Monthly Archives: April 2015

Thursday, 30 Apr – At Your Service

30 Apr – Pope St Pius V

He was born near the Italian town of Alexandria, on the Adriatic, and joined the Dominicans and taught theology. He was made a bishop and fought to reform the moral laxity of the clergy. He was elected Pope in 1566. He strenuously promoted the Catholic Reformation that was started by the Council of Trent. He encouraged missionary work and reformed the liturgy.

– Universalis

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Acts 13:13-25

Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem. The others carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats. After the lessons from the Law and the Prophets had been read, the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message: ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul stood up, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out, and for about forty years took care of them in the wilderness. When he had destroyed seven nations in Canaan, he put them in possession of their land for about four hundred and fifty years. After this he gave them judges, down to the prophet Samuel. Then they demanded a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. After forty years, he deposed him and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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John 13:16-20

After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.
‘Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.
‘I tell you this now, before it happens,
so that when it does happen
you may believe that I am He.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

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Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master

My soon-to-be 8 year old challenges me on an almost daily basis when it comes to our faith and what it is to be Christian. For example, today my daughter shared that Bibik (her father’s domestic helper) has a lot of chores to complete daily and that she felt she wanted to go over and help her with them. I suggested that perhaps it would be best for her to help someone else who is in a similar predicament — her own grandmother — whom we live with and who does a lot for the family. This includes cooking, cleaning and even helping with my daughter’s homework! I went on to stress that her granny was doing this not as a job (which is what Bibik is doing) but out of pure love for her own family. My daughter rebutted by explaining that because her granny is so loved for doing so, we needed to help Bibik – who doesn’t have love. I shared that the likelihood of her being loved is very high given that she is very much appreciated by her employer. The conversation soon digressed into something else.

As her words continued to linger on, I was led to remember the time she challenged me (as is her habit) and asked why God did not come as a mighty King, living in a grand castle, with a large army, a fancy entourage of outriders to escort Him etc. I tried to explain that the only way He could really show us how to ‘be’ was to become one of us. As a 6-year-old back then, that idea was a little hard for her to grasp. I asked her “what is the likelihood of our Sultan knowing exactly how you feel when you are hungry, and getting punished for something you didn’t do in school or yelled at and hit for trying to speak the truth?”

The truth is this – no King (and no other God) has ever come down to our level to show us how to be triumphant in our struggles, to conquer pain and to come out winners in the end. All this was made possible only because He became one of us. If Jesus didn’t come to serve us, we would be anything but Easter people today. There are many examples in our community of believers today. Take our priests for instance – they celebrate mass for us, pray for us, work for us (technically) just so that we can have a relationship with God! It is the same for those who volunteer in church ministries as well as those on mission.

To be a servant also means dealing with ugly struggles we would rather not put up with. It’s a task that will see a lot of back-biting, betrayal, deceit, jealousy, hatred – the list goes on. But guess what? These are things that our own Servant Lord encountered just so He could remain obedient to His Father’s will and because He loved us. It’s a lot like ‘granny’ who puts up with our complaints, bickering, accusations and hurts along the way as a result of wanting to be a servant of love to her family. Is there someone in your life that does so much for you to a point where you have become complacent and totally ungrateful for their very presence and assistance? Are you numb to those who serve you with love? Could you do something different to make it possible for them to see and believe that they are appreciated? Allow yourself some compassion today towards those who serve you for, like Scripture says, ‘we are not above them’.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to see and appreciate all that is done for me through the people you have placed in my life. Amen

Thanksgiving: My Lord and my God, thank you for teaching me humility through servanthood. Help me to forever seek this position that is beneath the rest and not above them. Amen.

 

Wednesday, 29 Apr – The Light of the World

29 Apr – Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin, Doctor

She was born in Siena and, seeking perfection, entered the Third Order of the Dominicans when she was still in her teens. In 1370 she was commanded by a vision to leave her secluded life and enter the public life of the world. She wrote letters to many major public figures and carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, urging him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States. She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. She died on 29 April 1380. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

– Universalis

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Acts 12:24-13:5

The word of God continued to spread and to gain followers. Barnabas and Saul completed their task and came back from Jerusalem, bringing John Mark with them.
  In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
  So these two, sent on their mission by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. They landed at Salamis and proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; John acted as their assistant.

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John 12:44-50

Jesus declared publicly:
‘Whoever believes in me
believes not in me
but in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me,
sees the one who sent me.
I, the light, have come into the world,
so that whoever believes in me
need not stay in the dark any more.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully,
it is not I who shall condemn him,
since I have come not to condemn the world,
but to save the world.
He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already:
the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
For what I have spoken does not come from myself;
no, what I was to say,
what I had to speak,
was commanded by the Father who sent me,
and I know that his commands mean eternal life.
And therefore what the Father has told me
is what I speak.’
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Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.

I started my day off by spending some time on scripture and then a lot more time reading up on the life of St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrate today. We are all called to live life like the saints did and so I took everything I read and reflected on what it would be like to be her in this century.

The reflection started and ended with this fact – St. Catherine of Siena was the 24th child of 25 children. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I couldn’t fathom how hard it would have been for all of them! All would agree, it is a very daunting task for today’s families. I asked myself, “Would I even attempt such a feat?” I am a mother of one, and that itself is a huge challenge. Having 24 more would be great, if I had 24 people to help me.

I am, however, a single mum and I echo the words of the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Julian Leow, when he addressed the youth in his homily. He said “Youth – I do not envy you. Youth – I do not envy you.” He said it slowly and repeated it twice. Powerful and very true. The world we are raising our kids in today is a trying place. I can relate to this because though my daughter is only 7, she has been accidentally exposed to pornographic material via someone else’s phone through a conversion with a girl her age, who said she would like to try it out with her.  One can only imagine the horror I experienced when she explained in detail what she had seen on the phone, as she innocently scrolled through this person’s ‘Gallery’. The girl had used it to take some shots prior to that.

My reflection on St. Catherine of Siena had me pleading and seeking her intercession for our Lord’s protection over my child and children across the world, who will encounter this new drug sweeping across the Internet. As parents, we can try to control our children’s usage of phones, tablets and monitor the content they view. But without God, all of this will be in vain as we are fighting a perverted form of love that is portrayed a concept in a very appealing form.

Though raising children may seem like a mammoth of a task, I draw strength from Christ’s reassuring words in today’s Gospel acclamation – “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”  This I know and this I will remember; for His light permeates all darkness.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Lord, help me remain steadfast in my vocation as a parent, a child, an adult, a teacher, an aunt, a godparent and a friend to all. Help me carry this cross so that I maybe pleasing to you. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Father God, you who sent your only begotten Son into the ugliness of this world to shine bright for us, I honour You, praise You and adore you profoundly for the gift of your Son to us.

 

Tuesday, 28 Apr – Sedition

28 Apr – Memorial of St Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort

Confessor, Marian devotee, and founder of the Sisters of Divine Wisdom He was born Louis Maie Grignon in Montfort, France, in 1673. Educated at Rennes, he was ordained there in 1700, becoming achaplain in a hospital in Poitiers. His congregation, also called the Daughters of Divine Wisdom, started there. As his missions and sermons raised complaints, Louis went to Rome, where Pope Clement XI appointed him as a missionary apostolic. Louis is famous for fostering devotion to the Blessed VirginMary and the Rosary. In 1715, he also founded the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. His True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin remains popular. Louis died at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre. He was canonized in 1947.

– Catholic Online www.catholic.org/saints

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Acts 11:19-26

Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

  The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
  Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’

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John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

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Scattered by the persecution

Malaysia has a tendency of making news for all the wrong reasons. From missing planes and the bomohs on their magic carpets, to POTA — a new law that revives preventive detention without trial – which was passed without amendment at the Dewan Rakyat at about 2.25am on April 7 after a debate of more than 12 hours. The Human Rights Watch states “…it leaves many key terms undefined so as to afford maximum flexibility for law enforcers to interpret them as they see fit.”

That said – this is still my country and I love it to death (literally speaking). I was born and bred here and have no plans of leaving it for what many may deem a ‘better life’ elsewhere.

In the past days though, since POTA came into effect, I have started to feel a lot like the persecuted Christians of the early church with threatening gag orders and executions to beat obedience into its citizens. It’s starting to look like someone is out to suppress the truth. But of course the ruling government claims it to be otherwise.

In today’s first reading we see how the method of suppression has somewhat no effect on these people who feel compelled to share the good news and nothing but the truth. We also see how they were willing soldiers who were ready to die for the truth and were not perturbed by the said actions of the Sanhedrin. Neither were they eager to hide and run away to another country, never to see or hear of them again. They trudged forward and went on for the good fight.

At a casual discussion with some church elders on the laws of the country, one stood out to state clearly that if persecution is to be us, so be it. I couldn’t agree more. I asked myself – am I willing to die for my Lord? Am I called to martyrdom?  Yes, I believe I am. I believe all of us are. The early Christians did it for us. They did it because the truth needed to live on in society today. And indeed it has! Today we are Christians because of the persecution they undertook in the face of hope, love and justice for all mankind; so that all could be saved, so that all will hear the good news of the Lord and come to know Him, the one true God.

It all boils down to this question – are you willing to sacrifice all you’ve got for your God?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, be with us as we take on the ugliness of the world so that you will shine forth with mercy and kindness, and all will come to know you through our brave witnessing, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. You are my Shepherd and I hear YOUR voice. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  My Lord and my God, we are blessed to have received you in our hearts. Thank you for never abandoning us and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who continues to inspire the truth amongst the people. Amen.

 

Monday, 27 Apr – Doors

27 Apr 

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Acts 11:1-18

The apostles and the brothers in Judaea heard that the pagans too had accepted the word of God, and when Peter came up to Jerusalem the Jews criticised him and said, ‘So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them, have you?’ Peter in reply gave them the details point by point: ‘One day, when I was in the town of Jaffa,’ he began ‘I fell into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a big sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners. This sheet reached the ground quite close to me. I watched it intently and saw all sorts of animals and wild beasts – everything possible that could walk, crawl or fly. Then I heard a voice that said to me, “Now, Peter; kill and eat!” But I answered: Certainly not, Lord; nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed my lips. And a second time the voice spoke from heaven, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” This was repeated three times, before the whole of it was drawn up to heaven again.

  ‘Just at that moment, three men stopped outside the house where we were staying; they had been sent from Caesarea to fetch me, and the Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going back with them. The six brothers here came with me as well, and we entered the man’s house. He told us he had seen an angel standing in his house who said, “Send to Jaffa and fetch Simon known as Peter; he has a message for you that will save you and your entire household.”
  ‘I had scarcely begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the same way as it came on us at the beginning, and I remembered that the Lord had said, “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” I realised then that God was giving them the identical thing he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?’
  This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God. ‘God’ they said ‘can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life.’

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John 10:1-10

Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’

Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.

So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

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I am the gate for the sheep

Life has taken us through many a door. Some have been amazingly memorable, some not so. As Jesus speaks about Him being the door, it takes me back to the many doors I went through previously before taking the one to Him. One of the many disastrous ‘doors’ that I recall at this moment is the door to a club where I had met the man I was to marry.

It was at a company event and there he was chatting me up, trying to sound intelligent throughout (I obviously bought into it) with his flamboyant nature. Towards the end of the night, I refused to share my number but he did eventually get my office number and started contacting me there.

On our first date, we were chauffeur-driven and at the restaurant we were accompanied by his body guard. “Impressive”, I thought to myself. However, a lil’ siren did go off (but clearly not loud enough) as I started to ask myself ‘why would he need one?’.

Days led into months and a proposal was made. The preparations were rushed.  I was told that his dad was ill and it was necessary to get it done before the year ended. 10 days, exactly 10 days before the wedding, on the night of my hen’s night, my now fiancée revealed a side to him I had never seen previously. He was drunk and a fight ensued, leaving me badly bruised and bleeding, climbing out of a rubbish chute to escape the building. That’s the gist of it.

Now as I look back, I see how this door to a new life was never meant for me to begin with. The fact that my Lord had allowed these events to unfold clearly shows me that He did not want this for me and was waiting for me to make a decision, my own choice; to leave it and get out.

He was waiting for me to look for my door back to Him, which I did that same year. With my heart crushed, hurt but grateful, I ran back to Him, a broken child. I had come to realise that the doors before me had really been a huge distraction from seeking the door to my Lord’s heart. The world had so much to offer and I was hungry to go through the doors of life eager as ever, and never discerning my every move. But my Father God is so faithful – he came after me, looking for me, waiting for me.

You’ve heard scripture say – The road to life is narrow. The road to destruction is wide. In today’s Gospel we get Jesus’ invitation to choose that path, a door that will not necessarily be easy, but it is one that is worth an eternity – a life forever in happiness with the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, help me to be wary of the many ‘inviting’ doors I encounter in my life. May I never be led astray from you. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  My Lord and my God, thank you for never leaving my side. Thank you for dying on the cross (a door no one would ever consider) for me, your child, so that I may be one with you. Amen.

 

Sunday, 26 Apr – Why Things Happen The Way They Do

26 Apr – Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Lord has truly risen, alleluia

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Acts 4:8-12

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter said: ‘Rulers of the people, and elders! If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple, and asking us how he was healed, then I am glad to tell you all, and would indeed be glad to tell the whole people of Israel, that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence, today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone. For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’

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1 John 3:1-2

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.

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John 10:11-18

Jesus said:
‘I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd;
I know my own
and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have
that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock,
and one shepherd.
‘The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
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 I know mine and mine know me

I am a cradle Catholic. This often suggests that I have been a Catholic for more than 30-odd years but, sadly enough, I haven’t quite been the Catholic I ought to be. Not up to now perhaps. I say ‘now’ because the Catholic I am today is not the Catholic I was just 24 hours ago. Things change and evolve almost on an hourly basis for me on this faith journey. His very presence in my life has me waking up each day refreshed from the day gone by.

That said, this was never the observation I had some 4 years ago. I was oblivious to God’s ever-present hand in my daily setting. From waking me up on time, to helping me pick out the perfect outfit, meals that come with a tinge of spiciness (just the way I like it) or the cab that arrives just as it starts to drizzle. It was often a case of me being “lucky” or the vain thought that ‘I really am that good at doing all that I do’. God had no hand in anything.

Never was it because of my good shepherd – the one who says “I know mine and mine know me”.  The truth is, I never knew Him. As such, I couldn’t identify with a Him who would move the cosmic forces around just for me. To see to my needs, to make perfect a moment, to make things happen because He knows what’s best for me even though I couldn’t for the life of me see it as such at that very moment.

But today, almost every hour, every minute and every second of the day, the Holy Spirit gives me a nudge to remind me that ‘Hey, I’m right here you know‘. It is because of this constant nudging that I am reminded that though I am a sinner, I am a child of God – a child who constantly needs Him in my life, to feed, care and look out for me just as I would with my own child. I am His child, no matter how ‘old’ I get. He knows me and I know Him – my Abba Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, may I never forget your presence in my life – your words, your touch, your care, your guidance and most of all, your love for me. Help me – a sinner, to always know that there is a You who always will love me, no matter how far I may wander off.

Thanksgiving:  Lord, I praise you and thank you for choosing me and making me worthy to be yours.

Saturday, 25 Apr – Community

25 Apr – Memorial of Saint Mark, the Evangelist

The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New Testament, is sometimes called John Mark. Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church, and his mother’s house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for Christians there.

St. Mark was associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who was Mark’s cousin) on their missionary journey through the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St. Barnabas alone. We know also that he was in Rome with St. Peter and St. Paul. Tradition ascribes to him the founding of the Church in Alexandria.

St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, probably in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D.; he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity. Tradition tells us that St. Mark was requested by theRomans to set down the teachings of St. Peter. This seems to be confirmed by the position which St. Peter has in this Gospel. In this way the second Gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles. His feast day is April 25. He is the patron saint of notaries.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them: ‘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.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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…it is the same kind of suffering that the community of your brothers throughout the world is undergoing.

Since February this year, a group of us have been meeting once every two weeks as a discipleship group (DG) at CSC. Prior to this, we were in ‘cell groups’ and we had been sharing the Word of God together quite regularly. The change to DGs came about with a change in our spiritual director, who recognized the need for all of us in ministry to first be able to strengthen ourselves spiritually in order that our service, whether at retreats or other occasions, would flow from our hearts rather than be seen as a task or job to perform. Thus began our spiritual recovery journey as individuals and as a community.

This change has opened up tremendously my understanding of our faith. What used to be a very private faith, even as I was serving in CSC, is now one that is anchored on a community of brothers who struggle and fight their own battles on a daily basis. But, as I shared a few days ago, we know that we do not fight alone. Each one of us prays for the other and whenever we come together, I can feel the bonds deepening and strengthening. Truly, God is working within our small community and keeping the flame burning in each one of us.

I never thought that I would ever reveal my deepest secrets and transgressions to openly to anyone else. As Fr Erbin (our new SD) has said, “In this process, once you share, you will realise that you are not alone. And to know that someone else identifies with you and can empathise with you is truly something special.” He believes that these sharings are how we break the bonds of sin and condemn the devil to defeat. Because when we hold no secrets in our heart, the devil cannot play on them or use them against us.

Brothers and sisters, it is true that we all suffer. And by going it alone, we will only end up wallowing in our own fear, anxiety, self-pity and every other negative emotion you can think of. We all belong to the body of Christ. Therefore, ours is not a private faith. We are meant to be part of a larger community that is united in God’s love. It is inevitable that as part of a community, we will encounter all kinds of situations and people that will test us (parents-in-law are an oft-quoted example). As Catholics, we must be able to accept that we cannot change others and that what needs to change is ourselves. Only then can we truly say that we are a community of brothers and sisters who are united in one heart, one mind and one spirit in the love of Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to you O Lord, for our brothers and sisters who journey with us in life and teach us what being a part of the body of Christ means.

Friday, 24 Apr – Communion

24 Apr – Memorial of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Priest, Martyr

Lawyer and philosophy teacher. Disgusted by the greed, corruption, and lack of interest in justice by his fellow lawyers, Mark Rey abandoned the law, became a priest, became a Franciscan friar with his brother George, changed his name to Fidelis, and gave away his worldly wealth to poor people in general and poor seminarians in particular. He was served his friary as guardian, and worked in epidemics, especially healing soldiers. He led a group of Capuchins to preach to Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. The success of this work, and lack of violence suffered by mission was attributed to Fidelis spending his nights in prayer. He was, however, eventually martyred for his preaching.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood

I don’t know of any other religion whereby its followers get to be in intimate communion with their founder through a ritual that involves them eating a piece of bread and drinking from a cup of his blood. When Jesus Christ told His apostles to eat his body and drink his blood, He was truly giving himself to them and, to all those who followed. So what used to be a ritual that we performed at every mass took on a very different significance once I began to understand why Communion was the climax of the mass.

In giving himself to us, Jesus Christ wasn’t just feeding us; He gave himself to us so that He could live in us and we could live in Him. For me, that communion with Christ is something truly special and wondrous. And the fact that He makes himself so accessible to us on a daily basis truly boggles the mind. Only a God who loves us deeply could have conceived such a plan for those who believe in Him.

So as we receive Christ in us each day or each week at mass, ask yourself this question, “Have I truly lived my life as a son or daughter of God to deserve His coming into my very being?” We say that we are not worthy that He should enter under our roof but that all He needs to do is to say the word and we shall be healed. Brothers and sisters, the real question is this – Are we truly open and prepared to receive Him in our hearts? For Jesus can indeed say the word and heal us, but only if deep down in our hearts, we are open and receptive to hearing the words He speaks to us.

The healing will come only if we clear all the obstacles from within that hinder us from receiving His love. All our pride, our attachments to sin, our fears and anxieties, our addictions and all our deep-seated wounds. Christ can only come into our lives if we are willing to look deep within ourselves and lay bare our souls. Because in receiving Christ, we are acknowledging that He is the ruler of our souls and that His way is the only way forward for us. We cannot profess to be His sons and daughters if we continue to cling on to everything that ultimately we will have to leave here on earth when we die.

I ask that we all take courage and come to terms with our sins and to confess them at the next opportunity so that when we receive Christ in communion, we are not just eating a piece of bread, but actually welcoming Him into our hearts and allowing Him to work within us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: Lord, give us the courage and strength to overcome all temptation and to rid ourselves of sin so that we may receive you in your fullness, knowing that you will work your miracles within all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, 23 Apr – Our Divine Teacher

23 Apr – Memorial of Saint George, Martyr, or Saint Adalbert of Prague, Bishop, Martyr

Saint George, Martyr

Several stories have been attached to Saint George, the best known of which is the Golden Legend. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this fierce creature, and had gone down in painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day; when mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in local villages, and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came Saint George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon, and converted the locals. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away.

Due to his chivalrous behavior (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to Saint George became popular in the Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated Knights of the Garter are actually Knights of the Order of Saint George. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries. One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Saint Adalbert of Prague, Bishop, Martyr

Born to the Bohemian nobility. He took the name of Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg, the archbishop who healed, educated and converted him. Bishop of Prague (in the modern Czech Republic on 10 February 982. Friend of Emperor Otto III. Adalbert encouraged the evangelization of the Magyars, and worked on it with Saint Astricus. Opposed by the nobility in Prague and unpopular in the area, he withdrew to Rome, Italy and became a Benedictine monk, making his vows on 17 April 990; Pope John XV sent him back to Prague. anyway. Founded the monastery of Brevnov. Met more opposition from the nobility, and returned to Rome. There being no hope of his working in Prague, he was allowed to (unsuccessfully) evangelize in Pomerania, Poland, Prussia, Hungary, and Russia. He and his fellow missionaries were martyred by Prussians near Koenigsberg or Danzig at the instigation of a pagan priest. Not long before his death, Adalbert met and was a great inspiration to Saint Boniface of Querfurt.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 8:26-40

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:

Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!

The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.

Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.

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John 6:44-51

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

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They shall all be taught by God

Working in a university comes with its fair share of challenges. Today, I spent an hour with a consultant who has been hired to help us with ‘culture-building’. He asked many searching questions which I answered with candour and openness of heart. I guess after five years in the job, I felt entitled to speak from a position of ‘authority’ having seen many others come and go.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sit in on various meetings where my bosses have shared their thoughts on education as well as a variety of related topics. What I have learnt is that no one person has absolute knowledge on any given subject, myself included. People may be experts in their fields but in our culture, everyone at the table is entitled to his/her opinion and the final decision-maker has to hear from all present. This culture didn’t develop overnight and only evolved as we hired more and more faculty. This has added to a rich learning experience for staff, especially those whose job functions cut across various divisions.

On the spiritual front, I have been blessed to have been able to devote time to serving at CSC and, in the process, attend many Friday growth talks and listen to homilies given by the many priests and spiritual directors over the past four years. The education I have received at the centre has certainly enriched my understanding of the faith and contributed to my spiritual growth. But the knowledge I have received is different from the knowledge I receive at work. What I receive at work and impart to my team of young staff serves us well only at work. It does nothing for us outside of the office.

The knowledge I have gained at CSC resides within my heart and soul. I have found myself evangelizing to colleagues and friends, testifying to God’s love for me and how He has worked miracles within me over the years. It is a knowledge that sometimes springs forth without warning and is not confined to any particular location or building. In the office, at church, or even during a meal, when the opportunity arises to testify to His love for me, I find myself jumping at the chance. Whereas I now spend a lot less time telling others about what I do for a living, or what I do at work.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord wants us to get to know Him and to learn from Him. For it is only through Him that we shall learn about the true meaning of life. And it is only by His grace that we shall be empowered to spread His word and to testify to His amazing love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray O Lord that you continue to nourish and sustain us in your teachings so that we can truly be your disciples and living examples of your love.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for being our ultimate teacher, guide and spiritual director.

Wednesday, 22 Apr – Being Recognised

22 Apr

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Acts 8:1-8

That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria.

There were some devout people, however, who buried Stephen and made great mourning for him.
Saul then worked for the total destruction of the Church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison.

Those who had escaped went from place to place preaching the Good News. One of them was Philip who went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.

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John 6:35-40

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.
But, as I have told you,
you can see me and still you do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away;
because I have come from heaven, not to do my own will,
but to do the will of the one who sent me.
Now the will of him who sent me
is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me,
and that I should raise it up on the last day.
Yes, it is my Father’s will
that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,
and that I shall raise him up on the last day.’

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I shall raise him on the last day

At work, it is quite rare that a colleague from another division (another director) would actively seek to extol the work done by my team in our efforts to garner applications into the university. More often than not, we get a ‘Thank you for your efforts’ via an email or a chance encounter in the lift. But I recently received a pleasant surprise when a colleague (the head of another division) asked for a summary of the work my team had done for his divison since the end of last year. He wanted to present it at an upcoming meeting to ensure that ‘credit was given where credit is due’.

Of course I immediately messaged my manager and told him to get the necessary slides prepared and, at the same time, congratulated him for his efforts. He had indeed put in lots of time and effort to ensure that the work produced was a true reflection of our division’s capabilities and standards. I messaged him later in the evening to congratulate him again and to convince him that he truly had what it took to become a key member of my team, in spite of his young age. I told him to stop agonizing about how others were treating him (he had been unfairly skipped over for promotion) and to just channel all his energies into doing the best he could in supporting the academics and senior management. I said that at the end of the day, the quality of his work would speak for itself and that the recognition would come.

Young adults today crave instant gratification. This is especially so when they have invested a great deal of time and effort in a project. I wonder how the apostles were feeling as they witnessed Christ’s suffering at the hands of the Romans and Jews, as He walked towards his inglorious death. Not all were present in the end and I have asked myself if I too would have run off when all seemed hopeless. After all, the supposed ‘King of the Jews’ was even worse than a criminal. How could those closest to Him see any way out from the humiliation of the crucifixion? It would take a strong heart and stout will to truly stay the course.

Eventually, God makes everything right and vindicates all who believed in Jesus Christ by raising him up from the dead. When Christ conquers death and appears to those who love Him, the ultimate reward is the opening up of all the faculties, the heart and the soul of those who encounter the risen Lord. One could say that all the anguish and turmoil they endured during Christ’s horrendous suffering was immediately supplanted by wonder, amazement, gratitude and a deep-seated love that could only have come after struggling with doubt and even questioning oneself.

Brothers and sisters, each day is a constant struggle at home, at work and even at rest. We battle against fear, insecurity, jealousy, pride, envy, anger and many other sins. But take heart for the Lord knows our innermost feelings and our struggles. As long as we are focused on Him, all of us will be raised up on the last day.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray O Heavenly Father, that knowing our deepest desires and fears, you will recognize us as your beloved sons and daughters on the Day of Judgment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your steadfast love for all of us.

Tuesday, 21 Apr – Breaking The Law

21 Apr – Memorial of Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Born to the Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, at age 15 Anselm wanted to enter religious life, but his father Gondulf prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon the death of his mother, Ermenberge, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France in 1056, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy in 1060. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as prior of the house in 1063. Abbot of the house in 1078.

Because of the physical closeness and political connections, there was frequent travel and communication between Normandy and England, and Anselm was in repeated contact with Church officials in England. He was chosen as reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, England in 1092; officials had to wait until he too sick to argue in order to get him to agree.

As bishop he fought King William Rufus’s encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independence of the Church, refused to pay bribes to take over as bishop, and was exiled for his efforts. He travelled to Rome, Italy and spent part of his exile as an advisor to Pope Blessed Urban II, obtaining the pope‘s support for returning to England and conducting Church business without the king‘s interference. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at Council of Bari in 1098.

In 1100 King Henry II invited Anselm to return to England, but they disputed over lay investiture, and Anselm was exiled again only to return in 1106 when Henry agreed not to interfere with the selection of Church officials. Anselm opposed slavery, and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He strongly supported celibate clergy, and approved the addition of several saints to the liturgical calendar of England.

Anselm was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the middle ages, and a noted theological writer. He was far more at home in the monastery than in political circles, but still managed to improve the position of the Church in England. Counsellor to Pope Gregory VII. Chosen a Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.

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Acts 7:51-8:1

Stephen said to the people, the elders and the scribes: ‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’

They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.

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John 6:30-35

They people said to Jesus, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’

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You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it

Here in Singapore, we are probably about as law-abiding as they come in terms of a citizenry. And since the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, there have been many articles about how his method of running the country was necessary in the face of various challenges, both externally and within the country. His was an iron fist that tolerated no corruption nor dissension and Singapore is where it is today on the world stage because of the efforts of his team.

Each time we renew our baptismal vows and exhort ‘I do’ in answer to whether we renounce the devil and his works, I wonder to myself, “But hang on. You just committed a sin yesterday. And yet here you are saying ‘I do’.” Brothers and sisters, this is the dilemma that we, as sinners, find ourselves in on an almost daily basis. Yet in my heart, I know that my heavenly Father – the God who so loved me that He gave His only son to die for me – is not keeping score each time I sin.

For He knows that we are fallen creatures, born with original sin in us and that each time we visit Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are renewed. As long as we are sincere and contrite. I do not for one second believe that we are like the high priests that St Stephen was preaching to, ‘stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.’ (Acts 7:51a). All of us are searching for love and truth. As humans, our lives are but a daily quest for purpose and meaning. And at the end of every day, we are given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and to wake up the next day refreshed and renewed in spirit, knowing that God understands our frailties and forgives us our sins.

I was touched by what Fr Jude said at the end of his homily at Good Friday mass, when he reached out to those Catholics who, for one reason or another, had stayed away from church and were making their ‘annual pilgrimage’ on this holy day. With open arms, he welcomed them and encouraged them to come back into the community because no son or daughter of God deserves to be alone in their suffering. We all have sinned and ‘broken the law’ more than a few times in our lives. Yet God, in His generosity and love, continues to love us and to knock on the door of our hearts. Because all He wants is to embrace us and to welcome us into His kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, what more can we ask from our heavenly Father?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray Lord, that in your mercy, you teach us to forgive and forget just as you do each time we confess our transgressions to you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your everlasting mercy and compassion.