Monthly Archives: March 2012

Saturday, 31 Mar – A New Heart

31 Mar

Ezekiel 37:21-28

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

John 11:45-56

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

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

I shall free them from the guilt of their treachery

We’re a treacherous race. Treachery is woven into the fabric of our character. I accept it as a fact of life. People are unfaithful. That’s just the way it is. Those who cut us the deepest are usually the ones closest to us. And we in turn, hurt most deeply, those whom we hold most dearly.

Couples know this best – especially those who have had to deal with spousal infidelity.

Treachery brings separation. When we’ve violated an understanding, the guilt we feel isolates us. The anger and resentment of those whom we’ve hurt separates them from us. We feel defiled and unworthy. We hide in the shadows. Adam in the Garden of Eden hid from God after eating the fruit of the tree. Judas hung himself, overcome with guilt and grief for his treachery. Cain evaded God’s questions. That separation compounds if there is no love and no forgiveness to break the vicious cycle of guilt and resentment. That’s how marriages break down.

“I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 37:26).

It’s hard to see through our haze of anger when we’ve been hurt by infidelity. We become bitter and resentful. That bitterness causes our hearts to harden. That bitterness colors our other relationships and frames the way we view the world. That’s how we grow a heart of stone – we become cynical and jaded. We call it ‘self-preservation’. For God to heal us and give us a new heart, we have to first let go of our angry, resentful selves so that He can bring a renewal of heart and mind. Earlier this week, we read that “… unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone but if it dies it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). When we’ve been cheated on, the natural instinct is always anger. We feel almost entitled to it. But we have to find a way to die to our anger and our bitterness to allow God to give us our new heart.

Some of us never recover, and carry our bitterness to the grave. Some of us do eventually find a way to forgive, heal and learn to trust and love again.

Lent is the season of penance, prayer and reflection. Before this season is over, as hard as it may be, can we find it within us to let go of the anger and resentment that is holding us back from those we love? For those of us who have been treacherous, can we seek forgiveness of those whom we’ve hurt and begin to rebuild that trust again? Love and forgiveness can break the vicious cycle of guilt and resentment.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those of us who are dealing with difficult marital relations. We pray that they find a way to look beyond the anger, bitterness and resentment, to rebuild again the trust that makes them whole.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to wives and husbands who lovingly soldier on together, holding their families together, despite all the challenges of married life.

Friday, 30 Mar – The “Avoidables”

30 Mar

Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

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

John 10:31-42

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

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

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

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

Yahweh, God of hosts, you test the just and probe the heart and mind

I’m not good with confrontation. When faced with the prospect of having to come up against someone on something, I typically evade, avoid and hope that in time, they forget about it – I am a firm believer that the passage of time eases all wounds and papers over most problems. I realize this is a flawed strategy, one that doesn’t actually achieve anything.

I had a falling out with a friend recently. We’re trying to find our way back to where we were but it’s been a tough struggle, mostly because I’ve had my head in the sand. If I look at our friendship closely, I think we’ve fallen out because we’ve not been very honest with one another. I don’t like to be controlled or micro-managed. She’s a control freak. I want to tell her she’s hurting herself and the people around her, but it’s unlikely to be taken well and I don’t want to be ‘stoned’. So I take the path of least resistance – silence.

It’s hard to tell the truth. People want us to be supportive, cuddly, encouraging and agreeable, even when we feel strongly about something. How many times have you held your tongue and kept the peace, to spare another’s feelings? You don’t become popular being confrontational, that’s just a fact of life. It’s not called ‘brutal honesty’ for nothing.

Jeremiah and Jesus didn’t care for popularity. They preached a controversial message, one that got them ridiculed, ostracized, beaten, stoned and crucified. Still they remained steadfast to their convictions. “His word in my heart becomes like a fire burning deep within my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). The Jews were ready to stone Jesus, yet he defended his convictions, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, do not believe me. But if I do them, even if you have no faith in me, believe because of the works I do” (John 10:37).

If Jeremiah was standing here with me, he would likely concur that I haven’t been very open or honest with my friend. In fact, I’ve been no friend to her at all. If I cared about her, I would make a bigger effort to clear the air. “Yahweh, God of hosts, you test the just and probe the heart and mind” (Jeremiah 20:12). I think I have failed His test of authenticity.

We all have people in our lives that we put in the ‘too hard’ category, the “avoidables” I call them. Maybe it’s a mother-in-law we can’t bear to speak to. Maybe we’re harboring resentment towards our parents for wounds past. Maybe we have friends we want to avoid because confronting them and what they represent is inconvenient for the comfortable lives we lead. Maybe we’re running from God himself and His call for conversion. As Lent draws to a close, perhaps we could work at bringing some of them, even if it is just one of them, back into our close circle of friends. Perhaps we could work at being more honest, more confrontational and more truthful.

“Bring me back, and I will return, for you are my God. Yes, I have strayed, but I have repented. (Jeremiah 31:19)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to take the hard route in our quest to live authentically for Him. We pray that He will guide us to walk with courage as well as compassion.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our friends, who are patient and persistent with us, even when we try to evade and avoid them.

Thursday, 29 Mar – One Covenant, One Family

29 Mar

Genesis 17:3-9

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

John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’

The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:

‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’

The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’

At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

And I will establish a covenant, an everlasting covenant between myself and you and your descendants after you

As our Lenten journey draws to a close, we look back and see from where we have come. I’ll always be thankful for the day the Oxygen writers asked me to do a small piece for Easter. That was two years ago. Who would’ve imagined I would have lasted this long. I am not good with commitment. I’m a closed book; I don’t usually share my feelings with others. So writing Reflections hasn’t come easily. During my two years here, I’ve survived a global financial crisis, almost lost my job twice, moved firms, moved homes, broken up with someone I thought I loved and found my life partner. Through this tumultuous period, the work at Oxygen has kept me on an even keel. It’s kept me anchored to God. The discipline has kept me on the straight and narrow.

That I survived this period of volatility is also a testament to the team here, my family in faith. When I despaired, they helped me to stay hopeful, to stay prayerful. When I missed deadlines due to work or poor time management, they were patient and tolerant. They kept their faith in me when I wasn’t always sure I could do it. When the responsibilities became too much, they stepped forward and helped me to carry the burden. This isn’t unique to me. The team pulls together for every one of its members.

I think when God made His covenant with Abraham, that he would be the father of all believers, God also made a covenant with the rest of us, that we would have one another as brothers and sisters. We’re a family because we’re believers, our faith unites us. The struggle of living this faith and following through on our apostolic mission strengthens the ties that bind us.

Failure is almost a certainty of life. We should expect to falter. The devil uses failure to try to discourage us. But failure loses its power, if we know that when we fall, there is someone there to pick us up and help us to carry on. That’s what family is. As a family, we stand by each other, especially when things are not going well. We take care of one another. When one is weak, the others rally round to support them. As a family, we learn to compromise, to work to each other’s strengths and forgive each other’s weaknesses. That’s what I have here, and I am ever grateful to God for it.

As Lent draws to a close, I would like to give thanks for my family in faith. I would like to thank the writers at Oxygen who have helped me to get through this last two years. Scripture has come to life for me because you’ve lived it and shared it in your Reflections. Thank you for your faith, your patience, your encouragement and your love.

“Those who follow the way of faith are sons and daughters of Abraham. The Scriptures foresaw that by the way of faith, God would give true righteousness to the non-Jewish nations. For God’s promise to Abraham was this: in you shall all nations be blessed. So now those who take the way of faith receive the same blessing as Abraham who believed” – Galatians 3:8-9

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: Though small, we pray that our ministry grows like the proverbial mustard seed. It is small now but we pray that those who come here may find comfort, shelter and healing in our Reflections.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks to God for my fellow writers and most of all, to my long-suffering editors and coordinators.

Wednesday, 28 Mar – The Truth Will Set You Free… If You Can Hear It

28 Mar

Daniel 3:14-20.24-25.28

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

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

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

John 8:31-42

To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you were Abraham’s children, you would do as Abraham did

I’ve been struggling to make time for God lately. Blaming my workload is a cop-out. I’m free to choose after all. It’s a conscious decision we make, whether to engage Him or to lose ourselves in the drone of our daily grind. I seem to have chosen the daily grind over Him. I’m not sure why.

I work on a trading desk. Last year was a very bad year. I teetered on the brink of losing my job. Yet in my darkest hours, when I lived day to day, I felt God by my side. I know He was there sustaining me. In my darkest hours, I felt His peace. This year has been easier on the work front yet I don’t feel His presence anymore. I’ve been too busy working. It’s funny how quickly we forget God and return to our old ways in peacetime. I’ve been so busy tending to the daily noise of trading that I’ve drowned out His voice. God speaks in “the murmur of a gentle breeze” (1 Kings 12). I don’t hear Him lately. I can’t. There’s too much noise around me.

I think of worship like a relationship. You can’t neglect it for too long or it becomes difficult to return. This is the most difficult set of Reflections I’ve had to write because I don’t hear His voice anymore. I’ve done Him wrong by letting the daily grind take so much out of my time with Him. Now I can’t hear Him speak.

Jesus calls those who believe – “You will be my true disciples if you keep my word. Then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31). If Jesus walked by me today, I don’t think he would consider me a true disciple. True disciples wouldn’t continue to subjugate themselves to the ways of the world. I might make every effort to live morally and proclaim my faith. But my baptism and all my efforts to lead an upright life do not guarantee my discipleship. The Jews’ lineage to Abraham did not guarantee their discipleship. It’s whether I am living authentically or not, that does. I don’t think that I am. He has set me free so many times, of the same slavery to my work. Yet so many times, I’ve returned to it. I’m like the Hebrews who knowing only slavery, grew fearful of struggle, lost their faith, spurned the Promised Land and perished in their wanderings. Is that going to happen to me? Will I die in my wanderings? I hope not.

I pray I am able to break this cycle of self-imposed slavery. I won’t be able to change my life unless I let Him change my heart and my mindset. I’ll always be a slave to my work unless I let him change me wholly. Slavery is to persist in holding on to our old ways instead of yielding to a new authenticity in Him. I don’t want to be a slave always. I want to hear Him again. I want to be set free.

“Look I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you not see? I am opening up a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert… I give water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert that my chosen people may drink. I have formed this people for myself, they will proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43: 19-21)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who struggle to break out of cycles of destructive behavior. We pray they’re able to change their way, to find a new way in the wilderness.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the love, support and patience of our friends and loved ones. We give thanks to God for sending them to us, to help us in our journey of faith.

Tuesday, 27 Mar – Tomorrow God, I’ll Do It Tomorrow

27 Mar

Numbers 21:4-9

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

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

John 8:21-30

Again Jesus said to the Pharisees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You shall die in your sins unless you believe that I am He

Someone I knew died at work this week. He died at work of a heart-attack. God took him in the middle of his day. He was making conference calls in the afternoon. He was dead in the evening. He wasn’t much older than I am.

His passing has affected all of us. It’s made us think about what we’re doing with ourselves. How short is our time here on earth. When we’re young, we feel immortal, indestructible. His passing made me think very hard about what it is I’m doing. What if I died at work? I’ve put off living for so long. I’ve procrastinated on so many things, neglected so many people. What if tomorrow was my last? How would I spend my final hours here? There are so many people I haven’t appreciated enough because I never had the time. Where do I begin to say goodbye to all the people I love? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt God try to lead me somewhere or tell me something, only for me to turn away and say, “Tomorrow God, Let’s talk tomorrow”. Do regretful souls make it to heaven or do they wander lost, pining over words unsaid and deeds undone?

“You are from below and I am from above; you are of this world, and I am not of this world… you shall die in your sins unless you believe that I am He” (John 8:23-24). One day, when we least expect it, our time will get taken from us. What if our time is up before we’ve fulfilled the Christian promise that God had hoped for us? We know that God eliminates the unprepared. “In those days before the Flood, people were eating and drinking, and marrying, until the day when Noah went into the ark. Yet they did not know what would happen until the flood came and swept them away” (Matt 24:38-39).

Like the Hebrews in the desert, the Christian today is somewhere between promise and fulfillment. Our journey of faith is like the Hebrews’ journey through the wilderness. God seeks fearless, faithful souls who are unshaken by the long road ahead, who are unafraid to yield to His horizons. God seeks those faithful souls who don’t say to him, “Tomorrow God, I’ll do it tomorrow”.

So… what would you do if today, your time was taken away from you?

“If you are risen with Christ, seek the things that are above. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on earthly things. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, reveals himself, you also will be revealed with him in Glory” (Colossioans 3:1-3).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to better manage our time, so that all our waking hours are not spent stressing over the mindless noise of our daily grind.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God, for our loved ones. We pray we’re able to better appreciate them, while they’re still with us and while we still can.

Monday, 26 Mar – Sacrifices For The Lord

26 Mar – Solemnity of the Anunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then he said:
Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God is with us.’

Hebrews 10:4-10

Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

I am coming to obey your will

The period of Lent is going to be over soon. Due to looming deadlines, this has also been a period where I had to spend my weeknights and weekends doing work, leaving me little time and energy for doing Lenten reflections. I have feeling stressed, but have also been pleasantly surprised at several instances when I felt the presence and reassurance of the Lord, despite my lack of prayer efforts. Sometimes I really feel intense dread and hopelessness, but the Lord has been showing and reminding me that He is close, that I still have it in me to push on, and to trust in Him.

In the second reading, it is written that God takes no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Our God is not a distant divine being who lives on a remote mountain, coming down every now and then to receive gifts and sacrifices. He is a God of our lives and our hearts, and He yearns to be with us in the closest sense possible. That is why He became one of us, and took on all our sins upon Himself. He is our only hope against the darkness of sin and death. By offering our very beings to His will, we will experience the freedom and joy of His love.

Dear readers, some of you would have made a sacrifice of some sort for Lent – it could be giving up a bad habit, cutting down on unhealthy food, not saying any swear words, and so on. Perhaps you would like to reflect on whether these actions have changed you as a person, and whether they have brought you closer to God. What is the value of stopping a bad habit during Lent, only to return to it after Easter? Today, as we recall the beginning when our Father’s son became man, may we come to a greater appreciation of the power of Jesus’ resurrection during Easter.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a true conversion of our hearts this Lent and Easter.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, we thank you for showing us that through the power of your Spirit, the impossible can become possible.

Sunday, 25 Mar – The Blessing Of Birthdays

25 Mar – Fifth Week of Lent

Christ Who Makes Us Free To Serve

Without Christ our lives would be pure drudgery. We would be like slaves, or like workmen with nothing to look forward to but our wages. But the healing power of Christ has transformed our lives: now we are free to make ourselves like him, the slave of everyone, offering men the good news without asking for anything in return.

– The Sunday Missal

Jeremiah 31:31-34

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Hebrews 5:7-9

During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

John 12:20-33

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’

A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’

By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much fruit

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to grow older. I look at life in blocks of ten year cycles. I’ll turn 37 tomorrow. In a few short years, if God wills it, this cycle will be over and I’ll turn 40. Each ten year cycle has been a period of growth and self-discovery. More than that, each ten year cycle has been a period of renewal. Most of us lament the passing of time. We try to hold on to it for as long as we can. But time is a change agent. The passage of time forces change upon us. It requires us to grow, to learn, to progress or be left behind. There’s no use trying to hold on to what could have been or what once was. Like gripping sand, the harder we try to hold on to something, the faster it slips through our fingers. Isn’t it so much better to embrace change with courage, excitement, wonder and optimism?

Jeremiah was God’s change agent. God’s mission for Jeremiah was to bring change, a change of heart, to his people. “The time is coming… when I will forge a new covenant with the people of Israel and the people of Judah… This is the covenant I shall make with Israel… I will put my Law within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Jeremiah was unwilling initially but God was insistent – “Do not be afraid… for I will be with you to protect you… today I give you authority over nations and over kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:8-10).

All change requires that something ends or dies so that something new can begin. When I look back on this ten year cycle, I see how God caused events to break me out of my destructive patterns. Whether it was people I thought I loved who left me or a change in jobs or a change of my circumstances, God wrought upheaval in my life in order to renew me. None of this came peacefully. I was often angry, frightened, distressed and heartbroken. I remember vividly, all the times I felt weary, defeated and broken. But looking back now, I know He had a vision of how things should be. Looking back, I know He was always watching over me.

Like the proverbial wheat in our reading from John, “… unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). Unless something of our old self dies, God cannot affect that change of heart that’s necessary for a renewal of our spirit. A part of us has to die, so we can be reborn anew. As the years beat on, each birthday is an opportunity for us to assess the process of renewal within ourselves. Each birthday that passes is not something to lament but an occasion to celebrate. Did something of our old selves die this year, so something new could take its place?

“But do not dwell on the past or remember the things of old. Look, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you not see? I am opening up a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” – Isaiah 43:18-19

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for open eyes, open ears and open hearts. We pray for the awareness to change, renew ourselves and respond to His call.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for all the opportunities, all the second chances that He gives us to renew ourselves, to become better people. We give thanks for all the people He puts in our lives to bring us back to Him when we go astray.

Saturday, 24 Mar – So Much To Do Today!

24 Mar

Jeremiah 11:18-20

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

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

John 7:40-52

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

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

I have committed my cause to you

As I write, there is much restlessness going on within me. I woke up early and was looking forward to making the best of today, to get as much work done as possible, to tick off the many tasks on my ‘to-do-list’, to make sure that I do not let time go to waste today. But I have been feeling agitated for a few hours now, and am getting angrier with myself with every passing minute. Every time I look at the clock, it is a reminder of the things I “should” have done, but have not.

Praying this morning has been particularly difficult. How do I sit still and pray when there are so many other things I need to do? Rather than “wasting time” with God, wouldn’t God be more pleased with me if I actually started work? After all, what’s the point of praying if I am not going to do anything? Isn’t it more sincere if I actually started work?

But there is something erroneous about this mentality. I seem to be thinking that I only have two options: I either pray or work. I know there is a third and better option: pray and work. But how do I achieve that? How do I just surrender everything to God like that?

Reading today’s first reading touches me that Jeremiah could simply surrender his cause to God. I am sure that he didn’t just surrender and then sit back and do nothing. After praying, he probably had to face his obstacles, rejection, and the challenges that his enemies put before him. Yet, because he surrendered and placed his trust in God (as opposed to trusting only in his own efforts), he could probably return to these same challenges with a renewed spirit.

With His trust now in the Lord’s goodness, faithfulness, strength, power, grace, and love for him, Jeremiah had more to enter into his day with. He now remembered that he was no longer alone – God had his back and would defend him. He knew that regardless of the moment to moment challenges and apparent failures, they had no long-term impact on him because ultimately victory was God’s and therefore his. He could therefore engage in his battles in a spirit of trusting in the Lord, as opposed to trusting in himself.

If Jeremiah had not surrendered all to God, he would probably have entered into his day in fear, feeling alone, and worrying that he would be conquered by his scheming enemies with every apparent obstacle in his way –not too different from how I presently feel.

And so Father, I come to You right now. You know the fears I have of not doing enough to achieve my dreams, fears of You not helping me because I am not helping myself enough, and so many other fears that I might not even be aware of. I want to surrender the outcome of my day to You. I want to place my trust in You, not myself. I may not be able to surrender as ‘perfectly’ as Jeremiah, and so I ask for Your compassion and grace to meet me where I am. May all that You see in me in this moment be enough for You to love me and help me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Cheng)

Prayer: Jesus, help me to enter into this day with a renewed spirit of trust, hope, and joy in all that I do; rather than to enter into it with a spirit of agitation, dread, and lifelessness.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus for coming to me right now, in the most ordinary of circumstances. You can come in any way, as You did by coming from Galilee (a place least expected by the Pharisees).

Friday, 23 Mar – It Is So Hard To Be Faithful

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, Bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius
Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

– Patron Saint Index

Wisdom 2:1.12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.

John 7:1-2.10.25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.

As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.

Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.

The very sight of him weighs our spirits down; his way of life is not like other men’s

Today’s first reading speaks to the heaviness in my heart. Lately, I feel that a friend and I are walking further away from each other because while we used to share similar visions in life, we now seem to have chosen different paths. Disappointed by God, she has lost a hope and desire for Him. I, on the other hand, am convicted that God’s ways will lead to the fullness of life. Life, of course, can be found in many other places without the explicit label “God”. Nevertheless, from the experiences in my life, I am convicted that what God shares in the bible are not “impositions” on our lives, but they are loving truths (like a user guide on how to achieve a joy-filled life) to help us to attain all that our hearts truly desire.

Yet, it is hard for me to speak of these to my friend. When I do, I wonder whether she thinks of me as just a “Jesus-lover” who is irrelevant and out of touch of the realities of the world. She might not but I wonder these because of my own past experiences with others. Whenever I speak to people who are not of the faith about my relationship with God, I often feel self-conscious of how “out of the world” I might sound to them to believe so much in someone who cannot be seen, heard, touched, etc.

Putting myself in their shoes, without a desire for faith and the experiences with God I’ve had, I would probably be thinking that all those who believe so fervently in Jesus are going through a communal delusion. I would be the first to call them “irrelevant”, “crazy”, and dismiss all that they have to say. I would laugh and mock them, wondering about the absurdity of their “cult-like religion”.

Yet, as the first reading states, the world will wait and see if what we believers say is true. They may dismiss us, call us irrelevant, but they will also observe to see what kind of end we will have. The question for us then is will we be faithful until the very end?

Will we be faithful and hold onto what’s in our heart even when we face rejections from others? Will we be faithful when things do not go our way? Will we be faithful when life treats us cruelly to test our faith in God? Will we still hold onto our convictions or when it demands more of us (e.g., more patience, perseverance, courage)? Will we still hold onto God when He appears to have abandoned us?

The truth is I want to but knowing myself, when life really becomes that challenging, I will fail. In my pain and weariness, in long and dark moments of suffering, I will become discouraged. I will feel abandoned by God. I will doubt His existence. It has happened before. I will fail.

But unlike before, I do not have to rely on my own efforts. Faith is a relationship. This means that God will do HIS part to help me remain faithful. In those dark moments, it is God who will find a way to keep me going, to give me hope, to give me comfort, to give me perseverance, to give me all that I do not have so that I will remain faithful to Him. He has done it for me so many times and brought me back to Him whenever I drift from Him. I have faith today only because He has never given up on me but has always found a way back to my heart. Therefore, I have hope that I will testify to Him until the last breath of my life because my God is first and foremost faithful to me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Cheng)

Prayer: Lord, in dark moments when I am tempted to give up on You, please reach out to me and help me to remember to turn to You, and not rely on my own efforts, in order to remain faithful to the very end.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus for never giving up on me but for always knocking on my door. Thank You for being the one who calls me to come back to You each time. I have hope in You that I will be faithful until the end. I place hope in You to help my loved ones who are presently distant from You… woo them, Jesus, do not give up on them, heal and love them, and help them to taste and see Your love for themselves. Amen.

Thursday, 22 Mar – God Is Everywhere

22 Mar

Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, “Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth”? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘Were I to testify on my own behalf,
my testimony would not be valid;
but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf,
and I know that his testimony is valid.
You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.
Besides, the Father who sent me
bears witness to me himself.
You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.

‘You study the scriptures,
believing that in them you have eternal life;
now these same scriptures testify to me,
and yet you refuse to come to me for life!
As for human approval, this means nothing to me.
Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.
How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?
Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father:
you place your hopes on Moses,
and Moses will be your accuser.
If you really believed him
you would believe me too,
since it was I that he was writing about;
but if you refuse to believe what he wrote,
how can you believe what I say?’

And for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave. But my testimony is greater than John’s.

The church that I serve in Melbourne has not had a regular parish priest for a few years now. We were once a vibrant church, shepherd and cared for by the same priest for 12 years. He not only took care of us but his infectious passion for God drew many to Christ and to the church. Since he has been posted to another parish, however, we have not had a permanent parish priest, the longest lasting just one year. Each time a new parish priest joins our church and we have grown close to him, he gets posted elsewhere. This has been very heartbreaking for the regular parishioners of this church. I have heard one parishioner recently say, “I don’t want to know the next priest too well because by the time you form a bond with them, they leave”.

It is understandable that a number of parishioners who used to attend our church regularly have disappeared. While I do not know the exact reasons why a permanent parish priest is not assigned to us, the truth is that many of us do not feel shepherded or cared for by the larger Archdiocese in Melbourne. When those of us who have stayed on in this church meet up, the pain is evident. We reminisce the time when we had our regular parish priest, the feeling of being taken care of, his mannerisms and personality, and his heart for God and for us. Without him (or a regular parish priest), the church feels empty, a ghost of its past.

Just like how our church parishioners found rest and joy in our former regular parish priest, the Jews in today’s Gospel were also contented in the presence of John the Baptist. However, they had grown comfortable with John such that they forgot the reason why John was there in the first place. He was there to pave the way for Jesus. Yet, they had lost sight of this. Standing before the One that John had spoken of, they failed to recognize Him and still longed for the past days of John.

Back to the current situation in my church, it is a constant challenge every week to attend mass in a place that feels empty, in a place where the bond we form with our current (but temporary) parish priest will one day be lost, in a place where we feel uncared for by the larger Archdiocese in Melbourne. I admire parishioners who still attend this church and try to keep the community spirit going. They are holding onto something that goes deeper than the person overseeing the church – they are holding onto God. They know that even though the church seems to “feel colder”, God is there. They have recognized Jesus’ faithful presence irrespective of feelings and circumstances and they hold onto Him.

My brothers and sisters, it is easy for us to rest in the presence of people who have charisma. We enjoy listening to them and feel closer to God whenever we are in their presence. However, we must be careful not to think that we can ONLY experience God through such people. God is everywhere – in EVERY person we meet, in the breeze, in the scent of your mother’s cooking, and even in a ghost-like church. As a friend told me, “If your heart is right, it does not matter who is the person speaking. You will be able to hear Jesus.” Let us pray to have hearts that are right so that we can recognize the message (Jesus) independent of the messenger.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Cheng)

Prayer: Jesus, I struggle to accept the truth that You speak through every person, even through children, disabled, and inarticulate people. I wish that You would only speak through sophisticated charismatic individuals so that I can justify my dismissing of other people when they speak. Forgive me. It is not You and others who must change to suit me, it is my heart that requires changing. Please change my heart and make me humble so that I will recognize You in every person and circumstance.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus, for charismatic people who have inspired and motivated us to come closer to God. Thank You also for those who are more difficult to love for they have taught me that You are not a God who treats each person differently depending on their behavior, achievements, or talents. Thank You for loving every person and I equally and unconditionally.