16 January, Tuesday – Being Kind and Compassionate

16 January

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you go on mourning over Saul when I have rejected him as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen myself a king among his sons.’ Samuel replied, ‘How can I go? When Saul hears of it he will kill me.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and then I myself will tell you what you must do; you must anoint to me the one I point out to you.’

Samuel did what the Lord ordered and went to Bethlehem. The elders of the town came trembling to meet him and asked, ‘Seer, have you come with good intentions towards us?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He purified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, he caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him’, but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Jesse then called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel, who said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse then presented Shammah, but Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ He then asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ He answered, ‘There is still one left, the youngest; he is out looking after the sheep.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down to eat until he comes.’ Jesse had him sent for, a boy of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing. The Lord said, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’ At this, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on. As for Samuel, he rose and went to Ramah.

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Mark 2:23-28

One sabbath day Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick ears of corn as they went along. And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the sabbath day that is forbidden?’ And he replied, ‘Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’

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“… but the Lord looks into the heart”

Society has grown accustomed to judging people based on their appearance, despite famous warnings such as ‘never to judge a book by its cover’. The emphasis on physical appearance has become a bane for the mental health field as an increasing number of children and adolescents are being diagnosed with eating or image-related disorders. School bullying would also go unnoticed and the repercussions would surface in young adulthood.

I was bullied in school for my size and, for many years, I hated who I was and how I looked. I fell into depression and my grades were badly affected, often just scraping through to make it to the next year. Some adults in church used to tell me that I had a kind heart, but I hated that description of me because it didn’t have the same impact as being pretty or good-looking. I questioned whether God hated me and thus gave me an appearance that was not acceptable to my peers, and that question became a belief which I held onto for many years of my life.

2 years ago, I was received into the Catholic Church and my godmother, who knew my struggles, reminded me that the Lord looks at the heart. I used to argue with her over this because of my perception of God towards me. It took quite a lot of time before I started to notice the slight shift in my beliefs, where I was more forgiving and accepting of myself. I would still get upset with my appearance but to a lesser degree.

The nature of my work also started to reinforce that appearances do not matter as much as the genuineness of a person; and the heart is more important than how tall or slim or pretty one is. The clients I work with remind me on a daily basis that it is the heart that matters – it is kindness, compassion and love for mankind that triumphs over physical appearances. I learnt that when I start to love myself a bit more, and when God sent people into my life to remind me of His love and what is important to him.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord reminded Samuel in today’s reading that what pleases Him is the heart of the person and not the outward appearance. Let us remember to look beyond first impressions and not to judge others because they are different from us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Hannah Huang)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the desire to look beyond appearances and to look at the heart of the people in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Dear loving Father, we thank you for loving us and not judging us even though we sometimes judge other people. Thank you for giving us reminders to look beyond what we can see.

15 January, Monday – Obeying God

15 January

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1 Samuel 15:16-23

Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ Saul said, ‘Tell me.’ Samuel continued, ‘Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not head of the tribes of Israel? the Lord has anointed you king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission and said to you, “Go, put these sinners, the Amalekites, under the ban and make war on them until they are exterminated.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is displeasing to the Lord?’ Saul replied to Samuel, ‘But I did obey the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission which the Lord gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put the Amalekites under the ban. From the booty the people took the best sheep and oxen of what was under the ban to sacrifice them to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ But Samuel replied:

‘Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord?

Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness better than the fat of rams.

Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of teraphim.

‘Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’

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Mark 2:18-22

One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!’

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“Obedience is better than sacrifice”

Growing up, I would often comply with instructions in a bid to obey others; however, I would often question these instructions because I believed that things could be done in a different way, while achieving the same results. I would slowly start to tweak the instructions (and sometimes even sacrifice my nerves) in apprehension that it would not work. Should everything go according to plan, I would celebrate secretly as I had outwitted those who provided me with the instructions.

Likewise, in my relationship with God, I often convinced myself that I was doing what the Lord wanted by tweaking His instructions and plans. I compensated by sacrificing my time and energy to the ministry I was serving in, as well as at the workplace. However, I realized that despite all that I have been doing, I have not been obedient to what He wants me to do. I have slackened in my quiet time with Him, not responding entirely to His call when He has asked me to do something. I would also often bargain with Him, telling Him that I had already sacrificed enough for Him.

My wake-up call came when I started questioning my purpose in life. I realized that despite doing so much (by my standards), I felt empty. I decided to take a step back from everything that I had busied myself with, and to rebuild my relationship with God. I asked God for forgiveness because I was full of pride, built up from over the years, and I invited God to renew my spirit to do His work according to His will. It has been a few months, and I am still on this journey as obedience is not something that comes easily to me.

Brothers and sisters, today’s reading from Samuel reminds us that God first looks not at our sacrifices, but our obedience to Him. When we obey God, He renews our spirit and gives us the grace to experience meaning in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Hannah Huang)

Prayer: Dearest Father, we pray for the grace to listen to Your voice, and to be obedient in all that You have asked us to do.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for loving us even though we are disobedient, often questioning your plans for us.

14 January, Sunday – Conversations With God

Dear Readers,

It is truly amazing how God calls us to mission and gives us the talent to fulfil all that He plans for us. Today, we welcome Hannah, who has joined our stable of contributors and has been receiving Oxygen since last year.

Hannah is a relatively new Catholic trying to navigate her journey in the faith. During her growing up years, she often ran away from the faith because of her circumstances. Hannah had always loved the song ‘Still’ by Hillsong, but it was only 2 years ago that Hannah decided she would stop running, be still and know that God is present every day of her life.

Working in the mental health field, Hannah often encounters situations whereby she would see Jesus in each of her clients, and would question herself as to what Jesus would do when the situation becomes complex or dire for them. These moments would inspire Hannah to think out of the box and to do more for her clients.

During her free time, Hannah loves to read and write and will often fill journals with her reflections. Hannah is thankful to Desmond for introducing Oxygen to her as it enhances her daily reflections, and is also appreciative of the chance to contribute as well.

14 January

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1 Samuel 3:3-10,19

Samuel was lying in the sanctuary of the Lord, where the ark of God was, when the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ Then he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ Eli said, ‘I did not call. Go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down. Once again the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ He replied, ‘I did not call you, my son; go back and lie down.’ Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. Once again the Lord called, the third time. He got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ Eli then understood that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, and he said to Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if someone calls say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord then came and stood by, calling as he had done before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’

Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him and let no word of his fall to the ground.

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1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20

The body is not meant for fornication: it is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God, who raised the Lord from the dead, will by his power raise us up too.

You know, surely, that your bodies are members making up the body of Christ; do you think I can take parts of Christ’s body and join them to the body of a prostitute? Never! But anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Keep away from fornication. All the other sins are committed outside the body; but to fornicate is to sin against your own body. Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.

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John 1:35-42

As John stood with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. It was about the tenth hour.

One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.

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“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”

2017 was an extremely busy year for me and, truth be told, I can barely remember what I was busy with. I knew that the days were flying by, and work became the most convenient excuse for me; God was on the receiving end as well. I stopped going for Adoration and my prayer life became affected. A 5-minute prayer to God every morning would superficially remove all guilt from me as I’d accomplished my ‘obligation’ to talk to God; however, deep down, I knew that I was becoming lazy.

I refused to accept that I was no longer putting God first in my life, and I believed that I had justified excuses to keep my distance from God. By mid-October, I found myself questioning my purpose in life, and I felt that life had neither meaning nor purpose. My mood started to get affected and over dinner one day, my friend casually asked “How’s your relationship with God?” My first instinct was to tell her it’s been good, but instead, I told her the truth — that it had been non-existent. That night, on my way home, I started to have a conversation with God, one I had not had in over 6 months.

During my conversation with God, He brought me back to the many times whereby I needed help, and it came to me via the people around me. He showed me specific instances whereby He prompted me when I was caught in a predicament. I realized that God had never left my side, and was always patiently waiting for me to say “Here I am Lord”. I expected Him to be there, but yet I was not willing to wait at His feet for Him to speak to me.

Since dinner that night, I have made a daily effort to invite God to speak to me and to open my heart to receive what He has to tell me. I also started using my traveling time to continue conversations with God instead of using my handphone to surf various social media sites. I am truly amazed at the way God speaks to me and I am more aware of the moments that He prompts me when I need assistance.

Brothers and sisters, let us learn to be like Samuel, who obeyed Elijah and responded to God’s call with a simple but powerful invitation — “Speak, for your servant is listening”. Or like John and Andrew, who listened to Jesus and responded to his invitation to follow Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Hannah Huang)

Prayer: Dearest Father, we pray for the grace to wait at your feet and to respond to your call on a daily basis.

Thanksgiving: We thank you O loving Father, that despite our impatience and neglect towards You, You are always there with us, waiting for us.

13 January, Saturday – True Value

13 Jan – Memorial for St. Hilary, bishop and doctor of the Church

St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) was known as Athanasius of the West. He was born to wealthy polytheistic, pagan nobility. His early life was uneventful as he married, had children (one of whom was St. Abra), and studied on his own. Through his studies, he came to believe in salvation through good works, and then monotheism. As he studied the Bible for the first time, he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was made Bishop of Poitiers from 353-368. He opposed the emperor’s attempt to run Church matters and was exiled; he used the time to write works explaining the faith. His teaching and writings converted many and, in an attempt to reduce his notoriety, he was returned to the small town of Poitiers where his enemies hoped he would fade into obscurity. His writings nonetheless continued to convert pagans.

Hilary introduced Eastern theology to the Western Church, fought Arianism with the help of St. Viventius, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1851.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 Samuel 9:1-4,17-19,10:1

Among the men of Benjamin there was a man named Kish son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah; a Benjaminite and a man of rank. He had a son named Saul, a handsome man in the prime of life. Of all the Israelites there was no one more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people. Now some of the she-donkeys of Saul’s father Kish had strayed, so Kish said to Saul, ‘My son, take one of the servants with you and be off; go and look for the she-donkeys.’ They passed through the highlands of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but did not find them; they passed through the land of Shaalim, they were not there; they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, ‘That is the man of whom I told you; he shall rule my people.’ Saul accosted Samuel in the gateway and said, ‘Tell me, please, where the seer’s house is?’ Samuel replied to Saul, ‘I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the high place. You are to eat with me today. In the morning I shall take leave of you and tell you all that is in your heart.

Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head; then he kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you prince over his people Israel? You are the man who must rule the Lord’s people, and who must save them from the power of the enemies surrounding them.’

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Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’

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“Follow me”

As a couple, my wife and I attended our first Christian course known as the Christian Life Programme (CLP). When this ended, we joined a cell group and soon after, became facilitators in another CLP run in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At its conclusion, we continued our journey with the participants and became cell-group leaders.

One of the challenges was that we felt we were never ‘good enough’. As we prepared for our weekly cell group sessions, we prayed hard for divine inspiration and even when we came up with a topic or something inspired, we still never felt that we had ‘it’. We worked really hard and after a period of time, felt really tired.

The Catholic community we were in is known as ‘Couples for Christ’, and there were many members from the Philippines. One of the things we noticed was how cheerful and happy the Filipinos were in serving. No matter how daunting the project or task as hand, there was positive attitude and faith that it would accomplished. And despite all the challenges faced, every single project has been successful.

Jesus, in the Gospel of today, called on Levi to follow Him and dines with him, as well as sinners and tax collectors. In response to criticisms by the scribes for associating with these people, our Lord responds that it is precisely the sinners who need Him.

Our Lord recognises value in us and loves us. To Him, we are important for Him to spend time with. In order to live up to our full potential, we need to learn from our Filipino brothers and sisters, have faith in our Lord and draw our confidence from Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we will always see the same value in ourselves that You see in us.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for sending Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to tend to us sinners. We praise You and thank You for showing us the way.

12 January, Friday – A True Relationship With God

12 January
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1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22

All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. ‘Look,’ they said to him ‘you are old, and your sons do not follow your ways. So give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.’ It displeased Samuel that they should say, ‘Let us have a king to rule us’, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for it is not you they have rejected; they have rejected me from ruling over them.’

All that the Lord had said Samuel repeated to the people who were asking him for a king He said, ‘These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you.’

The people refused to listen to the words of Samuel. They said, ‘No! We want a king, so that we in our turn can be like the other nations; our king shall rule us and be our leader and fight our battles.’ Samuel listened to all that the people had to say and repeated it in the ears of the Lord. The Lord then said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and give them a king.’

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Mark 2:1-12

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?’ Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he turned to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’

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“My child, your sins are forgiven”

I used to help at the bookshop at my church. We sold everything from candles to incense, rosaries and other religious articles. What I really loved, however, were the books; and the one book I really adored was “Mister God, this is Anna”.

What caught my attention was the intimate relationship Anna, a precocious 4-year-old, had with God. It was not a conventional viewpoint of God and it was this special relationship that appealed to me. Her conversations with God troubled some people, who did not hesitate to let her know what they thought.

I have always been such a ‘follow the rules’ kind of person. For example, my wife laughs at how I continue to follow directional signs in car parks, even if the car park was empty. Similarly, I was always conventional in the way I worshipped God. I found it difficult to take part in Charismatic or Praise and Worship services, and found I could only properly do so during mass. Like the ‘conventional’ folks from the book, I was extremely uncomfortable with other forms of worship.

In the Gospel, the scribes objected to Jesus telling the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. Responding to this, Jesus instead told the man to pick up his stretcher and walk. While the ‘form’ looks different, this does not change the essence of what Jesus was saying, or Jesus’ relationship with the man.

“Mister God, This is Anna” really opened my mind, and also taught me that our relationship with God is more just about “looking and acting right”. It goes beyond that. It has also showed me that our relationship with our God is precisely that — our own, and not for others to judge and dictate.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may not be like the scribes and be blinded by what ‘ought to be’. Help us Father, to recognise that our primary focus should always be on You.

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we praise and thank You for teaching us that faith is a personal relationship with You. Thank You for Your love.

11 January, Thursday – True vs Superficial Worship

11 January
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1 Samuel 4:1-11

It happened at that time that the Philistines mustered to fight Israel and Israel went out to meet them in battle, encamping near Ebenezer while the Philistines were encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up their battle line against Israel, the battle was hotly engaged, and Israel was defeated by the Philistines and about four thousand of their army were killed on the field. The troops returned to the camp and the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of our God from Shiloh so that it may come among us and rescue us from the power of our enemies.’’ So the troops sent to Shiloh and brought away the ark of the Lord of Hosts, he who is seated on the cherubs; the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, came with the ark. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel gave a great shout so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, ‘What can this great shouting in the Hebrew camp mean?’ And they realised that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. At this the Philistines were afraid; and they said, ‘God has come to the camp.’ ‘Alas!’ they cried ‘This has never happened before. Alas! Who will save us from the power of this mighty God? It was he who struck down Egypt with every kind of plague! But take courage and be men, Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been slaves to you. Be men and fight.’ So the Philistines joined battle and Israel was defeated, each man fleeing to his tent. The slaughter was great indeed, and there fell of the Israelites thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured too, and the two sons of Eli died, Hophni and Phinehas.

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Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.

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“Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated today by the Philistines?”

My soon-to-be-13-year-old just entered Secondary 1, having completed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

It was an anxious time for his cohort. Parents were understandably nervous; and the WhatsApp chat groups were filled with requests for solutions to questions from all sorts of mock exam papers.

There were also the prayer services and vigils that accompanied the examinations.

To be candid, these services and prayers troubled me.

During the examination period, I heard parents telling me that I should say a certain prayer or attend a certain novena because they “work”.

In today’s first reading, we read about how the elders of Israel decided to bring out the Ark of the Covenant to rescue them from their enemies. When the Ark arrived among the ranks of the soldiers, the Israelites gave a great shout and drew the attention of the Philistines. Aware of the ‘power’ of the Ark, this ironically motivated them, resulting in the loss of some 30,000 men, and consequently the battle.

How was it possible that the Ark had ‘failed’ the Israelites when it had been so ‘successful’ in the Battle of Jericho?

When we look into scripture, we realise that there is a huge difference; in the Battle of Jericho, it was the Lord who had shown the Israelites what to do, while the elders themselves took the decision to use the Ark as a weapon because it was something that they thought would ‘work’.

Brothers and sisters, the ultimate target of any prayer should not be ourselves. Instead, our eyes should always be cast on God. We should never use these prayers to honour and praise our God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we will always keep our eyes on You. Teach us Lord, to never use You for our own purposes.

Thanksgiving: Thank You for showing us what is right. We are grateful for Your protection and Your love.

10 January, Wednesday – The Courage To Follow

10 January
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1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20

The boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli; it was rare for the Lord to speak in those days; visions were uncommon. One day, it happened that Eli was lying down in his room. His eyes were beginning to grow dim; he could no longer see. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying in the sanctuary of the Lord where the ark of God was, when the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ Then he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ Eli said, ‘I did not call. Go back and lie down.’ So he went and lay down. Once again the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ He replied, ‘I did not call you, my son; go back and lie down.’ Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. Once again the Lord called, the third time. He got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, since you called me.’ Eli then understood that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, and he said to Samuel, ‘Go and lie down, and if someone calls say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord then came and stood by, calling as he had done before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Samuel answered, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’

Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him and let no word of his fall to the ground. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba came to know that Samuel was accredited as a prophet of the Lord.

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Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.

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“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”

I have had quite a few experiences where I believe I heard the voice of God.

The first came when I was feeling quite anxious and had been mulling over my concerns for quite a few days. I remember visiting a friend of mine at her office and I was enjoying the comfort of the room when I heard it: “Don’t be afraid”. It was a soft voice, and what I felt was warmth in my heart. I felt comforted.

The next time was at a silent retreat in Malaysia. I was meditating on the Beatitudes when Jesus turned to me and spoke with me. It was about something that I was not even aware of. It was a few weeks after that, when I realised that the conversation I had with my Lord Jesus was prophetic. It was a beautiful experience!

In today’s first reading, Samuel heard God’s call but did not know it was God that called him. More importantly, he responded thinking it was Eli who had summoned him. While he was ‘wrong’ in that sense, the fact is that he took action and responded. Imagine if he had just ignored the ‘callings’ and just continued to lay in his bed. God rewarded Samuel for his faithfulness by making him His prophet.

Unlike Samuel, too many times we hear/feel/sense the Holy Spirit but choose not to respond. I know that there have been times when I have chosen to ignore the ‘little voice’ that prompts me to do or say something or be there for somebody. Yet when I do act on these promptings, I often find that there was indeed something positive that came out of it.

Let us pray that we are able to overcome our disbelief and pride and be open to God’s constant ‘little voice’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, We pray that we may open our ears and our hearts and be able to respond to You.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank You for showing what it means for us to be open to You. Thank You for giving us an example in Samuel to follow.

9 January, Tuesday – True Authority

9 January
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1 Samuel 1:9-20

After they had eaten in the hall, Hannah rose and took her stand before the Lord, while Eli the priest was sitting on his seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. In the bitterness of her soul she prayed to the Lord with many tears and made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord of Hosts! If you will take notice of the distress of your servant, and bear me in mind and not forget your servant and give her a man-child, I will give him to the Lord for the whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head.’

While she prayed before the Lord which she did for some time, Eli was watching her mouth, for she was speaking under her breath; her lips were moving but her voice could not be heard. He therefore supposed that she was drunk and said to her, ‘How long are you going to be in this drunken state? Rid yourself of your wine.’ ‘No, my lord,’ Hannah replied ‘I am a woman in great trouble; I have taken neither wine nor strong drink – I was pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; all this time I have been speaking from the depth of my grief and my resentment.’ Then Eli answered her: ‘Go in peace,’ he said ‘and may the God of Israel grant what you have asked of him.’ And she said, ‘May your maidservant find favour in your sight’; and with that the woman went away; she returned to the hall and ate and was dejected no longer.

They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord and then set out and returned to their home in Ramah. Elkanah had intercourse with Hannah his wife and the Lord was mindful of her. She conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Samuel ‘since’ she said ‘I asked the Lord for him.’

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Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

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He taught them with authority

I am an avid user of social media, and one of the most memorable memes I have seen is that concerning the difference between a leader and a manager. The manager ‘leads’ from the back, often dictating what his employees are supposed to do and drives all actions with commands and instructions. His power comes from his official position within the formal organisation.

The leader, on the other hand, leads by example. He is often in the trenches and shows his followers through his actions. His actions lead people, not his words.

As someone leading a team in the past, I have reflected on which category of leader I belonged to; and I concluded that I was probably a blend of both, depending on which organisation and circumstances I was in. Despite calling myself a Christian and a Catholic, I was ashamed that I was not a better reflection of my faith.

In the Gospel today, Jesus shows His authority in ordering the unclean spirit to leave the possessed man. When I reflect on this, I realised that, apart from being the Son of God, Jesus derived a large part of this authority from His relationship with the Father. Before the events in today’s Gospel, Jesus had been baptised and had spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness. In the wild, Jesus got to spend time fasting and praying, building His relationship with God the Father.

Looking back at my times as a leader, I found that during the times when I was the ‘negative leader’, I tended not to be grounded with God and when I demonstrated ‘positive leadership’, I felt closer to God.

Let us continue to seek God so that He may cover us with His Spirit. Only through this are we able to draw on His strength to lead our lives authoritatively as Christians. May we learn to become models of our faith.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray we may learn to draw on Your strength and our relationship with You. Help us, Father, to be better.

Thanksgiving: Jesus Lord, thank You for coming among us to lead us by example. Thank You for showing us what it means to be true Christians. Thank You for helping us go beyond the shallow, and touch what is real.

8 January, Monday – Recognising The Truly Important

8 January – The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Christ (or the Baptism of Christ) is the feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Originally the baptism of Christ was celebrated on Epiphany, which commemorates the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Christ, and the wedding at Cana. Over time in the West, however, the celebration of the baptism of the Lord came to be commemorated as a distinct feast from Epiphany. It is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Anglican and Lutheran Churches on the first Sunday following The Epiphany of Our Lord (6 January).

– Wikipedia

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Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:
Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

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1 John 5:1-9

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ
has been begotten by God;
and whoever loves the Father that begot him
loves the child whom he begets.
We can be sure that we love God’s children
if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us;
this is what loving God is –
keeping his commandments;
and his commandments are not difficult,
because anyone who has been begotten by God
has already overcome the world;
this is the victory over the world –
our faith.

Who can overcome the world?
Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God:
Jesus Christ who came by water and blood,
not with water only,
but with water and blood;
with the Spirit as another witness –
since the Spirit is the truth –
so that there are three witnesses,
the Spirit, the water and the blood,
and all three of them agree.
We accept the testimony of human witnesses,
but God’s testimony is much greater,
and this is God’s testimony,
given as evidence for his Son.

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Mark 1:7-11

In the course of his preaching John the Baptist said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’

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“Here is the servant whom I uphold my chosen one in whom my soul delights”

In the last few months, I have been having conversations with my ex-schoolmates and friends who are in all in their fifties. Strangely, while we have never previously discussed or shared our views, all of us talked of spending more time with our families, time with God, doing charity works or simply relaxing more.

And yet, these are men, who at first worked hard in their studies and later became very successful in their businesses and careers. Somehow over the years, these same men despite having all their ‘successes’, agreed that something was still missing in their lives. The common refrain I hear from them was, “There is more to life than money/career/success/…”

In our later years, my friends and I have realised that the pursuit of riches still leaves us wanting more. In my case, I realised in early 2016, when I attended CER, that the missing ‘something’ was my experience of God’s love. While His love was never lacking and was always there for me, my earthly issues and distractions kept me from noticing it.

Just like John the Baptist, who recognised that Jesus was God, and willingly bowed down to His Godliness, I pray that I may always be able to see God everywhere and in everyone around me. I pray that I may be able to give up my ego and pride and offer myself to our One True God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may be able to give up everything for our Father and Lord God, that we may be able to always see God around us.

Thanksgiving: Thank You for choosing and creating us to be Your children, Father God. Thank You for being there for us and for sending Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to us.

7 January, Sunday – Our Unlimited Potential

7 January

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Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come,
the glory of the Lord is rising on you,
though night still covers the earth
and darkness the peoples.

Above you the Lord now rises
and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness.

Lift up your eyes and look round:
all are assembling and coming towards you,
your sons from far away
and your daughters being tenderly carried.

At this sight you will grow radiant,
your heart throbbing and full;
since the riches of the sea will flow to you,
the wealth of the nations come to you;

camels in throngs will cover you,
and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;
everyone in Sheba will come,
bringing gold and incense
and singing the praise of the Lord.

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Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

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Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,
for out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

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“Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come”

My family and I love reading books. Since I was about 9, I developed a lifelong habit of reading for at least an hour daily. I am blessed that my wife, too, has a strong love for reading and am happy to add that both my children are avid readers as well.

Motivated by the stories I read and fascinated by the exciting lives of the characters, I sought to understand how authors seemed to be able to put such lovely plots together. I dug deeper into the themes and came across the ‘Hero’s Journey’, illustrating how a ‘hero’ comes about. Typically, he moves from his current, comfortable position and faces extraordinary challenges. Through these trials, he learns (many times reluctantly) how to step up and face these obstacles. At the end of the journey, he realises that he has become a different person altogether and, unknowingly, has become a hero!

Our Lord’s story does not quite fit this narrative as our Lord Jesus did know His purpose — to show us the way to live and to bear and die for our sins. The Gospel of today does, however, show the challenges He had to go through in His early days as an infant. We see how the wise men had to deal with a cunning and jealous Herod, who went out of his way to try to kill Jesus. In essence, this is Jesus’ ‘Hero Journey’.

However, because of Jesus’ coming, this Epiphany shows our own personal journeys as heroic. In His coming, He shows us what and who we can become. Jesus, through His life and teachings, teaches us HOW to live and WHAT WE CAN BECOME if we follow His path. How powerful is this and how blessed are we!

In celebrating the Epiphany, let us celebrate God’s gift of eternal life and His gift of potential to us! Praise be to God!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we will always be thankful for the life that You have given us. We pray that no matter what happens, You will be there for us as You were there for Your Son.

Thanksgiving: Thank You, Father, for showing in us, through Your Son Jesus, our potential. Thank You for showing us the right way to live and for loving us.