready for our baptism at the Easter vigil. It was almost like getting ready for a wedding: a lot of preparation beforehand, our placements, the rituals, the vows, the clothes that we would wear. And on the day of baptism, there we were, the ‘co-stars’ of the night, standing in front of the whole congregation in our new white garments, beaming proudly. Then shortly after the period of Mystagogy, it was back to life as usual.

It has been many years since my baptism, and probably for most of us too, as you read this. As we watch the next batch of Elect go through their sacraments of initiation, we watch their smiles, and we reflect on our own big day years ago. Maybe we wish that we could feel the overflowing of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, as we once did. Maybe we long for that closeness or assuredness in our relationship with God, as the Elect now have. Maybe many things have transpired since our baptism, that have dried up our spiritual well, and called us to question God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps we stopped seeking, perhaps life got in the way, we got distracted. Yes, life does go on but so does God; God continues to be present in our lives, even when we have stopped being the star of the day. When all the lights have faded and the sparkle wanes, God still remains.

Before we were each called by God, we were all lost in our own ways. When we opened our hearts to Him, we were like the prodigal son returned to the Father: “I once was lost, but now am found.” And when we accepted God into our hearts, He promised us salvation, a new and everlasting life in Christ Jesus, cleansed of our sins. He promised to be with us always: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He promised us security (Isaiah 43:2), strength (Isaiah 41:10), wisdom (James 1:5), unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10), forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He gave us all He had, His only Son Christ Jesus, so that we may live (John 3:16).

Our lives might be ‘as usual’, but remember David, the shepherd boy, overlooked by his brothers, but anointed as king. It would be many more years after his anointing before David finally assumed his place as king, and in the meantime, he went back to ‘life as usual’ – as a shepherd boy. But he had to, in order to learn about life to be a better king, to be in a better position to serve God and his people when the time came. Maybe if we take a different viewpoint, we may find that perhaps the preparation doesn’t end at baptism. After baptism, the real preparation begins: preparation to hear and heed God’s calling, to do His will and to be guided by Him. Our baptism may be over, but God does not forget us. He has plans for us, and if we allow it, He will reveal those plans to us. In the meantime, let us be comforted in the knowledge that whatever our life situation is, whether we are content or troubled, we are in the season of preparation for bigger things that God has in store for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to bring more consciousness in our preparation for Easter. We also pray for our Elect, as they prepare for their baptism on Easter.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for calling us to you when you did, for taking us in even when we were sinners, for finding us when we were lost. Even now, you are still with us, your gentle encouragement comforting us, guiding us through our daily lives.

22 March, Friday – Rejection and Revival

22 March 2019

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Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28

Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.

His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. ‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’

But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their violence. ‘We must not take his life’ he said. ‘Shed no blood,’ said Reuben to them ‘throw him into this well in the wilderness, but do not lay violent hands on him’ – intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his coat, the coat with long sleeves that he was wearing, and catching hold of him they threw him into the well, an empty well with no water in it. They then sat down to eat.

Looking up they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking down into Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.’ His brothers agreed.

Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces, and these men took Joseph to Egypt.

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Matthew 21:33-43,45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.

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The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes

Today’s first reading about Joseph being sold as a slave by his own brothers is a particularly hard one to swallow. To be rejected and ill-treated is already soul-crushing in itself, but rejection to the point of being cut-off by your kin, killed or obliviated from the face of this earth… There are no words for that. We have all faced rejection in varying degrees at some point in our lives and we well know the pain and heartache. To wake up each morning and feel as though the pain is suffocating you, that each heavy step forward is like lead on our feet, and in our suffering and despair to be unable to fathom that there is even a light at the end of it – how indeed will it ever get better?

If you think that God does not hear or understand, think again. God so loved us that He gave us His only Son that we may not die, but have everlasting life. Jesus was rejected by his own people, spat at, scourged, and crucified on the cross. He bled for us, wept for us, and suffered for us, even though we turned our backs on him. Jesus was rejected, so that we may be accepted. God turned that rejection into something marvelous, something life-saving, even though it took a while to manifest, and even when it escaped all our understanding as to how such a tragedy could be turned into something miraculous. Our current suffering may seem terribly bleak at the moment that it is hard to comprehend what kind of miracle can be wrought from it, but do remember… that a diamond only looks like a rock until it undergoes years of pressure, hewn from the rock face and polished to its brilliance.

I can understand why some people are driven to suicide, and we, as a people, must not judge them. We need to ask if we have done enough to help them. Rejection is a lonely, desolate place, and in the midst of the barrenness, one cannot ask for help, for one cannot see where the help is. We, from the outside looking in, have to extend that help. But taking your life is not the answer, even though at the time there seems no other way. Our lives do not belong to us, our lives are a gift from God, and bought for us at a heavy, heavy price, by someone who understands the meaning of sacrifice, the meaning of rejection and despair. Salvation followed the crucifixion. Life comes after loss. Hope comes after despair.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for those who are troubled in their hearts, whose burdens are heavy and whose roads seem blocked. Help them see that there IS light. There IS love. There IS hope. And may we, as a people, be there to help them, and not turn our countenance away from those who need help the most.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the price that was paid for us, for our lives, so that we may live and be accepted. We give thanks for the sacrifice that was made out of the greatest love of all.

21 March, Thursday – Self-examination

21 March 2019

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

The Lord says this:
‘A curse on the man who puts his trust in man,
who relies on things of flesh,
whose heart turns from the Lord.
He is like dry scrub in the wastelands:
if good comes, he has no eyes for it,
he settles in the parched places of the wilderness,
a salt land, uninhabited.
‘A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord,
with the Lord for his hope.
He is like a tree by the waterside
that thrusts its roots to the stream:
when the heat comes it feels no alarm,
its foliage stays green;
it has no worries in a year of drought,
and never ceases to bear fruit.
‘The heart is more devious than any other thing,
perverse too: who can pierce its secrets?
I, the Lord, search to the heart,
I probe the loins,
to give each man what his conduct
and his actions deserve.’

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Luke 11:29-32

The crowds got even bigger, and Jesus addressed them:

‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

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I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart

Medical examinations are quite helpful in determining the state of health that you are in. With such advancements in medical science, technology and research, understanding your own body and fixing it has never been easier or more accessible to the masses. I find though that the older we get, the more we tend to shy away from getting a health examination. We fear what the results might uncover, so we would rather not know. And what if we do know? Then the cost of fixing the problem could be a great inconvenience. Therefore, ignorance is bliss!

But while there is a ‘black & white’ process for physical examinations, what about the examination of our own hearts? Not the physical well-being of it, but the emotional and spiritual well-being. The Lenten period is a good time for self-examination of our emotional and spiritual state, and of our relationship with God. True, there is no straightforward answer of how we are doing (unlike a medical examination), and we mostly lie in a sort of gray area where we’re not quite sure where we stand. How do we justify our actions, and should we? If we lay bare our hearts before God, what would our results show? Perhaps we would rather not know and remain in a state of denial – all is good with us, all is good with God.

But God has given each of us a conscience, and that serves as our heart health barometer, our moral compass. The closer we are to God, the stronger the conscience, and even if you didn’t feel that you had that strong bond with God, we nevertheless know if we have done something right or wrong. Does it nag at you, do you lie awake at night mulling over what you did or didn’t do? Do you regret saying things that you did or didn’t? Could you have done something better that you would be proud of? Did you show congruence between what you say you are and what you do? If these are questions that keep you up, perhaps that is God’s way of probing our minds and hearts. He has given us free will, and with that comes accountability for our actions. Because we have free will, we will undoubtedly encounter many occasions where our hearts will indeed be tested, to determine what route we will take. Sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing that we can ever do.

Lent isn’t just about abstinence from pleasurable activities. Lent is also about self-examination. Lent is about what we are going to do, once we uncover something from that examination. Lent is about preparing ourselves, fixing ourselves and facing the truth that maybe something within us could be better. Lent is about having a purpose in our fasting and abstinence, not so much to meet a 40-day goal, but that in that 40 days, we change what our conscience tells us needs changing, and in doing so, we come just that little closer to God. Lent isn’t just about God coming to us, but that we – as sinners – are going back to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, harden not our hearts that we remain in a state of denial, but awaken in each of us sinners, a renewed sense of longing to change for the better, to change for You.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the strength during this Lenten period, and for courage to face our demons, be they bad habits that we need to banish or negative thoughts that we need to lay to rest. May they never return to haunt us.

20 March, Wednesday – Fairness in God’s Kingdom

20 March 2019

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Jeremiah 18:18-20

‘Come on,’ they said, ‘let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.’

Listen to me, O Lord,
hear what my adversaries are saying.
Should evil be returned for good?
For they are digging a pit for me.
Remember how I stood in your presence
to plead on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.

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Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

  When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Should evil be returned for good?

Last Friday, the world was shaken yet again by the news of another senseless shooting at a place of worship. This time it was at two mosques (Linwood Mosque and Al Noor Mosque) in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll is a number that will never truly reflect the sheer number of lives thus forever altered by this act of violence and terrorism.

In the midst of this great pain and suffering, loss and grieving, we cannot help but ask – where is the sense and fairness in all of this? Why do the innocent suffer or die while the wicked live or get away scot-free? We expect a certain logic and universal law to life but we are often met with unfairness in our daily dealings and news like these.

It is in these times that Jesus’ words in the gospel give us a sliver of hope: “anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, an anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It recalls the verse in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

We know that the Muslim worshippers had set apart their Friday to honor and praise God. They had taken time to slow down to pray. Time away from work, away from other obligations to make an offering of attention to God. Yet, in this, they ended up victims to a very deluded killer. Their martyred souls are certainly closer to their Maker for the very fact that they lost their lives in the very house of God. I believe that God receives the souls of these victims – of which a child as young as three is amongst them.

While we are tempted to hate and anger and revenge, I am humbled and moved by the outpouring of compassion, forgiveness, and tenderness that is shown between people of all stripes and faiths in the aftermath of this tragedy. People from various backgrounds offering to keep vigil and guard the mosques while their Muslim brethren pray. Muslims reaching out to people of other faiths and offering their hospitality in return. We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond.

God sent Jesus to overturn our expectations of what we can expect in our lives. We can expect loss, sorrow, pain, unimaginable suffering. But Jesus reminds us that when we drink our cups with faithfulness to God and love for our fellow men – we are living by the topsy-turvy law of God who will repay us not in this life, but with Eternity and communion with Him in His Kingdom. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for eternal rest for the souls of all who have perished in this tragedy and for their loved ones who must now live with sorrow and fight to choose forgiveness still.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for bringing good out of this very terrible times. Thank you for always sending your Spirit of hope to us who walk in the dark.

19 March, Tuesday – ‘Silent’ Fatherhood

19 March 2019

Solemnity of St Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St Joseph – Nothing is known of St Joseph except what is said of him in the Gospels. He was a carpenter; he accepted the will of God; and he supported Mary and brought up Jesus. From the human character of his son we can see that he was a good and responsible father. Although he is not officially a patron saint of anything in particular (though he is a patron of the Church as a whole), he is widely venerated as a patron of artisans who honourably do good work with the gifts God has given them, and of workers in general.

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2 Samuel 7:4-5,12-14,16

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:

  ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: “When your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Romans 4:13,16-18,22

The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith. That is why what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us. As scripture says: I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.

  Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him.’

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Luke 2:41-51a

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

  ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.

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See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you. 

Silence and quietness is often seen as an unfavourable character trait. Introverts are often misunderstood as having few opinions, little personality, or just plain ‘hard to get a sense of them’. We often think of Mary being a quiet, docile handmaid of the Lord. But if I were to pick the quietest, most passive and silent biblical person, it would be Joseph, husband of Mary, earthly father to Jesus.

Everything that we know about Joseph is through description. We are only told things about Joseph, but never hear a word in scripture from the man himself. How bewildering that God would write the life of a man in to His story, without writing a word to be spoken by him. We know he and Mary were betrothed; that she bore child out of wedlock that was not his flesh and blood; that he received his mission in a dream and obeyed; that he probably stood up for and defended Mary and their union from the naysayers amongst their kinsman; that he protected mother and child as they fled the deserts; that he raised his family on his humble woodworking craft. What a man!

Yet, nay a word he spoke! Not even when Jesus went missing on a family trip. Instead he let Mary speak and discipline their son. One can only wonder what kind of man Joseph was. Let us pause for a moment and consider the mettle of a man who would do all of those things and more – and yet have little need for words. I know that some of us have grown up in families with absent or silent fathers. They did not say much – good or bad – and so we knew little of them and there was hardly any relationship. Some others lived in homes with all-too-imposing father figures – overbearing, opinionated, harsh – we knew too much of what they thought and felt insignificant. These two are extremes. Perhaps most of us have fathers, if at all, who fall somewhere in the spectrum.

As I pondered the role of St Joseph in God’s story, it came to be clear as day the reason for his silence – both as a narrative device, as well as a character trait. Joseph’s silence is the humble place-holder to allow God’s presence and voice in his family’s life to be heard clearly! For sure Joseph spoke. He would have talked with Mary, taught Jesus to pray, disciplined him, instructed him in woodworking, dealt and traded his craft and wares…

Through all of his life, he was ultimately a quiet, obedient, and faithful man! Faithful to his betrothal vows to Mary, to their marriage, to his heavenly Father, to his son, to the message that God sent him about fathering Jesus. We never hear Joseph speak – but his silence carries humility, wisdom, maturity, gravitas, and obedience. In the absence of speech, we as Christian disciples, are made to see beneath the surface of words to decipher fidelity in action.

May we look to St Joseph as our model Christian. He can teach us to trust, obey, love; to be faithful, hopeful, peace-loving, dependable; to lead our families to faith by example.

(for some reflections on St Joseph, explore https://augustinianvocations.org/blog-archive/2016/3/18/lwkee9qlvsxjwo8vnhqlc3oefnohca and https://devotionsbychris.com/tag/does-joseph-speak-in-the-bible/)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We humbly seek your intercession St Joseph to help us love and follow God as you did. We ask that you inspire the fathers among us to be faithful and strong defenders of their wives and families.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the fathers in our lives who have been given to us: whether by blood or adoption or baptism, through loving instruction from fatherly teachers, coaches, bosses, colleagues.

18 March, Monday – Come Back to Me

18 March 2019

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Daniel 9:4-10

O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.

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Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Rescue us for the sake of your name

Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
With tenderness
You shall know.

– Hosea (Come back to me) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czPF5B1aQ1Y

This beautiful hymn has been playing on in my head for the past week. It is after all, one of the Lenten staples. I am always struck with a quivering lip and hot tears welling in my eyes at the second verse “the wilderness will lead you, to the place where I will speak.” And I am speechless to explain why.

Perhaps, it is because I am going through a kind of wilderness now. At the same time, I know as well that the source of my tears are a deep longing for a closeness that I have missed with Christ my lover. This passionate love was so strong, that I would feel Jesus living in my heart every moment and I could commit to him with joy all my thoughts and feelings that happened throughout the day. I would visit him for daily morning or evening Mass and spend time in the quiet of the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was SO IN LOVE! Yet, even as I continue to do these things (although with less frequency), I had felt a distance and coldness in me.

How long have I felt estranged? I cannot be sure. I do know that several rough and tumbles of life and strained relationships have cast me into the wilderness.

As I read today’s Gospel passage where Jesus urged his disciples to be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. I realise that while I do not know how I got to this wilderness, God has the antidote to the dry and barren soil of my heart. We are called to water our souls with compassion just as God is compassionate to us. I realised that this compassion is not only to be given to others (although our love does need to be poured out), but restoratively, I need to be compassionate to myself!

Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. (Luke 6:38)

Notice the words of this hymn Hosea. It is a call to repentance that is borne out of a love and longing God has for us. He calls us to return to Him by casting aside our fears (of punishment, self-loathing, guilt, hatred, anger, unforgiveness)…

How often do we remember to be generous in forgiveness for ourselves and our own waywardness? Are we generous in giving ourselves time to truly rest, to freely play, to connect with the family and friends God has given to us in a deeply meaningful way? Or have we been distracted by the lesser but shinier things of this world?

Lent is a season for repentance. But it does not stop there. We repent because of love not fear. This Lent, try loving yourself (not in a selfish, prideful way) in all the parts of you within that feel unlovely – your sins, your imperfections, your bad temper, your insecurities. Believe that you are loved and wanted very much by your Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I seek God’s grace and mercy that I may see all my loveliness and to love my unloveliness, the way God sees me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the chance to repent and return to you.

17 March, Sunday – New Romance

17 March 2019

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Genesis 15:5-12,17-18

Taking Abram outside, the Lord said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can.’ ‘Such will be your descendants,’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.

  ‘I am the Lord’ he said to him ‘who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to make you heir to this land.’ ‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘how am I to know that I shall inherit it?’ He said to him, ‘Get me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these, cut them in half and put half on one side and half facing it on the other; but the birds he did not cut in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcases but Abram drove them off.

  When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, there appeared a smoking furnace and a firebrand that went between the halves. That day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram in these terms:

‘To your descendants I give this land,

from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River.’

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Philippians 3:17-4:1

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

  So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

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Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.

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… do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. 

How often do we assume that we already know someone very well just because we have known them for long? As the saying goes, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Abraham was already 99 years old when God promised him a child and descendants so many that they would outnumber the stars in the sky. As faithful a man of God that Abraham was, I believe he experienced seasons of doubt, moments of questions. Even curiosity, at the far-out promises God was fond of making. I suppose that is why he could not help but ask, “‘My Lord, how am I to know that I shall inherit [this land]?’

God was not offended. Instead, he generously offered Abram a visible sign of his covenant in spectacularly consuming his burnt offerings. Likewise in the gospel passage today, God presented Peter, John, and James with the Transfiguration of Jesus in order that they might commit this spectacular event to long-term memory, that Jesus was the Messiah and that they should obey him. We often label these as ‘mountain-top experiences’ precisely because God plucks us out from the banality of our daily business and reveals a magnificent and eternal truth to us – that His promises are true and His Word is life.

From my personal experiences, I can tell you that even these ‘mountain-top experiences’ can become old. We can be desensitised to such an amazing ‘spiritual display’ if we presume to know that God would speak to us in the same way every time.

I made a 3-day personal silent retreat recently. Although I had a routine of making this a yearly affair, I had not done one in past the two years. However, I had clear memories of how past retreats had been for me, and subconsciously expected to experience a similarly intimate, connected, and restful time. I had expected God to re-create my spiritual encounters with inspiring visions and impart messages to enlighten me on my next steps in life. Reality turned out far from history.

While I spent many hours praying and resting at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament, I received little in the way of inspiring visions and images which used to energise me. I was frustrated and disappointed. I thought: Wow, it sure looks like the early days of courtship with God is over, and we’ve moved on to the boring ‘married life’ stage of ‘no surprises’ and ‘no anniversary celebrations’. Haha!

It was only at my final morning before leaving the retreat house, that I realised a better truth. God did speak to me – He was present with me throughout my retreat in a completely different way. It was I who was out of sync with my new normal of spiritual and mental state. So much had changed in my life over the past few years! I got married, I became a mother, and I am now also a caregiver to my husband. God knew what I needed! He gave me REST – lots and lots of it. I didn’t get powerful visions because I didn’t need those. But I sure slept and napped with abandon like a wee newborn – no chores, child, or caregiving that demanded my energy and attention. I was able to SIT, GAZE, SING at the feet of Jesus. Just me and my Lord in the chapel.

God was showing me that ‘boring’ can also be beautiful. And this time, I experienced God romancing me in a completely new way. He says: I am right there in the eye of your storm; I am right there cradling you in your ‘Snooze’ button; I am always with you. Stay with me and I will show you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for all who feel tepid in their relationship with our Heavenly Father. Trust that He is wooing you, trust that He is the one waiting for your unrequited love. Let your guard down, let Him in.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for always romancing me in new ways, for winning me back to yourself, for never letting me go. 

16 March, Saturday – Love your Enemies

16 March 2019

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Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God today commands you to observe these laws and customs; you must keep and observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

‘You have today made this declaration about the Lord: that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice. And the Lord has today made this declaration about you: that you will be his very own people as he promised you, but only if you keep all his commandments; then for praise and renown and honour he will set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he promised.’

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Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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Pray for those who persecute you”

I had a very interesting conversation with my nephew, who is also my godson, one day before we went off to school. He had his arms extended and swung it from left to right while he was talking to me. He was upset with someone and I told him that, “Jesus said you must love your enemies and that you should pray for them.” He relented and said that he would not want to pray for them. Even an 8-year old knows that it does not make ‘sense’, he was in disbelief. But more often than not, I feel it is the way of our Lord. He asks of us and wills for something that makes us look at him in disbelief.

Is it possible to love our enemy? That to me is really hard because forgiving is one thing but loving them really, is a different ball game all together. I do not have any enemies, but I have ‘fallen friends’, people with whom I have estranged relationships with. I have been told that it is normal to have this group of people who have ‘fallen out of your list’. That never sat right with me, because I clearly know that Jesus is not like that. And so, I pray for them because that is the only thing that helps. Sometimes they don’t want to be friends, sometimes it’s me, but when it’s my decision, I feel really upset about it.

Friendships are important to me, although I have a tendency to grow out of people, and for this I seek His mercy and His grace. Because he wants me to be perfect, just like Him. During a recent sermon I heard, the priest said that Lent is a time of joy so that you have no more estranged relationships. “Let there be no lepers in your life”. Powerful and true. How are the enemies, lepers and perpetrators in our lives? Have we started loving them and praying for them? Today is the acceptable time for that because now is our time for salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, you said blessed are those who follow your footsteps, make us and mould us into the blessed person today. Clean the cobwebs off from all our relationships, including the one we have with you and also the one we have with ourselves. All angels and saints, watch over our enemies and pray for them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for keeping us free and for allowing us the grace to love and pray for people who most need it. Thank you Lord, for the difficult people in our lives, for through them we have learnt to see you.