27 September, Wednesday – Only by God

Sep 27 – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

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Ezra 9:5-9

At the evening sacrifice I, Ezra, came out of my stupor and falling on my knees, with my garment and cloak torn, I stretched out my hands to the Lord my God, and said:

‘My God, I am ashamed, I blush to lift my face to you, my God. For our crimes have increased, until they are higher than our heads, and our sin has piled up to heaven. From the days of our ancestors until now our guilt has been great; on account of our crimes we, our kings and our priests, were given into the power of the kings of other countries, given to the sword, to captivity, to pillage and to shame, as is the case today. But now, suddenly, the Lord our God by his favour has left us a remnant and granted us a refuge in his holy place; this is how our God has cheered our eyes and given us a little respite in our slavery. For we are slaves; but God has not forgotten us in our slavery; he has shown us kindness in the eyes of the kings of Persia, obtaining permission for us to rebuild the Temple of our God and restore its ruins, and he has found us safety and shelter in Judah and in Jerusalem.’

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Luke 9:1-6

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.

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Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic.

Every now and then, I slip into a false notion of self-sufficiency. The illusion of self-sufficiency comes surreptitiously, like a thief in the night; it veils my eyes with the cloak of control, bolsters my pride, and steals my peace. My family’s recent move into a rented apartment has been fraught with several problems – one of them is a water-damaged and mouldy row of kitchen cabinets. How I wish things could be solved quickly and at my convenience. Yet I am at the ‘mercy’ of a landlord who is biding time with and shrugging off the delays as the contractor’s fault. We can make no headway on the rectification works, and God knows… I am due to deliver our first child in less than two months!

I have lost sleep and my temper over the incompetence of the landlord and workers. I have fretted about whether the carpenter schedule will clash with the sudden early delivery of our baby. A dozen ‘what ifs’ about the lack of preparedness of our new home has wrecked havoc on my peace and patience. I have lost count of the number of times I have wanted to pick up hammer, screw-driver, or drill, in order to help get things moving along!

Meanwhile, at the back of my mind, I cannot help but be constantly reminded of an image of a pregnant Mother Mary calmly stroking her swollen belly and praying, “Let Your will be done O Lord.” It feels like such a sting to my state of being – making me uncomfortable with how vexed I truly feel. I know I can do better at this point in trusting God.

This is the situation that the disciples probably found themselves in as they moved from town to town, proclaiming the Good News and healing people across villages. Jesus had instructed them to take nothing for their nomadic journey. They were to focus solely on doing the work of God and relying exclusively on the mercy and hospitality of the townsfolk they came to serve. Obviously, the help and hospitality they would receive was by the grace of God.

Frankly, I find it hard to be at the ‘mercy’ of anyone’s choice to help me. Whatever I can do, I’ll do it myself. That has been my life’s motto – and for me, this independence makes me feel good, capable, and in control. But this is not to be in my current state and season in life.

Being heavily pregnant, I no longer can lift a heavy mattress to change the sheets. I can barely complete vacuuming or mopping the floor at home without panting and feeling faint. I have to rely on my husband for some household chores which I quite enjoy doing. And I have to wait upon the tardy lack of urgency of an unsympathetic landlord to repair the kitchen cabinets!

I have been humbled to wait for others to help me, to be patient with another’s timeline, and to also trust and rely on God to pull my family through this difficult housing situation. We have indeed done all we can within our ability – and the rest is truly up to God.

I am learning this age-old truth in new ways these days. I take heart that I am not alone in this journey of rediscovering my persistent weaknesses. It is at this juncture that I realize I am in need of God’s grace and help – because I have neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money, nor tunic.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, please help me to remain patient and humble as I wait upon the resolution of this difficult situation that I face now.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the gift of hospitality, love, and kindness that we receive from the people we meet. May we not take these instances for granted.

26 September, Tuesday – On behalf of us sinners

Sep 26 – Memorial for Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs (not used in 2010)

Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians who accepted no payment. Their charity brought many to Christ. Although they were tortured during the persecutions of Diocletian, the two suffered no injury.

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Ezra 6:7-8,12,14-20

King Darius wrote to the satrap of Transeuphrates and his colleagues: ‘Leave the high commissioner of Judah and the elders of the Jews to work on this Temple of God; they are to rebuild this Temple of God on its ancient site. This, I decree, is how you must assist the elders of the Jews in the reconstruction of this Temple of God: the expenses of these people are to be paid, promptly and without fail, from the royal revenue – that is, from the tribute of Transeuphrates. May the God who causes his name to live there overthrow any king or people who dares to defy this and destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem! I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed to the letter!’

The elders of the Jews prospered with their building, inspired by Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building in accordance with the order of the God of Israel and the order of Cyrus and of Darius. This Temple was finished on the twenty-third day of the month of Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The Israelites – the priests, the Levites and the remainder of the exiles – joyfully dedicated this Temple of God; for the dedication of this Temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs and, as a sacrifice for sin for the whole of Israel, twelve he-goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they installed the priests according to their orders in the service of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is written in the Book of Moses.

The exiles celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

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Luke 8:19-21

The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

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‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

 How is it that one man should die for the sins of many in order that they may be saved? How is it that one man could atone for the failures and the iniquities of all of humanity, past and present? Who is capable of representing every man, woman, child? If you or I were guilty of a crime, dare we consider scapegoating one person for the crime or travesty?

Frankly, the first reading today stumbled me. And the gospel passage always makes me wonder why Jesus would sound so distant and disrespectful of Mary his mother. At the same time, it is often this passage that some Protestants use to argue that Jesus had disowned his mother and hints that he had other siblings (brothers). Hence Mary had children other than Jesus, thus it diminishing the importance she plays in Jesus’ life and questions her honored place in the Catholic faith. However, we know that the word ‘brothers’ could mean kinsmen or cousins in its proper historical context. At the same time, we have another account in the Gospel of Mark that relates his family had thought Jesus’ ministry was out of hand and had arrived to take him home (Mk 3:28-35)

As I pondered deeper on these scriptures, I realized that I was challenged by the concept of claiming my brethren, a community, fellow Christians, and my fellow kinsfolk. The point is not that Jesus had disowned his flesh and blood family. Taken together, the first reading and gospel passage reveals that Christ came to unite all of us humanity into a large family of God’s people. It is a truly difficult concept. Because no matter how we slice the pie, we still cannot help but see ourselves as belonging to one particular group of society or church community.

Very naturally, we want to protect our own kind, we desire loyalty, we want to identify with someone or some group. But these are ultimately superficial divisions, and amorphous structures that our life experiences, culture, race, society, and upbringing place upon us. These are not set in stone and the reality is, we are truly one under the love of God.

In the first reading of Ezra, we are told: The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

This image prefigures God’s plan for the whole of humanity. That He, Creator of all the world and human race, should fashion from perfect love, one Man, His Only Begotten Son, as a sacrificial lamb to be condemned to death on cruel cross for all of humanity’s sins. No sin too small or great that Christ’s blood could not cleanse and purify. No wound so hidden that God’s love and mercy could not heal and restore. Jesus did not come to serve only his kinsmen, not only the ones who love him or love God and put His Word into practice. He came for all of us, even the ones we deem unworthy of redemption.

Grace is freely given. However, it is true that there are some amongst us who may continue to choose to spurn God’s grace and love. Yet, you and I are challenged today to still think of them as our brethren and our larger family, whom God loves unconditionally.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of mercy for our brothers and sisters who have yet to come to know God.

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the many prayers that must have been said for me while I was still a wandering prodigal daughter.

25 September, Monday – Entitlement

25 September 2017

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Ezra 1:1-6

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord that was spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: ‘Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, wherever he lives, be helped by the people of that place with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, as well as voluntary offerings for the Temple of God which is in Jerusalem.”’

Then the heads of families of Judah and of Benjamin, the priests and the Levites, in fact all whose spirit had been roused by God, prepared to go and rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem; and all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.

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Luke 8:16-18

Jesus said to the crowds:

‘No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.’

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… for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.

God’s many gifts are given to each of us and meant for us to share with the world. This is the crux of the readings today. How often do we think about our gifts and talents as something that should be put to use for the good of others first, before we ourselves reap the benefits? I guess I’m guilty of often thinking: me first, then when I have time and the chance, I will share or contribute.

I know it isn’t easy to constantly think beyond myself or even to encompass the concerns of a larger community above my own needs. Jesus tells the crowds that when one possesses a coveted lit lamp in the midst of a deep darkness, the most important thing is to put it on a lamp-stand for all to see the light when they come in.

Have you have known someone who would probably snuff out the lamp once they are done with their use of it? I can think of some people I have met in life who might actually do so! Or even keep the lamp solely for their personal use.

Therein lies the question of ‘how entitled do I think I am to the gifts and talents I have?’ The reality today is that we are often told ‘to each his own’, ‘you’ve earned it!’, ‘some are just more equal than others’, and  ‘you can have control over your destiny/path/identity/dreams.’ In each of these overwhelmingly common refrains lurks a sense of selfishness and entitlement of the individual. Self-help books today abound with similar themes of ‘me, myself, and I’.

Likewise, the first reading today shows us the strength and resilience of community, of sharing in resources, skills, and talents amongst the different families of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites. Everyone of them were roused by the Holy Spirit to come together, bringing the light of their strongest skill sets and valuables, to help rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem – ‘all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.’

This light of God could be manifest in our worship, our churches, our work, our families, our time and resources, etc. The important thing for us to remember is that we are only stewards of these manifold gifts from God, and how we use them for the good of others, is what pleases God more than how well we enrich and entrench ourselves in the system of power, benefits, rewards.

God alone knows, and sees into the hearts of all He created. May He find in us clean and pure hearts desiring to serve and share His gifts of which we are guardians and stewards.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to see beyond my immediate comfort and benefit to consider serving your people humbly and generously.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people who have made it their life’s call to serve others and bring God’s light to the world.

24 September, Sunday – The Upside-down World of a Generous God

24 September 2017

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Isaiah 55:6-9

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

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Philippians 1:20-24,27

Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more; but then again, if living in this body means doing work which is having good results – I do not know what I should choose. I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake.

Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

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My ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.

Nobody likes to be last. Whether it is to be the last to join a group project, the last to complete a piece of work, or the last in a race. If we were the last to join an established group of people, some of us may feel awkward and lost amidst the already comfortable dynamics and conversation. And especially if we were the first few to kick-start a group or a project but ended up finishing close to last or doing the worst among every one else, that feeling would surely stink.

I imagine that the gospel passage today is often a huge stumbling block for many people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven (and its logic) to the system of work and payment agreement between this particular vineyard owner and his workers.

The reward for all was always intended to be the same. This is the law of a truly fair and just God. He had laid out the plan from the beginning. Each one of us who are made in His image are loved as much as the other, and share in an equal dignity among others.

Hence, whether you or I came first or late or last to the eternal banquet, we are served exactly the same portion and food, and given the same treatment – love and mercy. However, when we look out at the world through our limited and human perspective of scarcity, it is inevitable that we think the ones who struck the deal the vineyard owner first deserve the best compensation for their long and hard service. Interestingly, these first-comers were actually not short-changed, for they indeed received the wages that was agreed upon. It was only upon realizing that the latecomers received the same dues as them too, that their satisfaction was challenged and their joy diminished. They were also upset that the latecomers were paid first! It appears that fairness to them was that the latecomers should be paid later and lesser!

Let us think about the one denarius daily wage as if it were paid in terms of a meal or food at the end of the work day. In these terms, it seems the first group felt entitled to a complete meal at the banquet, whereas the later group should only be distributed the remnants of the meal!

God invites us today to open our hearts to his logic of justice and generosity. He does not reward first-comers to the faith better for our long years of service and faith – we have already had our reward in communion with Him! Likewise, he does not reward the late-comers better, in some twist of unfairness and indulgence.

“Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”

He rewards all the same with his boundless mercy and love, for it is communion that he desires with each and every soul. The dignity and worth of every single person was formed one and the same by One God who is Creator above all.

May we participate in expressing the generosity of God’s love to all who come to Him, no matter if they joined the family at birth, through marriage, in mid-life, or at deathbed. Even if a hardcore sinner or criminal should have spent all his/her life indulging in all manner of debauchery, only to repent late in life, may we give thanks and rejoice with our Heavenly Father who embraces the younger prodigal son, “he was once lost, but now is found.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to cultivate a heart of mercy and generosity to embrace and love our neighbour.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for receiving and loving us all equally no matter when we return to your fold.

23 September, Saturday – Our Models of Faith

Sep 23 – Memorial for St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Priest

Pio (1887-1968) was ordained when he was 22. He founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920s he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.

His canonisation miracle involved the cure of Matteo Pio Colella, age 7, the son of a doctor who works in the House for Relief of Suffering, the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo founded by Padre Pio. On the night of 20 June 2000, Matteo was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital with meningitis. By morning doctors had lost hope for him as nine of the boy’s internal organs had ceased to give signs of life.

That night, during a prayer vigil attended by Matteo’s mother and some Capuchin friars of Padre Pio’s monastery, the child’s condition improved suddenly. When he awoke from the coma, Matteo said that he had seen an elderly man with a white beard and a long, brown habit, who said to him: “Don’t worry, you will soon be cured.”

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1 Timothy 6:13-16

Before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate, I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who at the due time will be revealed
by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all,
the King of kings and the Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal,
whose home is in inaccessible light,
whom no man has seen and no man is able to see:
to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

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Luke 8:4-15

With a large crowd gathering and people from every town finding their way to him, Jesus used this parable:

‘A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell on the edge of the path and was trampled on; and the birds of the air ate it up. Some seed fell on rock, and when it came up it withered away, having no moisture. Some seed fell amongst thorns and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell into rich soil and grew and produced its crop a hundredfold.’ Saying this he cried, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’

His disciples asked him what this parable might mean, and he said, ‘The mysteries of the kingdom of God are revealed to you; for the rest there are only parables, so that

they may see but not perceive,
listen but not understand.

‘This, then, is what the parable means: the seed is the word of God. Those on the edge of the path are people who have heard it, and then the devil comes and carries away the word from their hearts in case they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are people who, when they first hear it, welcome the word with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of trial they give up. As for the part that fell into thorns, this is people who have heard, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life and do not reach maturity. As for the part in the rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart who have heard the word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.’

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“I put to you the duty all that you have been told… until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”

I went to all boys schools at both the primary and secondary levels. Being educated in English as a first language, the boys did not hold the learning of Mandarin as a priority. In fact, we relished in speaking English during our Mandarin classes and often got “rewarded” with extended standing sessions outside the classrooms!

In my late twenties, I became interested in learning more about my Chinese heritage. Unfortunately, I realised English was not exactly the best language of instruction (especially in the pre-internet era). As a result, I began working hard on improving my Mandarin competency.

A story I learned during my “studies” still intrigues me till today. This took place during the same era as the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. A general was marching his troops over a particularly mountainous stretch and the going was tough. The sun was brutally hot and the soldiers were extremely dehydrated. With no water source available, the mission was in danger of failing, when the general told his troops that there was a forest full of plum trees just beyond the mountain. When the troops heard that, they quickened their pace, ultimately ending in a successful campaign.

In the first reading of today, much like the Chinese general, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to do his best for the Lord, and to perform his duties faultlessly, until the time our Lord Jesus returns. What really impressed me was the intensity of devotion of both Paul and Timothy. Similarly, the disciples continued to display loyalty to our Lord Jesus, even to the point of giving up their lives for Him (except for John, who died of natural causes).

Let us learn from Paul, Timothy and the disciples. May we look forward to tasting the juicy plums after we pass this mountain. We need to keep our eyes on our Lord!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, please help us to always keep our eyes on You.  Help us to be as faithful as those before us.

ThanksgivingThank You for sending models of faith for us to follow.  Thank You for always showing us how to be faithful.

22 September, Friday – The True North

22 September 2017

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1 Timothy 6:2-12

This is what you are to teach the brothers to believe and persuade them to do. Anyone who teaches anything different, and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit – with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another; and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making a profit. Religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds.

But, as a man dedicated to God, you must avoid all that. You must aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth in front of many witnesses.

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Luke 8:1-3

Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.

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“This is what you are to teach the brothers to believe…”

When I was 11, a neighbour brought me to a Presbyterian church. I continued attending that particular church for a few years and during that time, I heard many sermons explaining Bible readings and did learn quite a bit about Christian living. I must admit, though, that the messages that came through the sermons did clash at times. As someone exposed to the Bible the first time, I was confused. In fact, I was not able to differentiate what was correct and what was not.

Thanks to a good friend, I started going to the Catholic Church and got baptised. Because of my experience in the earlier church, I realised that the homilies and sermons in the Catholic Church were quite different; the style was obviously different, but it was clear that interpretation of the Bible passages were consistent.

A few years later, I became a Catechist when my daughter joined the Home Catechism group. In preparing for the lessons, I struggled to find out what was the ‘right’ message, and discovered the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)’.  The CCC is a treasure trove of what we as Catholics believe; it not only contains the interpretations of the Bible but also the oral traditions of the Church. The CCC was obviously there all along of course, it was just that I was not aware of it.

Over time, I discovered that the Catholic Church was universal in others ways as well. I have attended Masses in other countries and I was able to join in the Eucharist, just like I was at home. More importantly, I know that whatever I am, the teachings and interpretations are that of the Catholic Church; consistent and dependent.

The Apostle Paul, in today’s 1st reading, cautions us to ensure that all teachings are to keep to the doctrines of our Lord Jesus.  The Catholic Church gives us this confidence and trust.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer We pray that we may always be guided by our Holy Father and the Holy Catholic Church.

Thanksgiving – Father God, we praise and thank You for sending Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for teaching us how to live through giving us the Church and the CCC.

21 September, Thursday – Forgiveness, for us and for others

Sep 21 – Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Matthew was the son of Alphaeus, and he lived at Capernaum on Lake Genesareth. He was a Roman tax collector, a position equated with collaboration with the enemy by those from whom he collected taxes. Jesus’ contemporaries were surprised to see the Christ with a traitor, but Jesus explained that he had come “not to call the just, but sinners”.

Matthew’s Gospel is given pride of place in the canon of the New Testament, and was written to convince Jewish readers that their anticipated Messiah had come in the person of Jesus. He preached among the Jews for 15 years; his audiences may have included the Jewish enclave in Ethiopia, and places in the East.

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Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. To some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.

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Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus was walking on, he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

While he was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’

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“What I want is mercy, not sacrifice”

Through my years of education in Catholic schools, there was a running joke about ‘catholic guilt’. Essentially, one cannot be a good Catholic without having a healthy dose of guilt! Because I wasn’t Catholic then, I did not realise how true (or funny!) that saying was!

Ironically, the years in a well-established school for boys gave all of us loads of self-confidence.  I was so well entrenched in this environment that I took it all for granted. We looked at other schools and thought we were much better than them in every aspect.

All that changed when I went to junior college. At that time, students were posted to an interim junior college for the first 3 months. I was not posted to the college of my choice. While I did not realise it then, it was a blessing from God. During the short 3 months, I met many who were much smarter, sportier and funnier. The difference was that these same students were much humbler than my friends, or indeed, myself. I can truly say this experience changed my view of the world.

As humans, we tend to go to extremes; we either think too highly or too lowly of ourselves.  Getting caught up in our situations, we become overly critical of ourselves or others.

The words in today’s gospel “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice” really stuck in my mind when I first reflected on them about a year ago. When I first thought about this, the message I got was that rather than being judgemental towards others, we should choose to exercise mercy.

Following a very emotional confession I had at the Conversion Experience Experience (CER), I remember the priest sharing with me that had Jesus not had the scars from the crucifixion, our redemption would have been different… that there was beauty in His scars; His imperfections.

It was then that I realised that this mercy is not just to be extended to others, but also to ourselves. It is only with this mercy that we can experience true redemption, which allows us to truly love others.

We are a work of progress. We will be guided by the Holy Spirit, but because of our human nature, we will fall.  Our God, however, will not fail us, and all we need to do is to turn back to Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to learn to be merciful to ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, we pray that You may give us the strength and grace to be kind to ourselves.

ThanksgivingThank You Father for loving us first. Thank You for showing us that with Your love and mercy, we can walk through our lives in confidence.

20 September, Wednesday – Staying Properly Connected

Sep 20 – Memorial for St. Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions, Korean Martyrs; Memorial for Sts. Laurent Imbert, Bishop Jacques Chastan, Priest (martyrs of College General, Penang, Malaysia)

There are 103 martyrs in this group, consisting of priests, missionaries and lay people who died in the early days of the Church in Korea. Most were murdered during waves of persecutions in 1839, 1846 and 1867.

Andrew Kim Taegon’s father was a martyr. Andrew was baptised at age 15, then travelled 1,300 miles to the nearest seminary in Macao. He was Korea’s first native priest, and the first priest to die for the faith in Korea.

Laurent Imbert was a missionary to China. He taught at the College General, Penang from 1821 to 1822. He was named Vicar Apostolic of Korea on 26 April 1836. He and St. Jacques (or Jacob) were arrested for the crime of evangelisation, and then tortured and martyred.

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1 Timothy 3:14-16

At the moment of writing to you, I am hoping that I may be with you soon; but in case I should be delayed, I wanted you to know how people ought to behave in God’s family – that is, in the Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is very deep indeed:

He was made visible in the flesh,
attested by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed to the pagans,
believed in by the world,
taken up in glory.

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Luke 7:31-35

Jesus said to the people:

‘What description can I find for the men of this generation? What are they like? They are like children shouting to one another while they sit in the market-place:

‘“We played the pipes for you,
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t cry.”

‘For John the Baptist comes, not eating bread, not drinking wine, and you say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Wisdom has been proved right by all her children.’

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“Wisdom has been proved right by all her children”

When I read today’s Gospel, I am astounded by our Lord’s words that are relevant even today.

Much like the people mentioned by Jesus, I am guilty of being very self-absorbed.  A major struggle I am faced with constantly is the many forms of distractions available in the form of technology; the Internet, streaming music, movies and videos available for binge watching. Interestingly, although the technology allowed for ‘anytime-access’, what this meant for me was more like a consistent, and regular, access. My wife has often complained that I can be in the same room, but still be in a different place. My children have made the same observations.

On a trip to Australia, I found myself suddenly cut off from all these forms of entertainment. I would have to admit that for the first couple of days, I felt edgy. After that passed, I was able to set aside my Blackberry and focus on those around me — my family, friends, what was going around me and most importantly, God. I was surprised by how well I survived the trip!

Over the years, as a result of experiences such as the one I just mentioned, I have learned and applied strategies for refocusing.  This is why I find an annual retreat to be particularly effective to help me listen to God. It helps me tune out the ‘busyness’ of everyday life, and once I complete the retreat, I feel spiritually recharged, and find that God’s voice to be much louder in my life.

Even more ideally, we should model our Lord’s ways. In the Gospels, we will often find Jesus going away from the crowds and spending time praying alone. In fact, we find Him starting His ministry with 40 days and nights plugged in to God at the start of His ministry and spending time in the Garden of Gethsemane just before facing His persecution on earth.

I have realised that in order to be connected to God, we WILL need to disconnect. May we take the Lord’s words and example to heart and be attuned to what is truly important.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer We pray that we may have the power to discern what is important. We pray, Father, that we will not be distracted by the frivolous things in our lives.

ThanksgivingWe thank You Jesus, for showing us all that could potentially take our attention away from You. Thank You for showing us what it means to be connected to You and Our Father.

19 September, Tuesday – Keeping our slate clean

Sep 19 – Memorial for St. Januarius, Bishop and Martyr

Januarius (d. 305) was arrested on account of his profession of the Christian religion during persecution of Christians. He was cast into the fiery furnace, through which he passed wholly unharmed. On the following day, along with a number of fellow martyrs, he was exposed to the fury of wild beasts, which laid themselves down in tame submission at his feet.

Timotheus, the governor who pronounced the sentence of death upon Januarius, was struck with blindness but was immediately healed by the powerful intercession of the saint, a miracle which converted nearly five thousand men on the spot. The ungrateful judge, only roused to further fury by these occurrences, caused the execution of Januarius by the sword to be forthwith carried out. The body was ultimately removed by the inhabitants of Naples to that city, where the relic became very famous for its miracles.

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1 Timothy 3:1-13

Here is a saying that you can rely on: To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble wok. That is why the president must have an impeccable character. He must not have been married more than once, and he must be temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher; not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable. He must not be a lover of money. He must be a man who manages his own family well and brings his children up to obey him and be well-behaved: how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God? He should not be a new convert, in case pride might turn his head and then he might be condemned as the devil was condemned. It is also necessary that people outside the Church should speak well of him, so that he never gets a bad reputation and falls into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons must be respectable men whose word can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first, and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, the women must be respectable, not gossips but sober and quite reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once, and must be men who manage their children and families well. Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and be rewarded with great assurance in their work for the faith in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 7:11-17

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

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“The president must have an impeccable character”

Growing up without my parents, I met my father’s stepsister when I was about 12.  After that, we spent a lot of time together.  We went for meals together and she taught all there was to know about etiquette and how to stand up for myself.  She thought I was funny and interesting and I totally adored her.

To impress her, I soon started making up stories. In these stories, I was always funny, smart, witty and fun. They were lovely stories, except they were not true.

Despite her obvious pride in me, I began experiencing a sense of shame. In company, she would always praise me, saying that she was proud to have a nephew like me. Externally, I was always cheerful, but inside me, I grimaced whenever she started telling others about my ‘exploits’.

After what felt like a long period of time, I confessed to her and instead of chiding me, she lovingly accepted my explanation and commended me for having the courage to come clean. More importantly, I no longer felt trapped by my pretense.

The first reading of today addresses the importance of maintaining a scrupulous life.  Unless this private life is able to stand up to scrutiny, our service to God and to others would stand in doubt. Like the stories that I fabricated as a child, the work could appear to be shambolic, and be of less value. More importantly, such a situation would show the faith to be unauthentic.

Let us pray to the Father for strength to walk the difficult path of purity and the wisdom to recognise and address the daily temptations that we face in doing so. When we fail, help us always to realise our failure and to have the humility to return to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, we pray that You will help us recognise and face up to our lives’ challenges as we keep our eyes on You.

ThanksgivingThank You for sending us the Holy Spirit to guide us. Thank You for Your many blessings.

18 September, Monday – A Strong Faith Model

18 September 2017

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1 Timothy 2:1-8

My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right, and will please God our saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.

In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.

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Luke 7:1-10

When Jesus had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death. Having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir,’ he said ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.

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“Go, and he goes… Come here, and he comes… Do this, and he does it”

When I first started working in banking, there was a distinct shift into a strong sales culture, with the sales process systemized to achieve sales results. Under such a system, we had to have daily sales meetings in the mornings, sharing our plans for the day; detailing how many customers to contact, how many prospects to call and who we were meeting that day. At noon and at 5pm, we had to email our supervisors with the updated numbers, especially the sales numbers for the day.

For the sales people who did not perform well, the routine was even more rigorous, with the supervisors micro-managing almost every aspect of the day. The managers had little to no trust that their team could do well on their own; the system was designed to oversee all aspects to ensure that results were delivered.

Although the Romans were the occupiers during Jesus’ time, the centurion was different.  He was a man of honour and could have chosen to lord it over the Israelites, as was his privilege as an occupier. Instead, the centurion built a synagogue and cared for those around him. He was so well respected that the Jewish elders were willing to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. He trusted those around him, and he trusted our Lord.

Many times, I feel my approach to my faith was no different to that of my banking supervisors of old; I catch myself “micro-managing” God, and setting Him goals and targets to meet. Even without realizing it, I thought that a prayer answered in a way that I desired, meant that God loved me, and that if it was not, He did not.

The centurion’s faith taught me a different way of seeing God, to have faith in Him regardless of what happened.  Many years after I first read about the faith of a person who was not even a Jew, this realisation gave me a renewed confidence that no matter what happened in my life, God would take care of me.

Let us all continue to do so, for it is only in doing so that we can all truly experience His hand, and His love, in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Lord, teach us to have the faith like the centurion. Help us, Lord Jesus, to know that no matter what happens, You will always be there for us.

Thanksgiving – Father God, thank You for showing us what it means to be truly faithful. We are grateful that You have given us models of faith to learn from.