21 November, Wednesday – Talents And Time

21 November – Memorial for the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today we commemorate the presentation of the Blessed Virgin as a child in the Temple where, according to tradition, she was educated. The feast originated in the Orient probably about the seventh century, and is found in the constitution of Manuel Comnenus (1166) as a recognized festival. It was introduced into the Western Church in the 14th century, abolished by Pope Pius V, but reestablished by Sixtus V in 1585. Its observance by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the day of their origin led to the devotion of Mater Admirabilis (Mother Most Admirable).

– Patron Saint Index

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Apocalypse 4:1-11

In my vision, I, John, saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, ‘Come up here: I will show you what is to come in the future.’ With that, the Spirit possessed me and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the Person sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby. There was a rainbow encircling the throne, and this looked like an emerald. Round the throne in a circle were twenty-four thrones, and on them I saw twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their heads. Flashes of lightning were coming from the throne, and the sound of peals of thunder, and in front of the throne there were seven flaming lamps burning, the seven Spirits of God. Between the throne and myself was a sea that seemed to be made of glass, like crystal. In the centre, grouped round the throne itself, were four animals with many eyes, in front and behind. The first animal was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third animal had a human face, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle. Each of the four animals had six wings and had eyes all the way round as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing:

‘Holy, Holy, Holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty;
he was, he is and he is to come.’

Every time the animals glorified and honoured and gave thanks to the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves before him to worship the One who lives for ever and ever, and threw down their crowns in front of the throne, saying, ‘You are our Lord and our God, you are worthy of glory and honour and power, because you made all the universe and it was only by your will that everything was made and exists.’

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Luke 19:11-28

While the people were listening, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and they imagined that the kingdom of God was going to show itself then and there. Accordingly he said, ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to be appointed king and afterwards return. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds. “Do business with these” he told them “until I get back.” But his compatriots detested him and sent a delegation to follow him with this message, “We do not want this man to be our king.”

Now on his return, having received his appointment as king, he sent for those servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what profit each had made. The first came in and said, “Sir, your one pound has brought in ten.” “Well done, my good servant!” he replied “Since you have proved yourself faithful in a very small thing, you shall have the government of ten cities..” Then came the second and said, “Sir, your one pound has made five.” To this one also he said, “And you shall be in charge of five cities.” Next came the other and said, “Sir, here is your pound. I put it away safely in a piece of linen because I was afraid of you; for you are an exacting man: you pick up what you have not put down and reap what you have not sown.” “You wicked servant!” he said “Out of your own mouth I condemn you. So you knew I was an exacting man, picking up what I have not put down and reaping what I have not sown? Then why did you not put my money in the bank? On my return I could have drawn it out with interest.” And he said to those standing by, “Take the pound from him and give it to the man who has ten pounds.” And they said to him, “But, sir, he has ten pounds . . .” “I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

“But as for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and execute them in my presence.”’

When he had said this he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

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I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more, but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away

When I was in the university, I joined the varsity publication team for a while. The only article I wrote was about procrastination. I can’t recall the details of the article, but I do have the impression that I probably described procrastination as something that I was rather resigned to. It was a habit that I felt I could not, and also did not, want to break. It didn’t seem very cool to be always so prompt and efficient.

In Jesus’ time, a talent referred to a huge sum of money. It is not easy to quantify it relative to what we are familiar with today, but the idea is that the master entrusted the servants with quite a hefty sum. Two of them worked to make some profit out of what they already have, but one of them was lazy and did not do anything with the money. The rewards that the master gave to the servants are a symbol of the riches that await the worthy followers of Christ in heaven. The penalty for failing to make use of the talents would be an eternity away from God.

Do we recognise the amount of resources that God has placed at our disposal? It ranges from the physical, in terms of our health, energy and time, to the spiritual – our ability to love, show compassion, comfort and heal. The list is endless.

Everyone would have wondered at some point about the purpose of life. There is no clear answer, only what we decide to do with our lives. Regardless of whether one has a religion, many would realise the importance of leading meaningful lives. Why waste our time on earth? As we near the end of the liturgical year, the Mass readings focus on the end times and the hope of eternal life. Although some might say that it is morbid, reflecting on the end of earthly life will help remind us of what we should be doing before it ends.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the discipline and the faith to live every moment of our lives as a testimony to You.

Thanksgiving: Thank You, Lord, for allowing us to glorify You with our lives.

20 November, Tuesday – Faith in Visit

20 November

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Apocalypse 3:1-6,14-22

I, John, heard the Lord saying to me: ‘Write to the angel of the church in Sardis and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know all about you: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead. Wake up; revive what little you have left: it is dying fast. So far I have failed to notice anything in the way you live that my God could possibly call perfect, and yet do you remember how eager you were. when you first heard the message? Hold on to that. Repent. If you do not wake up, I shall come to you like a thief, without telling you at what hour to expect me. There are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes from being dirtied, and they are fit to come with me, dressed in white. Those who prove victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot their names out of the book of life, but acknowledge their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

‘Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea and say, “Here is the message of the Amen, the faithful, the true witness, the ultimate source of God’s creation: I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say to yourself, ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want’, never realising that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too. I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich, and white robes to clothe you and cover your shameful nakedness, and eye ointment to put on your eyes so that you are able to see. I am the one who reproves and disciplines all those he loves: so repent in real earnest. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”’

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house

For some reason, I seldom accept visitors at home. We are all busy and we cannot keep the house ‘visitor-friendly’. It has come to a point where there are no questions asked if I reject a request to be a host. It is as if people have already accepted that they cannot come to our place so easily.

But what if our visitor was not just a friend or a relative? What if it was Jesus who came knocking at our door? Honestly, I will be hesitant. It will be like saying, “Lord, I am unworthy that You should enter under my roof…”

In our Gospel, the chief tax collector named Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus among the crowd. However, he was too short, so he climbed a sycamore tree. When Jesus arrived at the place, He said, “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.”  Zacchaeus was very happy to welcome Jesus to his home. The crowd was very judgmental that Jesus chose to stay at a sinner’s house. But Zacchaeus went on his feet and told Jesus, “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” 

The attitude of Zacchaeus is admirable. He must have a deep desire to be intimate with the Lord. He welcomes Jesus joyfully. He is generous enough to give half his wealth and repay those he has wronged four times. I would say that though he has been branded as a sinner, he wants forgiveness for his sins. Can we imitate what Zacchaeus did? We must, even though it will not be very easy. Like Zacchaeus, we have our own sycamore tree to climb just to see Jesus. And a sycamore tree is a large tree. There will be people who will ridicule and judge us. But we must stand our ground and not falter. And if we really want to be closer to Jesus, we must give the best of us.

Going back to my own personal acceptance of Jesus in my home, I should not hesitate to welcome Jesus in my house. Whatever condition I am in, I must always be happy and joyfully accept Him. Christ has given the best of Him for us. He gave His life to save us from our sins. It is just proper to give my all for Him.

There may also be others who will be hesitant to accept Jesus because of their unworthiness. This is where reconciliation comes in. We repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.  Some may argue why the need for confession when we sin all over again. It is our way of cleansing our soul. Similar to our house or anything we own, we clean it again and again even though we know it will get dirty again and again. We try to keep our soul clean as it is a very great offering to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, are we ready to accept Jesus in our home?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please grant us the grace to increase our faith. Help us to grow a deeper relationship with You.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank You for forgiving us our sins.  Thank you for giving us the chance to encounter Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

19 November, Monday – Sight for Life

19 November

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Apocalypse 1:1-4,2:1-5

This is the revelation given by God to Jesus Christ so that he could tell his servants about the things which are now to take place very soon; he sent his angel to make it known to his servant John, and John has written down everything he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ. Happy the man who reads this prophecy, and happy those who listen to him, if they treasure all that it says, because the Time is close.

From John, to the seven churches of Asia: grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits in his presence before his throne.

Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives surrounded by the seven golden lamp-stands: I know all about you: how hard you work and how much you put up with. I know you cannot stand wicked men, and how you tested the impostors who called themselves apostles and proved they were liars. Know, too, that you have patience, and have suffered for my name without growing tired. Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and do as you used to at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place.”

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Luke 18:35-43

As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about, and they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied ‘let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God for what had happened.

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Your faith has saved you.

Have you ever been so restless to the point that you felt there was nobody who cares?  Worse, there were people who ridiculed us on the situation we are in.  What do we do? Do we lose hope or do we keep moving on?

The gospel for the day speaks about a blind man who called for Jesus.  The crowd must have been annoyed by this so they told him to be quiet.  Personally I would feel bad if I was ordered to be quiet when I call someone.  The blind man did not mind the people and even shouted more loudly.  With this, Jesus stopped and ordered that the blind man be brought to Him. Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Sir, let me see again.” Jesus grants this request because of the faith of that blind man.

Whatever circumstance we are in, we must continue to hang on and rely on God.  Our prayers may not be answered the first time we ask.  But if God wills it, it will be given to us eventually.  We may face a lot of discouragement in our life.  Let us not make this a reason to be discouraged with our faith.  Rather, we must make this an opportunity to seek more help from the Lord.

There can also be times when we thought we are so helpless but in reality we just cannot see that the help is right in front of us.  Or maybe what we asked is not what we really need.  Sometimes we must also seek help to realise what we really need.  We pray to God that our eyes be opened to the things that matter.  We pray to have the vision to see what God wants us to see.   We must be unceasing with our prayer life.  If our life keeps getting harder, it is when our prayer should be the hardest.  Whatever hindrances we will encounter in life, our prayer will help us through.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, I pray that we may always recognise your presence.  May we always lift our worries to You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for giving us the gift of faith.  Thank You for Your continual love despite our unworthiness.

18 November, Sunday – Hope in Death

18 November 2018

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Daniel 12:1-3

‘At that time Michael will stand up, the great prince who mounts guard over your people. There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.’

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Hebrews 10:11-14,18

All the priests stand at their duties every day, offering over and over again the same sacrifices which are quite incapable of taking sins away. He, on the other hand, has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his place forever, at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made into a footstool for him. By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. When all sins have been forgiven, there can be no more sin offerings.

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Mark 13:24-32

Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.

‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

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Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away

When I was younger, my family was not comfortable talking about death. My parents regarded it with negativity and morbidity. But recently, as their friends and colleagues passed on one by one, we talked about death as a point in life. Only God knows when it is our time. Though we can talk about it a bit naturally now, there is still uneasiness on my part. Sometimes I ask myself, “Will I feel pain?” or “How will I answer if I should be interrogated by God or St. Peter?” or “Have I lived my life worthy to be in heaven?”  Things like these sometimes make me wonder if I have been living the way I should be.

Our gospel for the day tells us about the second coming of Christ. Imagine when the sun and moon no longer produce light, and the stars are falling from the sky. It will really be the end of the world. But after the days of suffering, it will be marvelous and glorious. “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.” It clearly depicts that amidst trials and suffering, we must always be hopeful. There is hope that things will get better after all the calamity.

In our first reading from the book of Daniel, anguish will come upon us, but the Archangel Michael was sent to rescue the people. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews tells us that suffering and hardship will continue to be a pattern in our life. We may feel that we are experiencing unlimited trials.  But our tribulations are incomparable with the sacrifice Christ made for us. “He, on the other hand, has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his place forever.”  Jesus is always with us. And our hope in Him keeps us going in life.

Yes, our future is uncertain. There are people that seem to think that the end of the world is coming soon. But in reality, nobody knows when. Mark even said so in the gospel, “But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father.”  We must not be afraid. We must remember that our future is perfectly in God’s hands.

There is so much we can do than just to be afraid of the second coming of Christ. Quoting the song by David Haas, “We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may be able to take good care of this gift of life. May we be able to face our fears and be an inspiration to others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for this gift of life. Thank you for always giving us the opportunity to live well and respond to Your call.

17 November, Saturday – Staying the Course

17 November – Memorial for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Married woman, Religious

Elizabeth (1207-1231) was a princess, the daughter of King Andrew of Hungary, and the great-aunt of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. At the age of 13, she married Prince Louis of Thuringia. She built a hospital at the foot of the mountain on which her castle stood, and tended to the sick herself. Her family and courtiers opposed this, but she insisted she could only follow Christ’s teachings, not theirs.

Once, when she was taking food to the poor and sick, Prince Louis stopped her and looked under her mantle to see what she was carrying; the food had been miraculously changed to roses. Upon Louis’ death, Elizabeth sold all that she had, and worked to support her four children. Her gifts of bread to the poor, and of a large gift of grain to a famine-stricken Germany, led to her patronage of bakers and related fields.

– Patron Saint Index

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3 John 1:5-8

My friend, you have done faithful work in looking after these brothers, even though they were complete strangers to you. They are a proof to the whole Church of your charity and it would be a very good thing if you could help them on their journey in a way that God would approve. It was entirely for the sake of the name that they set out, without depending on the pagans for anything; it is our duty to welcome men of this sort and contribute our share to their work for the truth.

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Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

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“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

We are a living generation of ‘instants’ — instant gratification, instant food, instant connection, instant convenience, Instagram, instant results. In a very sobering thought, God ‘unfortunately’ does not operate in an Insta-world. As we are familiar, everything operates in God’s time.

I remember praying for a transfer once and I had been looking forward to it. I prayed really hard for it, and it took three months to come through. Every day I waited for a ‘ding’ on my phone to go off, signaling an incoming email and I would immediately check it to see if it was the approval, and got dejected when it wasn’t. It’s an awful way to pass the day I can tell you!

I sometimes laugh to myself that if God saw me then, He might have been highly amused by my antics, and I imagine that the more I became a ‘slave’ to my phone beeps, the longer He would prolong the wait, just to let me learn about patience and praying without giving up hope. That’s just my satirical take on things. We are, of course, wise enough to know that not only do things happen in God’s time, but also when God thinks we are ready for it.

But what happens if the outcome isn’t quite as we expect it to be? What if, for example, it was a job that we were praying for but when we got it, it wasn’t quite the terms that we wanted? No doubt that we would feel disappointed, but do we then discard what has been given to us? To me, that seems a little childish, like a child who wished for a Hot Wheels car, but in the end received a car from an unheard of brand without all the bells and whistles. If you were the giver, you would feel rejected and disappointed nonetheless. What does this say about our trust in God to provide us with what He thinks is best for us? What does it show about us “letting go, and letting God”? There is an almost foolish, unappreciative, ‘smarty-pants’ attitude about it, almost as though we know what is best for us. As it is said in today’s gospel, when Jesus comes will He find faith on earth? If we do not get what we want, what we are praying for, will we think that God doesn’t care and isn’t fair, and stop praying altogether? Or will we keep praying, and say “well God, this isn’t quite what I hoped for, but I will leave it with you, you know what you are doing” and ask God unwaveringly, reverently to show us the way with what we have been given?

Jesus said we have to pray without getting weary. But the prayer needs to go hand in hand with faith. For as today’s reading puts it, if a dishonest judge can finally give in to the widow’s persistence, what more with God Almighty when we press our petitions to Him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I present my prayers and petitions and humbly ask for patience and perseverance, that even if they do not turn out the way I expected, I am secure in the joy that You nonetheless heard my every word.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for hearing and answering my prayers, though I am a sinner and am small in the greater scheme of things.

16 November, Friday – Loving in Distress

16 November – Memorial for St. Margaret of Scotland; Memorial for St. Gertrude, Virgin

Margaret (1045–1093) was the granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside of England, and the great-niece of St. Stephen of Hungary. She was born in Hungary while her family was in exile due to the Danish invasion of England. Even so, she still much of her youth in the British Isles.

While fleeing the invading army of William the Conqueror in 1066, her family’s ship wrecked on the Scottish coast. They were assisted by King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland, whom Margaret married in 1070, and became Queen of Scotland. They had eight children, one of whom was St. Maud, wife of Henry I. Margaret founded abbeys and used her position to work for justice and improved conditions for the poor.

– Patron Saint Index

Gertrude (1256–1302) may have been an orphan. She was raised in the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary of Helfta, Eiselben, Saxony from the age of five. She was an extremely bright and dedicated student, and she excelled in literature and philosophy. When she was old enough, she became a Benedictine nun.

At age 26, when she had become too enamoured of philosophy, she received a vision of Christ who reproached her. From then on she studied the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers. Gertrude received other visions and mystical instruction, which formed the basis of her writings. She helped spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her writings have been greatly praised by St. Teresa and St. Francis de Sales, and continue in print today.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 John 1:4-9

It has given me great joy to find that your children have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. I am writing now, dear lady, not to give you any new commandment, but the one which we were given at the beginning, and to plead: let us love one another.

To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

There are many deceivers about in the world, refusing to admit that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist. Watch yourselves, or all our work will be lost and not get the reward it deserves. If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what he taught can have the Father and the Son with them.

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Luke 17:26-37

Jesus said to the disciples:

‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying wives and husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It will be the same as it was in Lot’s day: people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but the day Lot left Sodom, God rained fire and brimstone from heaven and it destroyed them all. It will be the same when the day comes for the Son of Man to be revealed.

‘When that day comes, anyone on the housetop, with his possessions in the house, must not come down to collect them, nor must anyone in the fields turn back either. Remember Lot’s wife. Anyone who tries to preserve his life will lose it; and anyone who loses it will keep it safe. I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed: one will be taken, the other left; two women will be grinding corn together: one will be taken, the other left.’ The disciples interrupted. ‘Where, Lord?’ they asked. He said, ‘Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather.’

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“Let us love one another… This is the commandment in which you should walk”

When I was in my teens, a fellow classmate bullied me and ostracized me from all my friends, warning them that if they ever spoke to me, she would ensure they suffered the same fate. I don’t quite understand what I ever did to deserve that, but I suffered her for the remaining years until I left school.

When I was in my twenties, I fell into a relationship with someone who treated me very poorly and unfairly. I was bitterly upset, and my mood swung from anger to revenge to sadness to self-loathing (for my stupidity). I vowed I would have my day of justice, I vowed he would have his comeuppance. I don’t know if he ever did, but in the end I swallowed that bitter pill and said nothing.

When I was in my thirties, I worked hard to forge a career only to have certain colleagues pull the rug from under my feet and throw me under the bus; something I could have avoided if I had relented and played my political cards right. The inequitable treatment seethed within me, and I left.

Any of this sound familiar? They are all our own stories, stories where someone, somewhere, at some point in our lives wronged us to the point of revenge. We all carry a little ‘badge’ within us, something that marks an incident that wounded us so profoundly, it shaped us and changed us. Let us not judge the badge-wearer, or their stories, for we only know the gist of it. We should instead salute their courage for walking away from the bitterness and anger, instead of letting it consume their being. “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:8-9). Or how about the quote from Star Wars’ Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Not so much the suffering of others, but suffering of ourselves.

It is indeed such a struggle to walk away from the all-consuming anger. Even if and when you have sought justice and redress for yourself, the relief can only be temporary; the hurt remains like a scar that can never heal, and giving in to anger is like the satisfaction of scratching an itch. But the struggle can get better, if we allow ourselves to love.

Even that is difficult to explain, but in the darkest, most empty times in my life, I opened up my heart to God’s love, telling myself to move away from the self-blame and self-loathing and to use all my might to turn that negativity around. In my own darkness, I was able to empathize with those in a similar place, and I have learned to open up my heart and pray for them, and yes, pray even for those who have hurt me. They who have wronged us have no concept of the hurt they have caused so our tears will not move them. Pity them instead, for they do not know love as we do, and pray for them.

I wish I could say that this applies to everything, every difficult situation in our lives like tragedy and death, and I wish I had the words. But I send love, with the hope that every drop of love that one receives will turn into a mighty outpouring of love that will one day heal that pain.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, the hardest love is to love when one is in distress. But in loving, we forgive those who hurt us, and we forgive ourselves. Free us from our shackles of anger we pray, that we may claim for ourselves wholly the promises of God with a heart unbound.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for those who love us, who have healed our wounds with their prayers, thoughts, kind words and deeds. We pray that we too can heal those that need healing.

15 November, Thursday – Walking the Road

15 November – Memorial for St. Albert the Great, Bishop, Religious, Doctor

Albertus (1206-1280) was the son of a military nobleman. A Dominican priest, he taught theology at Colgone and Paris and was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was an influential teacher, preacher, and administrator, and became the Bishop of Regensburg. He introduced Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to medieval Europe.

He is known for his wide interest in what became later known as the natural sciences – botany, biology, etc. He wrote and illustrated guides to his observations, and was considered on par with Aristotle as an authority on these matters. He was a theological writer, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

“It is by the path of love, which is charity, that God draws near to man, and man to God. But where charity is not found, God cannot dwell. If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for “God is Charity” (1 John 4:8)” – St. Albert the Great

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Philemon 1:7-20

I am so delighted, and comforted, to know of your love; they tell me, brother, how you have put new heart into the saints.

Now, although in Christ I can have no diffidence about telling you to do whatever is your duty, I am appealing to your love instead, reminding you that this is Paul writing, an old man now and, what is more, still a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus. He was of no use to you before, but he will be useful to you now, as he has been to me. I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self. I should have liked to keep him with me; he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the Good News has brought me. However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous. I know you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, but it was only so that you could have him back for ever, not as a slave any more, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord. So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me; but if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, then let me pay for it. I am writing this in my own handwriting: I, Paul, shall pay it back – I will not add any mention of your own debt to me, which is yourself. Well then, brother, I am counting on you, in the Lord; put new heart into me, in Christ.

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Luke 17:20-25

Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, Jesus gave them this answer, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, “Look here! Look there!” For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.’

He said to the disciples, ‘A time will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there!” or, “Look here!” Make no move; do not set off in pursuit; for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will be the Son of Man when his day comes. But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.’

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“I have received much joy and encouragement from your love”

The path that we are each called on by God to take is never an easy one. It is one thing to say “follow your passion”, but another to follow your passion with perseverance. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. If it were easy, we would find no satisfaction in our toil, we would not rejoice after sweating it out, nor understand what rest would mean after a hard day’s work. If only it were easy… but it never is.

I would like to think that when we surrender ourselves to God, asking Him to show us the way, He does not answer so directly or so suddenly, like a jolt of awakening. I think He gently but persistently introduces the path to us, knowing that if it was otherwise, we would pursue it headlong without a plan. God wants us to be aware, and be comfortable – yes, comfortable – with the idea of it, and also with the discomfort that will most inevitably come with it.

That is not to say that we should be careful what we wish for, or that we do not ask God for a revelation of His path for us. Rather in our doubt and fear, we go forth anyway in faith, for that in itself is part of the journey, our journey, wherein the experiences gleaned are unique to us.

Again, that is also not to say that we will be alone. Yes God is with us all the way, but He will send us the encouragement and support that we need through others. He will send us the help that we need at the right time, when we least expect it. We fear to take the step perhaps because we know not what waits in the wings or if anyone will be there to help us along. What if doors don’t open? What if things don’t work out? What if…? And perhaps, also in our fear, that on our journey there may be no path, no guide, no encouragement, we also forget to be the encouragement to others that God wants us to be.

There is a saying that we should be kind to others because you never know what battles others are fighting. Be kind yes, and also encouraging, because we are each walking our own roads, and though our destinations may be different, the journey is nonetheless daunting. But if we spur each other on, the road is a little easier to walk, and the joy of reaching the destination is sweeter for the sharing.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, as I take my first tentative steps on this road you have laid out before me, don’t let me go, I pray, but hold my hand steadfastly lest I should fall.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I prayed for a path and you revealed it to me; I prayed for strength and you walked it with me. Thank you.

14 November, Wednesday – Christian Behaviour

14 November

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Titus 3:1-7

Remind your people that it is their duty to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people or picking quarrels, but to be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries; we lived then in wickedness and ill-will, hating each other and hateful ourselves.

But when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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It was purely by his own compassion that God saved us.

From ancient times through to modern day, there has always been a vestige of ‘an eye for an eye’ at the back of our minds. Although we do not take this literally, we often practice this principle in our daily lives.

How often are we more pleasant to someone who smiles at us? How many times have we become defensive when we encounter someone who is rude to us and we answer in kind? I can’t recall the last time I did not react or retort angrily if I felt that I have been unjustly treated.

Reflecting on this, it is an extremely wonderful thing that our Heavenly Father is not miserly like us. He is merciful and loving despite all our inequities and our lack of compassion towards others. Can you imagine if Jesus only saved the people who were nice to Him? The whole world would fall, and none would be saved.

Our God is full of compassion and mercy; otherwise, He would not have sent His only son to die a horrible death to atone for our sins. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can not hope to merit, earn or buy our way to Heaven. We cannot bargain or bribe our way. It is thru the mercy, compassion and love of our Lord that we may gain such reward.

Let us not squander the opportunity given to us so very graciously. Let us repay the Lord in kind by being compassionate, forgiving, loving, and caring to our neighbors. From something simple as smiling at a stranger, to refraining from gossiping about others. We can all do our part in little ways to be more Christ-like, to show our Heavenly Father that we love Him by our actions. Let’s make Him proud to call us His children and show the world that we are followers of Christ by our words and actions.

“In this life, we cannot do great things.  We can do little things with great love.”  – Mother Teresa

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we can be more compassionate and loving in our day to day interactions with family, friends and strangers alike.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for granting us your grace to help us battle the temptations of this world.

13 November, Tuesday – Fleeting Worldly Possessions

13 November

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Titus 2:1-8,11-14

It is for you to preach the behaviour which goes with healthy doctrine. The older men should be reserved, dignified, moderate, sound in faith and love and constancy. Similarly, the older women should behave as though they were religious, with no scandal-mongering and no habitual wine-drinking – they are to be the teachers of the right behaviour and show the younger women how they should love their husbands and love their children, how they are to be sensible and chaste, and how to work in their homes, and be gentle, and do as their husbands tell them, so that the message of God is never disgraced. In the same way, you have got to persuade the younger men to be moderate and in everything you do make yourself an example to them of working for good: when you are teaching, be an example to them in your sincerity and earnestness and in keeping all that you say so wholesome that nobody can make objections to it; and then any opponent will be at a loss, with no accusation to make against us. You see, God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 17:7-10

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’

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For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age…

All my friends and family have been raving about the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”.  I guess I am one of the few people that hasn’t seen the movie yet.  Honestly, living in North America, there is growing resentment towards the ‘nouveau riche’, and well-to-do Asians and immigrants. General public opinion blames them for a lot of the country’s real estate market woes. The thought of sitting through a movie based on wealthy Asians and all its stereotypes and clichés made me cringe.

Then just this week, I came upon the book (which the movie is based on) and decided to give it a read. It was entertaining as I read more, I realized that it was not just a romance novel nor a Cinderella tale. It is an ‘in your face’, satirical look at the lives of people who appear to have it all, yet who are truly unhappy.  They don’t have many, if any, meaningful friendships or relationships and are constantly trying to outdo each other. They have placed great importance on things of a transient nature above the one eternal truth. This may be a depiction of reality for some people or a pure work of fiction; whatever the case, I am reminded of one of the sermons of Bishop Barron.

In his sermon, the Bishop talked about the preoccupation and pursuit of wealth, power, honour, passion and other worldly things. These are not necessarily bad things on their own — we all seek them in one way or another. The danger comes when we forget that these are all temporary and fleeting. In fact, our time on earth is temporary and fleeting. Our goal is eternal union with our God and we should set our sights upon heavenly things. We need to see the good, the truth and the beautiful things of this world in proper prospective. We need to understand that all comes from God and to see everything in the light of God. We need to learn the value of these transient things in the light of Christ, without clinging to them, without putting too much importance or expecting too much from them. For if we place more importance on the things of the world instead of heaven, if we follow our worldly desires instead of our saviour; then for sure, we will lose sight of the eternal goal and ourselves along the way.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we set our hearts and minds on what is truly important and eternal; let us not fall into the trap of the material world and lose sight of our goal of being in communion with you.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for granting us your grace to help us battle the temptations of this world.

12 November, Monday – Working Wisely

12 November – Memorial for St. Josaphat, Bishop, Religious, Martyr

John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.

Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.

His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.

He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.

While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and placed an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.

Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to ensure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling-off period to both sides of the conflict.

“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat

– Patron Saint Index

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Titus 1:1-9

From Paul, servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God. He does not lie and so, at the appointed time, he revealed his decision, and, by the command of God our saviour, I have been commissioned to proclaim it. To Titus, true child of mine in the faith that we share, wishing you grace and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our saviour.

The reason I left you behind in Crete was for you to get everything organised there and appoint elders in every town, in the way that I told you: that is, each of them must be a man of irreproachable character; he must not have been married more than once, and his children must be believers and not uncontrollable or liable to be charged with disorderly conduct. Since, as president, he will be God’s representative, he must be irreproachable: never an arrogant or hot-tempered man, nor a heavy drinker or violent, nor out to make money; but a man who is hospitable and a friend of all that is good; sensible, moral, devout and self-controlled; and he must have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition, so that he can be counted on for both expounding the sound doctrine and refuting those who argue against it.

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Luke 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Obstacles are sure to come, but alas for the one who provides them! It would be better for him to be thrown into the Sea with a millstone put round his neck than that he should lead astray a single one of these little ones. Watch yourselves!

If your brother does something wrong, reprove him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, “I am sorry,” you must forgive him.’

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’

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Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.

“Am I working for God, or doing God’s work?”, was the phrase I caught from the stream of consciousness a friend was expressing during a retreat. The difference is subtle, yet paramount. Working for God implies an individual slant towards doing what we think God wants us to do; we perform seemingly useful acts, serve in ministries of our choosing, and help people whom we deem appropriate. Doing God’s work, however, calls us to actively and constantly discern God’s assignments for us at workplaces, in situations, and with people that we may not be inclined to entertain.

What is the downfall of merely working for God? After all, progress is made, tasks get completed, and assistance is rendered; not an ignoble outcome at all, surely? Yet, there is wisdom in using the right tools for any given purpose. We wouldn’t use a sports car for our grocery runs, although we would get the week’s shopping home eventually after a couple of trips. Much unnecessary effort results from unoptimized attempts.

Doing God’s work, however, places us squarely in the ‘zone’. A flow-like state when our hearts, bodies, and minds are perfectly synchronized. This assurance motivates us to do great things (or many small things in great ways), regardless of the odds and the risk of failure. I can’t help but smile knowing that our God pioneered Design Thinking.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Anonymous)

Prayer: Heavenly God, shine a lamp on our paths showing us the ways that we can best serve you.

Thanksgiving: With gratitude, we rejoice in the gifts you have implanted in our cores. May we appreciate the uniqueness of our design, and the unity of our purpose.