5 April, Sunday – When God opens our ears, we cannot resist or turn away

5 April 2020

Brothers and sisters, we are blessed to welcome to the Oxygen family Julius Otusorochukwu Dike, who was born and baptised Christian and Catholic from the eastern block of Nigeria. After  receiving the Sacrament of confirmation, he attended a Catholic post-primary school, Bishop Shanahan College, in Orlu in present day Imo State, Nigeria. This background introduced and imbibed him with the Church’s teachings and practices early in life — a development that has supported and managed his overall outlook as a Christian.

Educated and trained as an engineer and business manager at two Nigerian universities — University of Ibadan, in Mechanical Engineering (1982) and Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, in Business Administration (1999) — he served in the country‘s civil service for 30 years before venturing into social service support for the vulnerable. He is a devout member of the Catholic Church Order of the Knights of St. John International, through which he has continued to serve the Church, and is currently serving in the pastoral team of Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, Sokoto, in the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria.

He is a motivational writer and, in 2006 published a book titled: “Terms Catholics Use Inside The Church”, a book which helps local parishioners understand the Church better.

His interest in OXYGEN came in 2015 through online search for knowledge on Catholic websites. Since then, he has been a dedicated reader of OXYGEN articles and reflections; these materials have continued to stimulate and enliven his life and the lives of many Christians sharing them.

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Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

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Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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Matthew 26:14-27:66

N. One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
O. What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?
N. They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say,
C. Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?
N. He replied:
? Go to so-and-so in the city and say to him, ‘The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’
N. The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said:
? I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.
N. They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn,
C. Not I, Lord, surely?
N. He answered,
? Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!
N. Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn,
O. Not I, Rabbi, surely?
N. Jesus answered:
? They are your own words.
N. Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said:
? Take it and eat; this is my body.
N. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, saying:
? Drink, all of you, from this, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.
N. After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them,
? You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, but after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.
N. At this, Peter said,
O. Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith.
N. Jesus answered him,
? I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.
N. Peter said to him,
O. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.
N. And all the disciples said the same.
Then Jesus came with them to a small estate called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,
? Stay here while I go over there to pray.
N. He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And sadness came over him, and great distress. Then he said to them,
? My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and keep awake with me.
N. And going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed:
? My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.
N. He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter:
? So you had not the strength to keep awake with me one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
N. Again, a second time, he went away and prayed:
? My Father, if this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!
N. And he came back again and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy. Leaving them there, he went away again and prayed for the third time, repeating the same words. Then he came back to the disciples and said to them,
? You can sleep on now and take your rest. Now the hour has come when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is already close at hand.
N. He was still speaking when Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him a large number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. Now the traitor had arranged a sign with them. He had said,
O. ‘The one I kiss, he is the man. Take him in charge.’
N. So he went straight up to Jesus and said,
O. Greetings, Rabbi.
N. and kissed him. Jesus said to him,
? My friend, do what you are here for.
N. Then they came forward, seized Jesus and took him in charge. At that, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it; he struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus then said,
? Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defence? But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?
N. It was at this time that Jesus said to the crowds,
? Am I a brigand, that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me.
N. Now all this happened to fulfil the prophecies in scripture. Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.
The men who had arrested Jesus led him off to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. Peter followed him at a distance, and when he reached the high priest’s palace, he went in and sat down with the attendants to see what the end would be.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus, however false, on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any, though several lying witnesses came forward. Eventually two stepped forward and made a statement,
O. This man said: ‘I have power to destroy the Temple of God and in three days build it up.’
N. The high priest then stood up and said to him,
O. Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?
N. But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him,
O. I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.
N. Jesus answered:
? The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
N. At this, the high priest tore his clothes and said,
O. He has blasphemed. What need of witnesses have we now? There! You have just heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion?
N. They answered,
C. He deserves to die.
N. Then they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him,
C. Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?
N. Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came up to him and said,
O. You too were with Jesus the Galilean.
N. But he denied it in front of them all, saying:
O. I do not know what you are talking about.
N. When he went out to the gateway another servant-girl saw him and said to the people there,
O. This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.
N. And again, with an oath, he denied it:
O. I do not know the man.
N. A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter,
C. You are one of them for sure! Why, your accent gives you away.
Then he started calling down curses on himself and swearing:
O. I do not know the man.
N. At that moment the cock crew, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said, ‘Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus. They had him bound, and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor.
When he found that Jesus had been condemned, Judas his betrayer was filled with remorse and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders, saying:
O. I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.
N. They replied:
C. What is that to us? That is your concern.
N. And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said,
C. It is against the Law to put this into the treasury: it is blood-money.
N. So they discussed the matter and bought the potter’s field with it as a graveyard for foreigners, and this is why the field is called the Field of Blood today. The words of the prophet Jeremiah were then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by children of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, just as the Lord directed me.
Jesus, then, was brought before the governor, and the governor put to him this question:
O. Are you the king of the Jews?
N. Jesus replied,
? It is you who say it.
N. But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders he refused to answer at all. Pilate then said to him,
O. Do you not hear how many charges they have brought against you?
N. But to the governor’s complete amazement, he offered no reply to any of the charges.
At festival time it was the governor’s practice to release a prisoner for the people, anyone they chose. Now there was at that time a notorious prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them,
O. Which do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?
N. For Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. Now as he was seated in the chair of judgement, his wife sent him a message,
O. Have nothing to do with that man; I have been upset all day by a dream I had about him.
N. The chief priests and the elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. So when the governor spoke and asked them,
O. Which of the two do you want me to release for you?
N. they said,
C. Barabbas.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?
N. They all said:
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Pilate asked:
O. Why? What harm has he done?
N. But they shouted all the louder,
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said,
O. I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.
N. And the people, to a man, shouted back,
C. His blood be on us and on our children!
N. Then he released Barabbas for them. He ordered Jesus to be first scourged and then handed over to be crucified.
The governor’s soldiers took Jesus with them into the Praetorium and collected the whole cohort round him. Then they stripped him and made him wear a scarlet cloak, and having twisted some thorns into a crown they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand. To make fun of him they knelt to him saying,
C. Hail, king of the Jews!
N. And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucify him.
On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, Simon by name, and enlisted him to carry his cross. When they had reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull, they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink. When they had finished crucifying him they shared out his clothing by casting lots, and then sat down and stayed there keeping guard over him.
Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ At the same time two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said,
C. So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself! If you are God’s son, come down from the cross!
N. The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way, saying:
C. He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He puts his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, ‘I am the son of God.’
N. Even the robbers who were crucified with him taunted him in the same way.
From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
? Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
N. That is, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood there heard this, they said,
C. The man is calling on Elijah.
N. and one of them quickly ran to get a sponge which he dipped in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink. The rest of them said:
C. Wait! See if Elijah will come to save him.
N. But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
At that, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked; the rocks were split; the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead, and these, after his resurrection, came out of the tombs, entered the Holy City and appeared to a number of people. Meanwhile the centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said,
C. In truth this was a son of God.
N. And many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
When it was evening, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, called Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate thereupon ordered it to be handed over. So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud and put it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. Now Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.
Next day, that is, when Preparation Day was over, the chief priests and the Pharisees went in a body to Pilate and said to him,
C. Your Excellency, we recall that this impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I shall rise again.’ Therefore give the order to have the sepulchre kept secure until the third day, for fear his disciples come and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ This last piece of fraud would be worse than what went before.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. You may have your guard. Go and make all as secure as you know how.
N. So they went and made the sepulchre secure, putting seals on the stone and mounting a guard.

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“The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back”

For many Christians who are glued to faith, life revolves around hope and the necessity for salvation. The exigency in hope is plumbed on the walls of reality in contending with resistance against faith and lifting of the cross to follow Christ.

For many years, my brother shared  some form of strangely blended relationships — working in a central northern state in Nigeria, living within a core Muslim community, far out of consonance with our Christian faith; he was worried because of the too oft agitations of religious conflicts and attacks against Christians. And yet he soldiered on as a dedicated Christian; the indication to that accommodation for confidence — resilience built on a strong, moral concrete base with his ears of faith opened, and listening to the Church teachings on sacrifice and suffering for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are in a trying period in the world today and the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that having a share in the sufferings of Christ is a guarantee of relief and happiness when his glory is revealed. The footsteps of Christ through the path of his death, resurrection and glory bring the assurance that any suffering that promotes Christ’s glory is temporary because the fulfilment of the reward is assured.

(Today’s Oxygen by Julius Otusorochukwu Dike)

Prayer: Lord, you own this world; help us to see sufferings and persecutions for Christ’s sake as awaiting rewards of glory that would come at your time of fulfilment. Support us with your faith and confidence. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, you exist everywhere in time and space, thank you for sustaining and helping us to live in hope because we believe in you. Amen.

4 April, Saturday – Love Hurts

4 April 2020

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Ezekiel 37:21-28 

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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…it is better for one man to die for the people…

“Love is sacrifice.” It is a cliché but nowadays there are only few people who believe in that. Many Gen Z’s (not all) no longer believe that there is sacrifice in love. They have a loose grasp of that concept, thinking that if it hurts, then it is not love at all. Love, for them, is the number of love reactions they received on social media. Many of them do not want to hear what the Bible says about love. If they are in a relationship, they tend to easily break it off whenever they experience things that do not go their way. They do not like situations that make their life challenging. They do not like to make sacrifices.

Because of the current pandemic situation, lots of memes can be seen on social media. One of the best memes that I saw was, “Stay at home, because we stay at work for you.” It is simple, yet meaningful.  Staying at home is one of the solutions to control the spread of virus. For many people (not all), staying at home is a sacrifice because for them, it is boring. They are not free to hang around the mall or other crowded places. For those who are working as pay-per-work, it is also a sacrifice because it means that throughout the quarantine period, they will have no source of income. Hopefully, they would be able to surpass this difficulty. Coming from the point of view of our front-liners, for me it is a great example of their love. Love for their neighbour. They choose to come to work and not give any excuses to stay at home and be with their family. They stand there to see and interact with strangers exposing themselves to the virus. They put their life on the line for the benefit of the majority. With so many people (some are stubborn), they skip meals, they lack sleep, they are overworked, and some have passed away while trying to save others.

These front-liners may or may not believe in God. But they are living the Word of God. What we are experiencing right now is incomparable to what Jesus did to save us. But similarly, the sacrifices made are still not enough and not appreciated by some. Quoting Romans 8:18 “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”

 (Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father God, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for the love and sacrifices of our front-liners in this COVID-19 pandemic.  Amen.

3 April, Friday – At Your Service

3 April 2020

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure

that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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At least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father

Amid our current pandemic situation, if someone does good deeds, others will comment that it is hypocrisy. If someone shows indifference, others will comment that they are worthless. It is true that we cannot please everybody. Our life must not be dependent on the appreciation of others. But we are working like that. We show up to work on time to let the people know we are responsible. We submit efficient works to let others know that we are reliable. Now that we are on quarantine, we try to do as much housework or ‘work from home’ tasks as we can to let others know we are dependable. We do things to please other people. But it is not how it should be. Yes, it is very impressive that we are capable of doing great things. But can we just be alright with just ‘doing great things’ and remove the part ‘to let others know’?

As Catholics and believers of Christ, we wholeheartedly do our best to follow Christ and live His word. Easier said and done, because our modernity is a source of increasing temptation that leads us to stray away from Christ.

Let us ask ourselves, “Should we wait for our deathbed before we want to do good deeds or ask for forgiveness?” Some of us are on quarantine and most of us are living with our families. Let us take this as an opportunity to converse with them. Let us put our phones down and have a decent meal together. Yes, we need our phones to be updated on the latest events. But it can wait. Use the social distancing time to ‘re-learn’ about your family members. We may realize that our family members have changed or there could be the ‘aha’ moment when we realize that it seems it is only now that we get to know them better. Talk to them about anything. It is a simple way of reaching out to them. Some of them might not like the idea of being inside the house for the time being. Let them feel at ease because they are with their family. They are your family, you know them best. In that way, we are being used as tools in sharing the good works of Christ.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please grant us the grace to see the goodness in others and to show goodness as well. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father God, for the people who heed the call to be of service during this COVID-19 pandemic.  Amen.

2 April, Thursday – To Eternity and Beyond

2 April 2020

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Genesis 17:3-9

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you: you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings. I will establish my Covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity, and I will be your God.’

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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’
The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:
‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’
The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’
At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

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…I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death…

Every day, the death toll and persons under monitoring and investigation continue to rise because of COVID-19. If a non-believer would read the verse, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death,” that person would probably curse infinitely. Even believers’ hearts may falter because of what is happening in the world. Those with colds, cough, sore throat, body ache, fever, pneumonia, difficulty in breathing, and other pains are suspected of having COVID-19. Indeed, many have recovered but many have died. By the looks of them in social media, they are really suffering.  Even medical personnel are dying because they have acquired the virus. For us as believers, let us ask ourselves, “With our current situation, how are we supposed to reach out to others and tell them to keep the word of God and they will never see death.” Some people would treat this as a literal death.  They do not have the sense of ‘spiritual death’. Especially this time when everyone is panicking and a lot of people are dying each day.

There is much speculation about this current pandemic. No matter how convincing those sound, we must pray to God to keep our faith stronger.

Most of us are in quarantine and even though we are inside our house, we can reach out to others. We can show them that as Catholics, we are not hypocrites. There will be many bashers, but it is worth it.  As an individual with the resources and a strong immune system, you can look for areas near your place to donate food and other basic necessities. If you know someone who plans to do that, you can help in any way you can, even just as re-packers of the goods. If you cannot go out and you have resources, you can help financially. There are a lot of legitimate organisations who help people in need, especially during this time. We can also help in promoting good vibes in social media by liking and sharing positive memes and posts.

In times like this, let us remember the Passion of Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ shoulders all our sins and saved us. He died, was buried, and resurrected. We must continue to have faith that after death awaits the eternal life. We must hold on that we will see the light after our sufferings. This too shall pass and through Jesus Christ, we will overcome this pandemic.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, I am deeply sorry for all my shortcomings. Please help our sick brethren, especially those who are suffering with COVID-19. We beg you to give us good health always. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank You for all the blessings that we receive despite the current pandemic. Thank you for all the people who are doing their best to control the spread of COVID-19. Amen.

1 April, Wednesday – There is Freedom

1 April 2020

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Daniel 3:14-20,24-25,28

King Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is it true that you do not serve my gods, and that you refuse to worship the golden statue I have erected? When you hear the sound of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, or any other instrument, are you prepared to prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made? If you refuse to worship it, you must be thrown straight away into the burning fiery furnace; and where is the god who could save you from my power?’ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your question hardly requires an answer: if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, O king, he will save us; and even if he does not, then you must know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected.’ These words infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was very different now as he looked at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He gave orders for the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual, and commanded certain stalwarts from his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar sprang to his feet in amazement. He said to his advisers, ‘Did we not have these three men thrown bound into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ ‘But,’ he went on ‘I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm. And the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: he has sent his angel to rescue the servants who, putting their trust in him, defied the order of the king, and preferred to forfeit their bodies rather than serve or worship any god but their own.’

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John 8:31-42

To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said:

‘If you make my word your home
you will indeed be my disciples,
you will learn the truth
and the truth will make you free.’

They answered, ‘We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
everyone who commits sin is a slave.
Now the slave’s place in the house is not assured,
but the son’s place is assured.
So if the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed.
I know that you are descended from Abraham;
but in spite of that you want to kill me
because nothing I say has penetrated into you.
What I, for my part, speak of
is what I have seen with my Father;
but you, you put into action
the lessons learnt from your father.’

They repeated, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them:

‘If you were Abraham’s children,
you would do as Abraham did.
As it is, you want to kill me
when I tell you the truth
as I have learnt it from God;
that is not what Abraham did.
What you are doing is what your father does.’

‘We were not born of prostitution,’ they went on ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus answered:

‘If God were your father, you would love me,
since I have come here from God;
yes, I have come from him;
not that I came because I chose,
no, I was sent, and by him.’

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So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed …

Whenever it is the First of April, there are lots of pranks and jokes everywhere. Today, we can still see jokes around on the internet. Many people are making jokes about how they are near to insanity because of the compulsory home quarantine. Here in Manila, we are obliged to follow the 24/7 home quarantine and only one person is allowed to go out to buy essential things at a specific time. We are under home quarantine until the 14th of April. Many people overreact, thinking their current situation is a deprivation of their freedom. Maybe they are right. They are slaves of their own desire to go out, meet people, and spend their money anyway they want.

Our Gospel for today depicts a deeper meaning of slavery. If you are told by Christ, “If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free”, what would be your response?  We may be like the Jews who answered, “We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be made free?”  We are probably not slaves physically. But the reality is, it is not about our status in life. Rather, it is the state of our soul. If we really want to experience freedom, we have to stay away from sins. It is one of the challenges in life. We have to stop tolerating the cliché, “We are all sinners, and there is nothing we can do about it.” We can do something about it. If we go through our Penitential Rite, there is this part: “that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”  We sin by our actions. We sin by the words that come out of our mouths. We sin by just thinking ill thoughts. We sin by just doing nothing.

Recall your activities these past couple of days. Have you done anything to hurt others? Have you thought of hurting others? Or, could you have done something to help others?

In this time of pandemic, our actions are very limited. We must use this opportunity for us to not commit sin. By simply obeying the rules of our community, we can commit less sin. Our government is not perfect and there is not much we can do. Instead of giving off negative vibes online, let us join various dioceses in celebrating mass online and other community prayers. This is also the time when people do panic buying. When we buy things, let us reflect if we are buying for the quarantine period or for the whole year. Remember, there are other people who also need to buy things. If you are in a community where there is a relief-giving program, re-evaluate yourself and think if you belong to those who are in dire need. There might be others who might need it more. With the simple act of kindness that we do, we walk away from sin.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, we are deeply sorry for all our sins. May we continuously have faith that through our Lord, Jesus Christ, we will surpass our current situation. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly God, thank You for our leaders, medical workers, security personnel, and other people who are brave to be front-liners in handling COVID-19. Amen.

31 March, Tuesday – Meditating on the cross

31 March

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Numbers 21:4-9

The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

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John 8:21-30

Jesus said to the Pharisees:

‘I am going away;
you will look for me
and you will die in your sin.
Where I am going, you cannot come.’

The Jews said to one another, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ Jesus went on:

‘You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I have told you already:
You will die in your sins.
Yes, if you do not believe that I am He,
you will die in your sins.’

So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus answered:

‘What I have told you from the outset.
About you I have much to say
and much to condemn;
but the one who sent me is truthful,
and what I have learnt from him
I declare to the world.’

They failed to understand that he was talking to them about the Father. So Jesus said:

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am He
and that I do nothing of myself:
what the Father has taught me is what I preach;
he who sent me is with me,
and has not left me to myself,
for I always do what pleases him.’

As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.

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If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins

Have you ever looked at a cross closely and intently?

I have developed a habit of sitting in a quiet church and just meditating upon the cross. Even during Mass, I focus on Jesus hanging on the cross. Then I am overcome with strong emotions. I use the word emotion because I lack the proper word to fully express the change in heart and mind.

When I gaze upon the cross and think about how our Lord suffered for our salvation, how He loved us so much that He laid down His life for us, I am moved to tears. Not only did He die for us, but the humiliation, the torture and the suffering that He went through, thoroughly makes me ashamed of my sins.

Just when I reach the depth of despair and shame, it dawns on me that the ransom has been paid. Jesus has paid a hefty price for my spiritual wellbeing. He loves us and wants what is best for us. He doesn’t want us to wallow in our misery, sin and suffering. He wants to share His life with us, life eternal. All we have to do is simply accept His invitation.

Once we accept His gift, it is then our responsibility to make sure that we stay ‘healthy’ spiritually, and to stay on course. We should not let Jesus die in vain by being unrepentant of our ways.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there are so many pitfalls in this secular world where relativism blinds us at times. It is our duty to be steadfast and not waver in our love and obedience to God, just as Jesus did not waver in His sacrifice to bring us peace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us to be steadfast in our love and obedience to You, our God.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us and sending Your Son to atone for our sins.

30 March, Monday – Judging others

30 March

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Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man. Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people.’ These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. The two elders, who used to watch her every day as she came in to take her walk, gradually began to desire her. They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue. So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden. There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place. She said to the servants, ‘Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.’

Hardly were the servants gone than the two elders were there after her. ‘Look,’ they said ‘the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us! Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away.’ Susanna sighed. ‘I am trapped,’ she said ‘whatever I do. If I agree, that means my death; if I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’ Then she cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her, and one of them ran to open the garden door. The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what was happening; once the elders had told their story the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.

Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, in their vindictiveness determined to have her put to death. They addressed the company: ‘Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.’ She was sent for, and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations. All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her. The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on the woman’s head. Tearfully she turned her eyes to heaven, her heart confident in God. The elders then spoke. ‘While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two servants. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants. A young man who had been hiding went over to her and they lay down together. From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them. Though we saw them together we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels. We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was. She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.’

Since they were elders of the people, and judges, the assembly took their word: Susanna was condemned to death. She cried out as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’

The Lord heard her cry and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, ‘I am innocent of this woman’s death!’ At which all the people turned to him and asked, ‘What do you mean by these words?’ Standing in the middle of the crowd he replied, ‘Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.’

All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, ‘Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.’ Daniel said, ‘Keep the men well apart from each other for I want to question them.’ When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. ‘You have grown old in wickedness,’ he said ‘and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men, when the Lord has said, “You must not put the innocent and the just to death.” Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what tree you saw them lying under?’ He replied, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received your sentence from him and will slash you in half.’ He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, ‘Spawn of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray! This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel and they were too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness! Now then, tell me what tree you surprised them under?’ He replied, ‘Under a holm oak.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.’

Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the saviour of those who trust in him. And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths. As prescribed in the Law of Moses, they sentenced them to the same punishment as they had intended to inflict on their neighbour. They put them to death; the life of an innocent woman was spared that day.

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John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

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‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

It is quite amazing how people jump to conclusions very quickly. There are many videos circulating on the internet which remind us that what we see is not what the original intention was meant to be. The readings of today remind us of the need to not take everything at the surface level but that we need to probe deeper with the help of the Holy Spirit.

It feels really good to be accusing another person of their wrongdoings. I will be the first to admit that I have done such an action before and that it is not the best of behaviour. What makes it worst is that the process starts from within my mind. There is an entire whirlwind of thoughts and words in my head which go about whenever I see a person. It could range from the behaviour they are exhibiting to the words which they are saying. The strangest thing is that I get very worried that these remarks are being said by others about me. In other words, I am worried about being judged!

Indeed, such is the nature of my life where I judge others and yet seek God’s forgiveness whenever I fear that I am being judged. The readings of today remind us that such actions have already been present since Biblical times. What matters is that we are always contrite and willing to turn to God immediately for forgiveness. However, what is even more important is when we ask God to allow us to probe deeper into why we are behaving in this manner. Only by bringing such behaviour to the light will we be able to discover the flawed nature of ourselves and submit ourselves to God for healing. Let us take this time to offer to God all our weaknesses and ask Him to heal us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the humility to submit all our flaws to you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who love us despite our imperfections.

29 March, Sunday – Accepting No as an answer

29 March

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Ezekiel 37:12-14

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

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Romans 8:8-11

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

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John 11:1-45

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

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but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you…

As an undergraduate, I often heard of friends who asked their professors for extensions for their assignments. However, there was one professor which would always not reply to his emails. This made my friends wonder if he received their email request. Endless conversations would revolve around on how they should proceed until somebody pointed out that not answering the student is in itself an answer. I believe that the readings in today Gospel remind us of the need to accept “No” as an answer from God.

The death of Lazarus was indeed a painful experience for Jesus. In fact, we read that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) which is the shortest verse in the Bible. He must have felt a loss for his good friend. Perhaps Jesus weeps every time he sees us sin. Sin weakens and destroys the relationship we have with God. It is one of those things which bring us enormous pain in the relationship that God has with us. Maybe sometimes God says no to us in our prayers because granting us what we ask for could result in the weakening of our relationship with God.

Jesus asks that we stay close to Him in every time and age but especially so in this season of Lent where we are called to unite with the sufferings which He is going through. Covid19 is causing a lot of faithful to be unable to receive the Holy Eucharist but perhaps in this time of absence, we can choose to remain closer to God through the reading of Sacred Scripture and the reading of good Catholic Christian authors. These will allow us to become closer to God and allow us to discover the deeper meaning of the answer of “No” in our prayers to God

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the grace to accept your will in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who show us love in our lives.

28 March, Saturday – Mob Mentality

28 March

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Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Lord revealed it to me; I was warned. O Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming. I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may be quickly forgotten!’

But you, the Lord of Hosts, who pronounce a just sentence,
who probe the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.

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John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’
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But this crowd which does not know the law is accursed

I need to turn off my Twitter feed, I think. It’s become an angry mob. Or at least, I need to reset my preferences to mute out the chaos. There’s enough of that now in my life, I don’t need an echo chamber cranking up the volume. The thing about mobs is that they’re emotional. And they’re loud. With a mob, perception is truth, whether or not it’s justified. Once stirred up, a mob has the power to move people into making bad decisions; decisions that change lives, not necessarily for the better. And a mob’s fluid, amorphous nature is easily manipulated by people with less than noble intent. We saw this during our last election. We’re seeing it again now.

The Pharisees did exactly that, manipulate the mob to their own ends. Maybe they didn’t do it overtly, but by planting doubt and fear, the Pharisees turned the people against Jesus. Some of these people would have been at his sermons, might even have witnessed his miracles or experienced his healing power. How quickly people forget when they’re trapped in a hive mind and buoyed along by sentiment.

As we all struggle to deal with the global pandemic that’s upon us, let’s try to remember this. We have Christ as our moral compass. We have His Word to hold on to, to anchor ourselves while the rest of the world is losing its mind. Let’s not give in to the temptation to lash out at our neighbors, let’s not yield to our paranoia, our need for control, our instincts toward self preservation. Let’s hold on instead, to the ever faithful, ever constant Word of God, as we try to navigate ourselves out of these treacherous waters. May the healing power of Christ be on us all.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for deliverance from this pandemic. May we come out of this humbler, kinder and with greater self awareness of our shared responsibility towards each other.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the peacemakers in our lives. We give thanks for those who put the greater good of others over themselves. We give thanks for all the unsung heroes who have taken on the fight to keep us all together during these difficult times.