Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tuesday, 31 Jan – Grief

31 Jan

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was the son of Venerable Margaret Bosco. His father died when he was just two years old, and as soon as he was old enough to do odd jobs, he did so for extra money for his family. Bosco would go to circuses, fairs, and carnivals, practise the tricks he saw the magicians perform, and then present one-boy shows. After his performance, while he still had an audience of boys, he would repeat the homily he had heard earlier in church.

He worked as a tailor, baker, shoemaker, and carpenter while attending college and the seminary. He was ordained in 1841. He was a teacher, and he worked with youth, finding places where they could meet, play and pray. He taught catechism to orphans and apprentices, and was chaplain in a hospice for girls.

He wrote short treatises aimed at explaining the faith to children, and then taught children how to print them. He was a friend of St. Joseph Cafasson, whose biography he wrote. He was confessor to Blessed Joseph Allamano. He founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) in 1859, a community of priests who work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and St. Francis de Sales. He founded the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, in 1872, and the Union of Cooperator Salesians in 1875.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

2 Samuel 18:9-10.14.24-25.30-19:3

Absalom happened to run into some of David’s followers. Absalom was riding a mule and the mule passed under the thick branches of a great oak. Absalom’s head caught fast in the oak and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule he was riding went on. Someone saw this and told Joab. ‘I have just seen Absalom’ he said ‘hanging from an oak.’ Joab took three lances in his hand and thrust them into Absalom’s heart while he was still alive there in the oak tree.

David was sitting between the two gates. The lookout had gone up to the roof of the gate, on the ramparts; he looked up and saw a man running all by himself. The watch called out to the king and told him. The king said, ‘If he is by himself, he has good news to tell.’ The king told the man, ‘Move aside and stand there.’ He moved aside and stood waiting.

Then the Cushite arrived. ‘Good news for my lord the king!’ cried the Cushite. ‘The Lord has vindicated your cause today by ridding you of all who rebelled against you.’ ‘Is all well with young Absalom?’ the king asked the Cushite. ‘May the enemies of my lord the king’ the Cushite answered ‘and all who rebelled against you to your hurt, share the lot of that young man.’

The king shuddered. He went up to the room over the gate and burst into tears, and weeping said, ‘My son Absalom! My son! My son Absalom! Would I had died in your place! Absalom, my son, my son!’ Word was brought to Joab, The king is now weeping and mourning for Absalom.’ And the day’s victory was turned to mourning for all the troops, because they learned that the king was grieving for his son. And the troops returned stealthily that day to the town, as troops creep back ashamed when routed in battle.
_____________________

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.
_____________________

Do not be afraid; only have faith

I once read in a book about being there for people. I don’t remember the exact words, but it went something along the line of: People remember you for being there for them at three occasions: births, weddings, and deaths. No wonder we remember our priests so well! It is a saying that I take to heart and make it a point to be present with my friends, even if I can only spare half an hour. I make it a point to be there for them when they have their child (especially their first child). I am there for them at their wedding. When a loved one dies (especially a spouse), I am there for them long after the funeral ends and everyone goes home.

Death is not a joyful occasion. Even though among ourselves, we might joke about wishing someone were dead so that we can rejoice, death is not a joyful occasion. If we rejoice at someone’s death it is because we never knew the person. Because when someone close to us dies, a part of us dies as well. We weep and we grieve, not for the person who has died, but for the part of us that has died. Grieving is for the living, not for the dead, and it is a very necessary part of being human. This is what David’s grief reminded his troops.

A friend of mine recently passed away after a long fought battle against cancer. I did not know his family before he died, but after his wife got in touch with me, I have made a point to stay in touch with her by texting her every week to see how she is doing. Recently we met up for the first time and we shared stories about the person we’ve both lost. Through that process, I have gotten to know him even better. If there is one thing that I always tell those who are left behind, it is to take time to grieve. The other thing I tell them is that one day the pain will go away and that they will be able to remember their loss without the pain.

Jesus’ words to the official ring true: Do not be afraid; only have faith. Have faith in God who will see us through, even though we fear life without the person beside us. We fear life with all the pain and hurt, but this is what grieving does for us. It allows us to process the pain. In yesterday’s reflection, I wrote about what happens when anger is not processed. Grief too is a powerful emotion that needs to be processed, otherwise bad things happen. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent grief. We can only accept it and have faith that one day, the pain will be gone. It might take months, most likely years, but Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid; only have faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)
_____________________

Prayer: We pray for those who have lost a loved one recently. May they take all the time they need to grieve and to heal.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for allowing us to grieve.

Monday, 30 Jan – Anger

30 Jan
_____________________

Dear readers,

We apologise for the recent halt in your OXYGEN delivery. Aside from late payment of our bills, we also ran into some technical difficulties. It’s fixed now, but if you run into any trouble either from our mailing list or from the website, please drop us an email or comment and we’ll address it as soon as we can.

Peace,
Daniel
_____________________

2 Samuel 15:13-14.30;16:5-13

A messenger came to tell David, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are now with Absalom.’ So David said to all his officers who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Let us be off, let us fly, or we shall never escape from Absalom. Leave as quickly as you can in case he mounts a surprise attack and worsts us and puts the city to the sword.’

David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare. And all the people with him had their heads covered and made their way up, weeping as they went.

As David was reaching Bahurim, out came a man of the same clan as Saul’s family. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and as he came he uttered curse after curse and threw stones at David and at all King David’s officers, though the whole army and all the champions flanked the king right and left. The words of his curse were these, ‘Be off, be off, man of blood, scoundrel! the Lord has brought on you all the blood of the House of Saul whose sovereignty you have usurped; and the Lord has transferred that same sovereignty to Absalom your son. Now your doom has overtaken you, man of blood that you are.’ Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Is this dead dog to curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut his head off.’ But the king replied, ‘What business is it of mine and yours, sons of Zeruiah? Let him curse. If the Lord said to him, “Curse David,” what right has anyone to say, “Why have you done this?”’ David said to Abishai and all his officers, ‘Why, my own son, sprung from my body, is now seeking my life; so now how much the more this Benjaminite? Let him curse on if the Lord has told him to. Perhaps the Lord will look on my misery and repay me with good for his curse today.’ So David and his men went on their way.
_____________________

Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – For Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.

Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.
_____________________

No one could secure him any more, even with a chain

One aspect of natural geography that I’ve always enjoyed learning about are volcanoes. Under the earth’s crust, molten lava always trying to surface. There are two main ways that it surfaces. One way is by cracks in the earth’s crust where the lava seeps out. Over time, after repeated cycles of seepage and cooling into hardened rock, a volcanic structure builds up. More and more pressure needs to be built up under the rock before the lava can come out, usually in a huge explosion. Then the cycle repeats.

This is something like that happens to a person who doesn’t know how to deal with anger. Anger is an emotion that we feel whenever we perceive something unfair has been done to us or to someone we care about. Anger is also an emotion that cannot be buried… for long. Anger, if unresolved or not processed, can become very dangerous. On one hand it might get bottled up underneath what appears to be a calm surface, and then it explodes like a volcanic eruption. On the other hand, it can also come out like molten lava appearing in the form of physical illnesses, aches, pains, or spiritual dryness in prayer, and so on.

In today’s gospel reading, we read of a man who lived in the tombs and could not be secured anymore. It is like a man who is so consumed with anger that nothing can hold him back. Did I already say that anger is a very powerful emotion? A man who is so consumed with anger can easily be mistaken for a possessed person. The slightest thing sets him off. It could be a noisy brat on the train. It could be a sarcastic remark. Anything could set him off, and those around him will wonder, what is wrong with this man? Is he possessed?

Jesus has the power to cure us of our emotional chains. But we always say, prevention is better than cure. How can we prevent ourselves from being consumed with anger? The first reading gives us a clue.

In today’s first reading, Abishai experienced anger when he heard Shimei curse David. Abishai was angry because he felt that Shimei was being unfair to David. But David was not angry, because he did not see what Shimei was doing as unfair. He viewed it in a different perspective. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to not get angry at a remark or certain behaviour. Putting ourselves in other people’s shoes is often a good way to not be so quick to anger. When we see things from another perspective, we come to realise that perhaps we were the ones who were unfair to the other person.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)
_____________________

Prayer: We pray for the patience and wisdom to view potentially angry situations from different perspectives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for healing our deep hurts.

Sunday, 29 Jan – Conviction Is Convincing

29 Jan – Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord, Our Teacher

Today we celebrate him who speaks with authority and to whom we must give our undivided attention.

– The Sunday Missal
_____________________

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’
_____________________

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.
_____________________

Mark 1:21-28

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

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

He taught them with authority

I once listened to a tape by Norman Levine, one of the world’s most renowned financial advisers. Levine spoke about a case discussed by the world’s top financial advisers. Each adviser proposed a different solution to the situation. In the end, only one was chosen. Not because it was the best solution – there was no best solution – but because of the adviser’s conviction that it was the best solution. The conviction gave the adviser the authority to influence the client that it was the best solution for him.

In today’s second reading, we read of a rather strange passage from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul seems to be saying that it is better to remain unmarried and devote oneself to the Lord rather than to be married and be torn two ways. Applied in today’s context, it might seem to be quite untrue, for Church teaching tells us about marriage as worthy a vocation as well as celibate singlehood.

Regardless of which is right, it was Paul’s conviction that it was the best solution that compelled him to write – and most likely preach – this to the Christians. Such a teaching most likely framed the Church’s culture and teaching for centuries after.

Conviction comes from experience, not merely intellectual knowledge. Take two persons: one with intellectual knowledge about an event and one with first-hand experience of the same event and see which one is more convicted; see which one is more convincing to those who don’t know about the event. This is why news stories always try to get accounts from first-hand witnesses. It’s simply more convincing.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus taught with authority which came from his personal conviction. His conviction came from his personal experience – the experience of knowing the Father personally. This is what made the difference between his teaching and that of the scribes who only had intellectual knowledge of God.

So it is with spreading the faith. Just because a person has a degree in theology and has written numerous papers on God and other spiritual matters does not mean he is able to spread the faith. Rather, it is one who has had a personal encounter, a personal faith relationship with God that is able to spread the faith by means of his conviction.

Perhaps it is a poignant reminder that in order to spread the faith, we must talk less about God and more about who God is to us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)
_____________________

Prayer: We pray for all readers of OXYGEN to cultivate their personal relationship with God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God for the person who shared with us their relationship with God.

Saturday, 28 Jan – Consiousness Of Grace

28 Jan – Memorial for St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the son of the Count of Aquino. He was born in the family castle in Lombardy near Naples, Italy. He was educated by Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino, and at the University of Naples. He secretly joined the mendicant Dominican friars in 1244. His family kidnapped and imprisoned him for a year to keep him out of sight and deprogram him, but they failed to sway him, and he rejoined his order in 1245.

He studied in Paris, France, from 1245-1248 under St. Albert the Great, then accompanied Albertus to Cologne, Germany. He was ordained in 1250, then returned to Paris to teach. He taught theology at the University of Paris. He wrote defenses of the mendicant orders, commentaries on Aristotle and Lombard’s Sentences, and some bible-related works, usually by dictating to secretaries. He won his doctorate, and taught at several Italian cities. He was recalled by the king and the University of Paris in 1269, then recalled to Naples in 1272 where he was appointed regent of studies while working on the Summa Theologica.

On 6 December 1273, he experienced a divine revelation which so enraptured him that he abandoned the Summa, saying that it and his other writing were so much straw in the wind compared to the reality of the divine glory. He died four months later while en route to the Council of Lyons, overweight and with his health broken by overwork.

His works have been seminal to the thinking of the Church ever since. They systematized her great thoughts and teaching, and combined Greek wisdom and scholarship methods with the truth of Christianity. Pope Leo VIII commanded that his teachings be studied by all theology students. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1567.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

2 Samuel 12:1-7.10-17

The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David. He came to him and said:

‘In the same town were two men,
one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds
in great abundance;
the poor man had nothing but a ewe lamb,
one only, a small one he had bought.
This he fed, and it grew up with him and his children,
eating his bread, drinking from his cup,
sleeping on his breast; it was like a daughter to him.
When there came a traveller to stay, the rich man
refused to take one of his own flock or herd
to provide for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s lamb
and prepared it for his guest.’

David’s anger flared up against the man. ‘As the Lord lives,’ he said to Nathan ‘the man who did this deserves to die! He must make fourfold restitution for the lamb, for doing such a thing and showing no compassion.’

Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man. So now the sword will never be far from your House, since you have shown contempt for me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

‘Thus the Lord speaks, “I will stir up evil for you out of your own House. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. You worked in secret, I will work this in the face of all Israel and in the face of the sun.”’

David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die. Yet because you have outraged the Lord by doing this, the child that is born to you is to die.’ Then Nathan went home.

The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David and it fell gravely ill. David pleaded with the Lord for the child; he kept a strict fast and went home and spent the night on the bare ground, covered with sacking. The officials of his household came and stood round him to get him to rise from the ground, but he refused, nor would he take food with them.
_____________________

Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’
_____________________

The Lord for his part, forgives your sin. You are not to die

Today’s passage is a thought-provoking one. We see the Lord speaking to David through the prophet Nathan. David had taken a liking to Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and slept with her. He subsequently found out that she was with child. In order to cover up his misdeed, he plotted for the death of Uriah in the battlefield. He had committed both adultery and murder in the eyes of God. Both were grievous trespasses against the law – they were in fact capital crimes.

Yet God did not sentence David to death. He sentenced David’s son instead.

This puzzled me. Why did God forgive David his sin (hence sparing his life) but yet chose to inflict death on David’s child? It seems to me that this is an example where the mercy and justice of God collides. I’ve hardly heard of God forgiving a sin in the Old Testament without the offering of a sacrifice as prescribed in accordance to the law. In this case however, God chose to forgive David. He made an exception. This was an example of his mercy. Yet, a sacrifice had to be made. The justice of God demanded payment  for  David’s sin – like the punishment of our crimes. And it fell on David’s son.

But wait, doesn’t that seem a tad bit unfair? After all, isn’t David’s son innocent? Sure, he was conceived out of wedlock and as the result of adultery, but shouldn’t David’s sin be kept separate from his son? Unfortunately for David, in the Old Testament, the sins of a father were usually imputed to him and his children. Hence, although  David was spared, his son was not. This was the justice of God.

This is no longer the case today however, post-Christ. This is because, Christ has become the full payment for our sins. In order to ensure that we could receive the full measure of his mercy – God sent his very own son to become a son of man so that he may bare the full punishment of our sins. As 1 Peter 3:18 says, Christ died ONCE AND FOR ALL for sins.  He didn’t just die for our past sins. He died for all our sins, once and for all, regardless of when it was (or will be) committed. There is thus no more punishment for the sinner – only grace – since Christ has become the perfect atonement for all our sins.

Unfortunately, there are times when I find it hard to register this internally. There are times when I think I still live in the time of David, where I deserve to be punished for my sins. Hence, when bad things happen, I refrain from seeking God but accept it instead as my just lot in life. I don’t realise however, that when I adopt such thoughts, I make light Jesus’ sacrifice. In effect, I’m subconsciously saying that I don’t believe that his sacrifice on the cross has the power to pay the price for my life.

How many of us are subconsciously like that too? How many of us still hold on to the bondages of this mentality? For instance, when an illness or misfortune happen do we see it as a sign of God’s wrath? Or do we think that we’re just simply too unworthy for Christ to act in our lives? Are we forgetting our relationship with the one who has the power to redeem sins and command the storms in our lives?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Remind us Lord daily of your grace. Help us to become aware of our thoughts, especially thoughts that undermine the power of your cross in our lives. Let us not be held captive to our failings, but to live with a conscience that is always conscious of your grace.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for the power of your cross in our lives and for the gift of shepherds in your church who nurture us and draw us closer to you.

Friday, 27 Jan – Read It, Believe It, Sow It

27 Jan – Memorial for St. Angela Merici, Virgin

St. Angela Merici (1474-1540) became a Franciscan tertiary at the age of 15. She received a vision telling her that she would inspire devout women in their vocation.

In Crete, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she was struck blind. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going on, visiting the shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way home, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost.

In 1535, she gathered a group of girl students and began what would become the “Institute of St. Ursula” (the Ursuline Sisters), founded to teach children, beginning with religion and later expanding into secular topics; her first schools were in Desenazno and Brescia.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

2 Samuel 11:1-4.5-10.13-17

At the turn of the year, the time when kings go campaigning, David sent Joab and with him his own guards and the whole of Israel. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah. David, however, remained in Jerusalem.

It happened towards evening when David had risen from his couch and was strolling on the palace roof, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David made inquiries about this.woman and was told, ‘Why, that is Bathsheba, Eliam’s daughter, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers and had her brought. She came to him, and he slept with her. She then went home again. The woman conceived and sent word to David; ‘I am with child.’

Then David sent Joab a message, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite’, whereupon Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came into his presence, David asked after Joab and the army and how the war was going. David then said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house and enjoy yourself. Uriah left the palace, and was followed by a present from the king’s table. Uriah however slept by the palace door with his master’s bodyguard and did not go down to his house.

This was reported to David; ‘Uriah’ they said ‘did not go down to his house.’ The next day David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out and lay on his couch with his master’s bodyguard, but he did not go down to his house.

Next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by Uriah. In the letter he wrote, ‘Station Uriah in the thick of the fight and then fall back behind him so that he may be struck down and die.’ Joab, then besieging the town, posted Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce fighters. The men of the town sallied out and engaged Joab; the army suffered casualties, including some of David’s bodyguard; and Uriah the Hittite was killed too.
_____________________

Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’

Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
_____________________

Once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all

In yesterday’s reflection, I shared about my mum’s frustration over a stuck lock, and how it suddenly sprung open without any effort on her part after she uttered a prayer to God. What struck me about her prayer was how she confessed the power of God and his sovereignty over her life. She had heard it preached before in the Gospel that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1: 37) so she believed in the word and confessed it in faith over a situation in her life. And God responded.
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus likening the kingdom of God to that of a mustard seed. According to Jesus, although the mustard seed is of an insignificant size at the time of its sowing, once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all – so big that even birds of the air can find shelter and nest in its branches.

Reflecting on the passage, it struck me that the word of God is like that mustard seed. Very often, I find it easy to neglect setting aside time to reflect and feed on God’s word. There are just so many other priorities which demand my attention and require me to invest my time in (e.g. my career, finances, family etc). Thus, very easily, reflecting on God’s word ends up becoming the least significant item on my to-do list. It is like the smallest seed compared to the other areas of my life.

Yet, it is the seed that reaps the most benefits when sown.

Let me share with your another example. A man once owed a debt of $16 million. The interest on his debt alone every month was in the range of a few hundred thousands. Imagine being in such bondage! He was in perpetual anxiety and the fear of becoming bankrupt weighed heavily on him. Thankfully, someone introduced him to Christ. In the course of his Christian journey, he learnt what it meant to surrender and trust in God. He also learnt what it meant to spend time on God’s word and reflect on it. Rather than focusing on his worries, he channeled whatever remaining energy he had on sowing God’s word in his life instead. One day, while sitting in his car, he finally confessed to God, “Lord, even when I am bankrupt, I will still continue to praise and worship you. You are my God and you are sovereign over my circumstances. I know that you will protect me because you care for me!” He was confessing (or uttering) the promise of God in 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. After his prayer, he suddenly felt the presence of God with him in his car and his anxiety was gone. Eventually, his debt was supernaturally written off by his debtors and they decided not to pursue it anymore!

When we sow the word of God in our lives, it ends up becoming a strong tree – a strong tree with sturdy branches upon which we may build the other areas of our lives.  My mum and the man are testimonies of that. They read the word of God – they believed it – and they confessed with faith in the sovereignty of God over their lives. As a result, they witnessed the word of God bear fruit in their lives.

My brothers and sisters, what have we been investing our time and efforts on? What circumstances are we facing currently that are demanding our attention and focus? We can trust that if something matters to us, it also matters to God – because we matter to Him. There are no problems too big or too small for God to handle. And he wants to care for you. It’s there in His word. Let’s read it, plant it, confess it and watch as it ripens and bears fruit in our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Dear Lord, we know that you are sovereign and that there is power when we claim your word in our lives. Prompt us to read your word regularly and profess it regularly over the circumstances in our lives. Help us to believe with supernatural faith in the power of your word and its impact to change our lives.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for hearing us when we pray and acting in your time.

Thursday, 26 Jan – Power In Prayer

26 Jan – Memorial for Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops

Timothy (d. 97) was the son of a Greek gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. He was converted to Christianity by St. Paul around the year 47. He was a partner, assistant and close friend of Paul. He was a missionary as well, and became head of the Church in Ephesus. He was the recipient of two canonical letters from St. Paul, and was stoned to death for opposing the worship of Dionysius.

Titus (d. 96) was also a disciple of St. Paul and was the recipient of a canonical letter from him. He was the first bishop of the Church in Crete.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

2 Samuel 7:18-19.24-29

After Nathan had spoken to him, King David went in and, seated before the Lord, said: ‘Who am I, O Lord, and what is my House, that you have led me as far as this? Yet in your sight, O Lord, this is still not far enough, and you make your promises extend to the House of your servant for a far-distant future. You have constituted your people Israel to be your own people for ever; and you, Lord, have become their God.

‘Now, O Lord, always keep the promise you have made your servant and his House, and do as you have said. Your name will be exalted for ever and men will say, “The Lord of Hosts is God over Israel.” The House of your servant David will be made secure in your presence, since you yourself, Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, “I will build you a House”; hence your servant has ventured to offer this prayer to you. Yes, Lord, you are God indeed, your words are true and you have made this fair promise to your servant. Be pleased, then, to bless the House of your servant, that it may continue for ever in your presence; for you, Lord, have spoken; and with your blessing the House of your servant will be for ever blessed.’
_____________________

Mark 4:21-25

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’

He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’
_____________________

God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control

My mother has a habit of using combinations locks on her luggages whenever she travels. And given her poor memory with numbers, she uses the same combination for all her locks. Recently, however, upon her return from her business trip, she discovered that one of her combinations locks refused to budge despite the entry of her magic numbers. Frustrated, she prayed, “Lord you can do it, and only you can do it. All things are possible with you!” Then she took a shower. Thereafter, when she attempted to press the lock open again (as it is, without touching any of the combination locks), to our surprise, the lock suddenly sprung open!

I was amazed and struck that God heard my mother’s prayer even when it concerned something so small and insignificant as a stuck lock. It reminded me about how often I fail to realise how powerful prayer can be – simply because of the gift of His Holy Spirit residing within me. I was also struck by the way my mum said her prayer. She prayed it in faith, believing that she would receive it. And she did.  Sometimes, I wonder how much faith must a person have before God would answer our prayer? Then it dawned on me – it requires only a small amount of faith – the faith enough for us to just open our mouths and speak to him. Over time, I believe once you have had a history of testimonies with God, faith just naturally and gradually builds.

To be honest, there are times when prayer doesn’t come instinctively to me. I would rather choose to manage certain problems on my own. I feel sometimes that I need to resolve them rather than bring them before God. It wasn’t because I didn’t trust Him. I just never thought of bringing it to Him! However, in today’s readings, St. Paul reminds us that we have been given a spirit, not of timidity, but of power, love and self-control.

It’s interesting to realise that there are many opportunities in a day where we can actually bring God in. It is true that there are times when we can handle certain things on our own. Why pray? However, seeing my mum’s experience, now I realise – there is power in our prayers. It allows God to enter into our lives and it allows us to have a more personal and intimate relationship with him. It’s like two people in a relationship having their lives intermingled and entwined with each other. So beginning today, let’s keep a lookout for opportunities in our lives where we can start engaging the Spirit and bringing God in! :)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a more intimate relationship with you. Help us to become consciously aware everyday of the numerous opportunities that we have to engage your Spirit. May our lives be a constant interaction with you. Build a storehouse of testimonies within us that we may become a source of encouragement and light to those in need of you.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for blessing us with a Spirit of power, love and self-control.

Wednesday, 25 Jan – A Paradigm Shift

25 Jan – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

St. Paul (3-65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus to arrest another group of them, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptised, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling and preaching. He died a martyr for his faith.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

Acts of the Apostles 22:3-16

Paul said to the people, ‘I am a Jew and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up here in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was taught the exact observance of the Law of our ancestors. In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you are today. I even persecuted this Way to the death, and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify, since they even sent me with letters to their brothers in Damascus. When I set off it was with the intention of bringing prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.

‘I was on that journey and nearly at Damascus when about midday a bright light from heaven suddenly shone round me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I answered: Who are you, Lord? and he said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, and you are persecuting me.” The people with me saw the light but did not hear his voice as he spoke to me. I said: What am I to do, Lord? The Lord answered, “Stand up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told what you have been appointed to do.” The light had been so dazzling that I was blind and my companions had to take me by the hand; and so I came to Damascus.

‘Someone called Ananias, a devout follower of the Law and highly thought of by all the Jews living there, came to see me; he stood beside me and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” Instantly my sight came back and I was able to see him. Then he said, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One and hear his own voice speaking, because you are to be his witness before all mankind, testifying to what you have seen and heard. And now why delay? It is time you were baptised and had your sins washed away while invoking his name.”’
_____________________

Mark 16:15-18

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
_____________________

Brother Saul, receive your sight

I happened to be reading the first few pages of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, and the writer described the phenomenon of experiencing what is called a paradigm shift. We all have our own paradigms, shaped by our upbringing, social conditioning, circumstances, and experiences. The paradigms are the lenses through which we see the world. When a paradigm shift occurs, which commonly takes place when people take on new roles in their lives or when crises happen, the fundamental change in thinking can change one’s behaviour permanently.

I was struck by how quickly Paul called upon the Lord and responded to him, straight after he experienced the bright light from heaven and heard the Lord speak. Many things must have happened to him at that instant. All His previous thoughts and feelings of animosity towards the Christians vanished when Jesus told him that by persecuting Christ’s followers, he was actually persecuting God. At the same instant, he changed course from being Christ’s enemy to His disciple.

I have had a few encounters which helped to strengthen my faith in the Lord, and shown me that He is real, and in my life. Unfortunately though, those experiences had not effected much paradigm shift in me – I am still letting my own pride and selfish thoughts overtake the Lord’s teachings and dictate my actions. I would need to seriously examine the root of my actions, recognise it and work on that, so that a fundamental change can happen. It is not an easy task that can be accomplished in a short time, because that would mean changing a deeply-ingrained part of who I am.

My dear readers, what kind of mental models do you have about the world? How do you look at events and people, and how does it affect the way you behave and the decisions you make?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
_____________________

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that you can help us shed light on the areas of sin in us, and show us how we can change ourselves and do better.

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, thank you for the times when we realise how we can see things differently and approach problems in a Christ-like manner.

Tuesday, 24 Jan – Surrounded On Every Side

24 Jan – Memorial for St Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born in a castle to a well-placed family. His parents intended him to become a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche, Annecy, Clermont College in Paris, and law at the University of Padua. He became a Doctor of Law, returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.

It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me”. He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.

He became a priest, and a provost in the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Calvinists. He was a preacher, writer and spiritual director in the distrcit of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church.

He was ordained Bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. He travelled and evangelized throughout the Duchy of Savoy, working with children whenever he could. He was a friend of St. Vincent de Paul. He turned down a wealthy French bishopric. He helped found the Order of the Visitation with St. Jeanne de Chantal. He was a prolific correspondent. He was declared a Doctor of the Church.

– Patron Saint Index
_____________________

2 Samuel 6:12-15.17-19

David went and brought the ark of God up from Obed-edom’s house to the Citadel of David with great rejoicing. When the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fat sheep. And David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might, wearing a linen loincloth round him. Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with acclaim and the sound of the horn. They brought the ark of the Lord in and put it in position inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered holocausts before the Lord, and communion sacrifices. And when David had finished offering holocausts and communion sacrifices, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Hosts. He then distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israelites, men and women, a roll of bread to each, a portion of dates, and a raisin cake. Then they all went away, each to his own house.
_____________________

Mark 3:31-35

The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’
_____________________

David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might, wearing a linen loincloth round him.

I have been having problems recently learning how to place my trust in someone in a new relationship. It all began when my partner decided to keep in touch with an ex-girlfriend. That, of course, sent alarm bells ringing. To make matters worse, given the nature of a long distance relationship, its hard sometimes when you don’t have the physical presence of that person to reassure you. Nevertheless, I found myself struggling to fight against my own jealous emotions and toggling between irrational outbursts and rational thinking.  I felt rather embarrassed, to be honest, that I’m not open-minded enough about their friendship.

Seeking a place of refuge for my thoughts and emotions, I decided last night to head to the Catholic Spirituality Centre for adoration. After pouring out my thoughts like sand from a bottle before the Lord, I found myself flipping through the book of Psalms. One verse leapt out at me – Psalm 3:5 “I lie down and sleep, and all night long the Lord protects me. I am not afraid of the thousands of enemies who surround me on every side.” The verse struck. Picturing a man surrounded on all sides by his enemies, I simply could not imagine how one could possibly fall asleep under such circumstances. After all, wouldn’t he be fearing for his life?

Then it dawned on me that I was like that man – with my thousands of worries and anxieties surrounding me (robbing me of my sleep) and fearing for my life.

In today’s reading, we see David dancing almost naked before the Lord in his sanctuary. I was struck by this carefree image of his intimacy with God. Imagine dancing naked before the Lord! He reminded me of Adam and his relationship with God right before the fall – he didn’t seem to be carrying any baggage. There was no knowledge of shame. Neither was there any feeling of unworthiness. There was just simply no room for all that when he was ‘fellowshiping’ with God. But David wasn’t always carefree. Like us, he had his worries and anxieties. And being the author of Psalm 3:5, I’m sure David knew what it meant to be surrounded on all sides! Yet, he learnt to trust in the Lord and fellowship with the Lord, even while he was at his wits end. And the Lord protected him in the face of all his enemies. He defended him from all their attacks.

Like David, we too have the privilege of fellowshiping with God, thanks to Jesus Christ, his son. We have been granted the right to enjoy the same relationship that Adam did prior to the fall, simply because of Christ’s sacrifice. What are the benefits of being in the presence of God? Peace from knowing that we have a Heavenly Father who is capable of protecting us from anything.

As I meditated on Psalm 3:5, I realised that God was reassuring me and comforting me that I would not be alone in my journey and that he would protect me from all my anxieties. And they would not have any power over me.  (Psalm 3:7) What about you? Are there any anxieties currently that are bugging you? Or robbing you of your sleep? Surrender them to the Lord, just like David did. Surround yourself with the presence of God and sleep in the sound knowledge that He will definitely defend you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Dear Lord, only you know the worries of our hearts and the anxieties that we bear. We surrender them to you. Cover us in the blood of Jesus, your Son and protect us from all anxiety. Grant us soundness of mind and a joyful heart, especially in the face of uncertainty. Help us to seek you when we are surrounded on all sides. We trust that you will act for us. Fill us with your presence and defend us, with your peace, from the attacks of the enemy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for sending us people who intercede for us.

Monday, 23 Jan – United We Stand

23 Jan

Wishing all readers a blessed Chinese New Year!
_____________________

2 Samuel 5:1-7.10

All the tribes of Israel then came to David at Hebron. ‘Look’ they said ‘we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, “You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.”’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty years. He reigned in Hebron over Judah for seven years and six months; then he reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

David and his men marched on Jerusalem against the Jebusites living there. These said to David, ‘You will not get in here. The blind and the lame will hold you off. (That is to say: David will never get in here.) But David captured the fortress of Zion, that is, the Citadel of David.

David grew greater and greater, and the Lord, the God of Hosts, was with him.
_____________________

Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘Beelzebul is in him’ and, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.’ So he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand. Now if Satan has rebelled against himself and is divided, he cannot stand either – it is the end of him. But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house.

‘I tell you solemnly, all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies; but let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ This was because they were saying, ‘An unclean spirit is in him.’
_____________________

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last.

Last year, I attended a Hillsongs Conference with some Catholic friends of mine. Our purpose of attending the conference was to open our eyes to see what practices we could adopt from the protestant churches and bring it back to our ministries. At the conference itself, there was a guest speaker – Nicky Gumbel, the pastor who had initiated the Alpha Course which is now implemented in various churches across the Christian world. One of the topics that he spoke about was in reference to Christian Unity.

Expounding on the passage in 1 Corinthians 12:13, Gumbel explained that all the various denominations belonged to the same body of Christ. We are all parts of the same body. Yet, when someone attacks our eye, do we too join in the attack? Or do we defend it? He was referring to the way the various denominations interacted with one another.

That got me thinking. Growing up in a staunchly Catholic environment, I’ve often been intrigued by the reactions of some of my catholic friends and family members to other Christian denominations. I’ve often heard, while growing up, warnings about the protestant church being shallow in its doctrine and lacking in authority. Hence, should a fellow catholic decide to ‘defect’ over to a protestant church subsequently, it was often frowned upon and viewed either as foolishness or as a betrayal of one’s own faith – as if he or she had chosen to renounce Christ entirely.

On the other hand, I have also had encounters with protestant friends who viewed Catholicism as a form of misguided Christianity where we engage in idol-worship. Hence, they took it upon themselves (God bless their sweet souls) to see if my soul needed saving.

It’s good that we’re passionate and strong about our respective denominations. But what if we’re missing the point entirely?

A wise man once said, “Go wherever you may find Christ.” I’ve always wondered – if a person is able to encounter God in a different denomination, and he is growing in his relationship with God, shouldn’t we too encourage that person in his faith especially if he is bearing fruit? Rather than rushing to judge other denominations and churches for their doctrines, should we not look at the fruits of the Spirit instead? In the Gospel today, Jesus clearly says that to insult the works of the Holy Spirit as that of an evil spirit is to blaspheme against Him. In the same vein, if we are to claim that the churches of other denominations are acting in a Spirit other than God’s, particularly where the fruits of the Spirit are shown, we would not be any different from the scribes.

The similiarities among the churches are actually powerful when we think about it. Nothing can serve as a greater threat to the devil than to have the church of Christ unite despite their perceived differences.  Once everything is stripped bare, the only uniting factor that is left standing is none other than Christ crucified and risen from the cross.

My brothers and sisters, have we become a stumbling block for others in their faith? Let’s open our minds and our hearts to the work of the Spirit in our lives. Maybe God is inviting us today to encourage and support a fellow brother or sister in his or her Christian faith, regardless of their denomination.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Dear Lord, use us as your instruments to encourage and support one another in our relationship with you, regardless of our denomination. We pray for Christian unity among the various churches, that we may serve to be a powerful testimony of your light in a world that is in need of you.  Help us to put aside our reservations and recognise instead the workings of your Spirit in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for blessing us with a diverse and gifted family in Christ.

Sunday, 22 Jan – Fishers Of Men

22 Jan – Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Lord Who Teaches Us His Ways

Like Jonah, Christ was sent to preach repentance. He calls us to change our ways. We are not to become engrossed in the world, but to believe the good news and live for the kingdom of God

– The Sunday Missal
_____________________

Jonah 3:1-5.10

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.

God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
_____________________

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Brothers: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.
_____________________

Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.
_____________________

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus calling the first apostles. It’s interesting how the Gospel described them in the middle of their work. For instance, when Jesus called Simon and Andrew, they were both in the midst of their daily grind. They were casting their nets out into the sea and fishing, as fishermen do. It was their profession. It was the same with James and his brothe,r John. They were both toiling to repair their fishing nets – tools that they needed to help them earn a living. Yet, Jesus just called them right smack in the middle of all that.

How strange is that? I once had a comical image in my mind that the people whom God called are usually those who have themselves set apart from the rest of the world, maybe tucked away either in a cave or on a high mountain,  “ohming” their way to enlightenment. In short, people who are spiritually ready and on the lookout for him. However, from today’s Gospel, it appears otherwise. In fact, it seems more probable that God is capable of calling us to follow him (and he most likely will) wherever we are and right smack in the midst of whatever it is that we are doing.

I wonder. Were the disciples “ready” (body, heart, mind and soul) to follow Jesus when he called them?  Or was it simply curiosity or an inexplicable hunger within that drew them? Did they even know what their decision to follow Jesus entailed? Was it even an informed decision? Would they still have left their nets, in the middle of their daily responsibilities, had they any inkling about the opposition and challenges that they would face or the wonders and miracles that they would see?
Sadly, the bible is silent on that. But what we do know for sure was this – they followed Jesus immediately. The word used in the gospel passage is “at once”.

It makes me reflect about my own relationship with Jesus. The idea that Jesus would even call me to become a fisher of men is daunting.  Looking at my own trek record, I can hardly say that my conduct has been exemplary. In fact, I see myself as more of a “Jonah”-type of person. The moment I feel God prompting me to do something daunting – I quickly buy a one-way ticket that takes me away from Nineveh. Yet, I’m reminded by today’s Gospel, that I too, like Jonah and the apostles, am called to be a fisher of men. Simply because I have been bought for a price – a Christ-paid price.

Are we more like Jonah or the apostles? Have there been times when we feel God prompting us to go the extra mile to reach out to someone, but find ourselves hopping instead on a boat headed for the opposite direction? Or have there been times when we, like the apostle Peter, initially said yes, and later found our desire to live a good, Christian life stubbed by our shortcoming and failures along the way?

Regardless of what our past experiences may be, today’s readings remind us that God continues to call us. Just like how he continued to call Jonah on the ship and in the belly of the whale, he will continue to call us to be an instrument for him.  And rest assured that when we answer, God will use us as we are – just like how he used a bunch of mere fishermen – to become fishers of men for him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
_____________________

Prayer: Grant us the courage Lord to leave our comfort zones and go beyond our inhibitions to answer your call. Sensitise us to your Spirit’s prompting. Remind us daily that there are people in our lives who are in need of you and whom you have sent us to be instruments to.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the people whom you have sent into our lives as your instruments, who have comforted us, guided us and encouraged us along our way.