Monthly Archives: March 2016

31 March, Thursday – Witnesses To The Mercy of God

31 March – Easter Thursday

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Acts 3:11-26

Everyone came running towards Peter and John in great excitement, to the Portico of Solomon, as it is called, where the man was still clinging to Peter and John. When Peter saw the people he addressed them, ‘Why are you so surprised at this? Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness? You are Israelites, and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus, the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after Pilate had decided to release him. It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are the witnesses; and it is the name of Jesus which, through our faith in it, has brought back the strength of this man whom you see here and who is well known to you. It is faith in that name that has restored this man to health, as you can all see.

‘Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets. Moses, for example, said: The Lord God will raise up a prophet like myself for you, from among your own brothers; you must listen to whatever he tells you. The man who does not listen to that prophet is to be cut off from the people. In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days.

‘You are the heirs of the prophets, the heirs of the covenant God made with our ancestors when he told Abraham: in your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed. It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’

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Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’

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“In your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed. It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

I just came out from the confessional.

Again, it was for the same sin that I confess time and again. We fall, repeatedly. In one of my previous reflections, I shared about how I took the Sacrament of Reconciliation for granted, as though it were a water tap, turning it on and off to wash my hands whenever it was dirty.

But God the Father is consistent; He consistently forgives our every sin each time we fail and each time we confess our sins to Him in the confessional.

My favourite line/phrase in today’s readings is found in the gospel. “…in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.”

The common thread that binds both readings together today is the forgiveness of God. Forgiving us of our sins, however grave, major, or ugly our sins can be.  No sin is too big for God to forgive. His love is immeasurable.

But there is a caveat to this: Repentance.

St Maximum the Confessor once said: “God’s will is to save us, and nothing pleases Him more than our coming back to Him in true repentance”. And this is reaffirmed in today’s first reading when Peter said to the people, “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort”.

This is exactly what we prepared for during the season of Lent. Repenting and preparing our hearts for the Risen Christ.

And indeed, we are witnesses to this. Both you and I. For having been redeemed by the Lord through his Passion, death and resurrection, we have been made clean by the precious blood of the Lamb. Hence, we stand as witnesses to this.

But this is not by our own doing. St Peter said: “It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways”. If God had not come to us, there can be no repentance and forgiveness of sins, wouldn’t it?

God is good, my brothers and sisters. He is faithful is all His ways. So let us continue to seek Him in all our ways. Let us continue to model ourselves after the Risen Lord, in all our thoughts, words and deeds. So that like the apostles in today’s gospel, we can be filled with great joy when the Risen Lord appears before us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Lee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Your son, Jesus, our Lord. Thank you for your faithfulness in love and mercy. May we strive to live holy lives and be like Your Son, in our every thought word and deed.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for your Passion, Death and Resurrection, which has redeemed our souls from the grave.

30 March, Wednesday – Rejoice, O Hearts That Seek the Lord

30 March – Easter Wednesday

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Acts 3:1-10

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in. When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’ He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God. Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.

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Luke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.

Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

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Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

I was looking at some old photos recently and was reminded of the time I met a very charismatic person. His presence filled the space and everyone was waiting in line to shake his hand. This man was not God yet everyone knew him and recognised him. I have often wondered how two of Jesus’ disciples who knew Him with great intimacy could not recognise Him. Let us look at Jesus in 3 forms: others as Jesus, Jesus within us and Jesus, the Joyful Risen Lord.

Others as Jesus – We are not very different from these two disciples when we are rushing off for a meeting and when we encounter a homeless person on the street – was that not Jesus right there in the homeless person? Have we failed to recognise and reach out to the forgotten among us, the special persons, the person who is without a smile? Even our own family members whom we encounter daily – are we showing them the love and respect they deserve? Jesus is in the people who need us most, to provide them material, emotional and spiritual comfort and God-given wisdom will tell us what we should offer to each person.

Jesus within us – Are we sometimes too critical and judgemental towards ourselves? Are we able to forgive and release our hearts from the pain and hurts of the past? Are we respecting our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit by upholding chastity and taking care of our physical health? Are we always able to forgive those we love the most and continue to love them unconditionally? When we are disconnected from family or in conflict with our sisters and brothers, we cannot be fully in communion with God as it really hurts us. In the same vein, have we let go of relationships which are abusive or are not of God? We cannot love ourselves unconditionally if we are clinging on to bad relationships and company. It can poison the depths of being and make it impossible for us to recognise the Joy of the Lord. Are we treating ourselves as a cherished child of a God?

Jesus, the Joyful Risen Lord – Have we become so accustomed to seeing Christ suffering on the cross that we have forgotten that He is the source of all Joy? His cross is a reminder of His gift of love for us and by no means should it cloud our vision from the Joy of the Risen Lord, which came about as a result of His crucifixion. Have we tried so hard to remain in control of our lives, our families, our health and our finances, by flashing our self-sufficient attitudes? Do we acknowledge that all good things come from God? Do we continuously whine and worry about all that we want as if we are a 5-year-old throwing a tantrum at a shopping mall? God clearly has said that we do not need to worry about tomorrow and chances are, at this given moment, life is not that bad. If it is bad, are we not able to still feel his joy? That is our conscious decision to recognise His Joy this season. We have been faithful through the observance of prayer, fast and almsgiving during Lent and we are diligent about it over the years; but what has become of us after Lent? Have our attitudes and mannerisms reflected the sentiments of the Easter season, which is Joy? It can seem easier to be unhappy our dissatisfied but, as Catholics, we all know that the Lord wants each of us to happy, joyful and if we choose, grateful.

When you close your eyes, do you see Jesus who is sulking at you and judging you? I am very sure He is smiling at us with His arms wide open.

Do you see the person whom you have not helped once before, rely on God to give you the opportunity to bless that person or someone else soon?

Could you have treated yourself better, showing compassion and kindness, asking the Lord to help you do this for yourself as a child of God?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, help us to recognise you each moment of our lives. Forgive us when we have failed to do so.

Thanksgiving: We thank you and praise you for the gift of Joy in our lives and within our hearts. Your are ‘Joy’ to us.

29 March, Tuesday – Mary Reported What She Has Seen

29 March – Easter Tuesday

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Acts 2:36-41

On the day of Pentecost, Peter spoke to the Jews: ‘The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.’
Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent,’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.’ He spoke to them for a long time using many arguments, and he urged them, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’ They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number.

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John 20:11-18

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.

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God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified

In today’s reading, we once again see Mary’s faithfulness to always report what she has seen and heard. It is not uncommon for people to share experiences and memories with their loved ones. And while sharing our lives is a very good thing to do, could we make today a starting point for us to share about our Lord and Christ?

In my conversations, I am sometimes tempted to fall into the sin of judgement and gossip, and other matters which are less than worthy of a child of God. At my best, I will divert the conversation towards something that is life-giving, talking about what God has done for me (if I was with Catholic friends) or about the occasions at church to my non-Catholic friends. I have to admit that though talking about my faith was good, it was not always at the top of my mind. I sometimes use it as a defense to shield me from unwanted sin. I realise this is my journey towards becoming a more bold lover of the Lord, to become like St Peter and St Paul and even Mary, to bear witness to Him wherever I am.

We have a treasure beyond compare with our Lord. He is mighty and no one person, or a group of people, can come close to His love, His mercy and no one can take His place in our lives and in this world as the Lord and Christ. And yet, we find ourselves more attuned towards talking about politics, fashion, our significant other, our achievements, our complaints etc rather than spending a few minutes telling our friends or colleagues about who our Lord truly is. If you are going to church on Sunday, there is a golden opportunity for you to share something about your Sunday encounter with the Lord when someone asks you about your weekend. Sure, we can choose to talk about less desirable things at church and, if we do that, we can rest assured that this will linger in the minds of others, especially those who are sincerely seeking Christ from the outside. We cannot deny that amidst us, there are those who are curious about the Catholic faith and about who this person, Jesus, is. It is not very common to want to die for others; neither has any institution in the world the power to uphold authority for 2000 years.

I live in Malaysia, a country with a Muslim majority and where Christians make up about 7 percent of the population. We are a multi-racial population and we have friends and neighbours of all faiths and cultures and we are as diverse as can be, yet as similar as can be. Many times, I have noticed the attention we get when we say our grace before meals at restaurants.

At times, we find ourselves in situations where we are weeping like Mary outside the tomb or like Peter, who denied Jesus. To God, it matters not what we did or where we have been. We all cry and imagine that if we cry with the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament; or just invite Him into the areas of our pain, sorrow and suffering, that it would liberate us and console us beyond compare. The Lord sees everything and is all-knowing. Yet, we have our free will to exercise in surrendering our lives to Him, not hiding any dark corners and exposing each chamber of our heart to Him. All Mary had to do was to bend over the tomb, and the Lord met her right there, delivering a very powerful message that He is alive. Surely, as a woman in her community then, she was not worthy of bringing news or having a voice – yet the Lord did not care about her status nor her worthiness. If like me, you feel worthless sometimes, let me reassure you that we are made worthy because of Him.

Open your heart today to Christ, let Him radiate His hope and joy through you, to all those you encounter.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayers: Lord our hearts, our lives and our weeping and joys are yours. Help us to give ourselves freely and totally to you each moment of our lives.

Thanksgiving: The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. You who live and reign in my life, my heart and my entire being are yours my Lord and Christ whom I have crucified.

28 March, Monday – Peter Stood Up…

28 March – Easter Monday

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Acts 2:14,22-33

On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice: ‘Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you all know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified by men outside the Law. You killed him, but God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades; for it was impossible for him to be held in its power since, as David says of him:

I saw the Lord before me always,
for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me.
So my heart was glad
and my tongue cried out with joy;
my body, too, will rest in the hope
that you will not abandon my soul to Hades
nor allow your holy one to experience corruption.
You have made known the way of life to me,
you will fill me with gladness through your presence.

‘Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, what he foresaw and spoke about was the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not experience corruption. God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that. Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.’

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Matthew 28:8-15

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

While they were on their way, some of the guard went off into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened. These held a meeting with the elders and, after some discussion, handed a considerable sum of money to the soldiers with these instructions, ‘This is what you must say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And should the governor come to hear of this, we undertake to put things right with him ourselves and to see that you do not get into trouble.’ The soldiers took the money and carried out their instructions, and to this day that is the story among the Jews.

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Fearful yet overjoyed.

Today is an opportune time to reflect on what the apostles had done after the resurrection, to plant a seed in spreading the message of salvation to the world. Peter, who fearfully denied the Lord, pressed on to spread the good news even till death, and so did Paul. It is quite possible that when Peter addressed the Jews, he was fearful. Yet the dominant sense of mission motivated him to speak up.

Mary and Mary Magdelene were fearful, yet overjoyed after encountering the Risen Lord. Yet these two women, despite not having an equal voice and status in society, broke their culture norms to announce the good news to the disciples. If they have chosen not to tell anyone, the history of the Catholic faith would have been very different. Both Marys and all Jesus’ apostles are in fact in the same situation as each of us – having the same encounter with the risen Lord as we have.

Brothers and sisters, are we able to speak of Him to anyone and everyone without fear or favour? Are we true witnesses of our faith by boldly living the truth despite the pressures to conform to social norms? Do we still uphold the dignity of each person? Do we believe that God never wavers and that He meant it when he said, that man and woman constitute a perfect union and the anomalies that we are exposed to are going against God’s plan for us humans?

Are we able to see the malice of corruption as in today’s gospel? Besides being bold keyboard warriors, are we upholding our values by not offering any amount of bribe to anyone and under all circumstances? Are we invoking jealousy and envy by boasting about our financial blessings? Do we not realise that this can stir up unwarranted greed among our sisters and brothers by such actions?

How are we to do all that is right and avoid all that is not pleasing to our Father? How can we be bold enough to evangelise? For this we ask our Father to keep us safe from evil as He is our hope.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Keep me safe O Lord, show me your ways and protect me from all that is not of you.

Thanksgiving: Lord we thank you for our feelings of joy and fear, we will use it for your glory.

27 March, Sunday – His Mercy Endures

27 March – Easter Sunday 

Blessed and Holy Easter dear Readers! Our OXYGEN team sends you Easter joy and wishes you our Lord’s Peace, wherever you are! Christ has risen. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Acts 10:34,37-43

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’

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Colossians 3:1-4

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.

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John 20:1-9

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’
So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

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Think of what is above, not what is on earth….

Today is a special day for humankind — it is this very day the Lord took His place at the right hand of the Father and assumed His promise for our salvation. Believers or non believers, He died for us and He rose for us, not because of who we are but because of who He is.

The few days in Lent were especially challenging to me, as I came face to face with most of my fears and insecurities. I had to face another birthday and Valentine’s Day as a single person and alone too, with no guarantees of spending it with the one I love or even in the company of anyone. I also found out that the people I love most had different expectations of me. It seemed very daunting and dreadful at that time.

I realised that I had given people’s acceptance of me way too much importance and that the one person that I should please in my life is the Lord. The Lord resurrected my pain and longing to a level of awareness. Why was that necessary? So that I would be reminded that despite my concerns, there is a God who is great and who wants something greater than marital bliss for me – He wants me to be satisfied with Him.

If spending another Easter as a single lady can rob me of the joy and hope of the risen Lord, I feel that I have totally missed the point. Because there is something greater than my marital status and my deepest longing, which is My Lord and the day which He has made.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father, my precious Risen Lord, I offer up the suffering of the whole world into your hands. Help us Lord, to be Easter people and immerse our entire lives in You this Easter season.

Thanksgiving: Lord we ask not for anything more. You are sufficient for us and we awaiting in childlike anticipation to live with you forever. You are our ‘forever’.

26 March, Saturday – The Light of Christ

26 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 7 from our writing team, along with 2 guest writers, Gerard and Beryl, have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Debbie (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsarial: Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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Creation From Chaos

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

In our lives, we experience quite a lot of dark times, some darker than others. Losing a loved one, losing a job, being betrayed by a friend, being betrayed by a spouse, or being betrayed by your Church community are just examples of the darkness in our lives.

As I reflect on today’s reading, I am amazed at how God slowly put structure, beauty and life in the world. The first thing He did was to dispel the darkness by creating light. This light showed how chaotic everything was. In the same way, God gives us light to see what is really happening in our lives.

God then proceeds to create order, addressing one need after another: the heavens and earth, the oceans, the plants, day and night, the animals, and the pinnacle of creation – man. I’m pretty sure God could have made all these in one day, but he had a plan and ‘staggered’ creation.

When we are in our dark moments, God does not simply wave a magic wand to put everything in order. We go through a process of healing, of moving on, of forgiving. Things fall into place, but not all at the same time. We just need to have faith that one day, everything will be very good.

Last year, I went for a retreat and God showed me my brokenness. My parents separated when I was eight but most of the people I know would think everything in my family was ok. I excelled in my studies, I didn’t do drugs, I wasn’t in any destructive relationship. But my retreat revealed how much hurt was in me, and that I was too afraid to believe in true love between human beings. I left the retreat thinking that I was fully healed. Little did I know that it had to take more time for the healing process to be completed. Just like how God created something out of the darkness, God was creating, or re-creating me, slowly, in phases, in stages. I’m not sure if I’ve reached the pinnacle yet. But I’ve been seeing the oceans, the plants and the animals in my life.

Are you in the dark? Have hope. God is creating a masterpiece out of this darkness.

(by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, at times I don’t see what you intend to make out of me. It is dark and it hurts. And sometimes, the phases are taking too long. But when I look at your wonderful creations, it reminds me that you have something great for me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for this gift of life. I may not see its beauty now, but I’ve seen something beautiful every now and then.
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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsarial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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No Other

God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.

There were times when I did not like what I do.  Times when I wanted to stop, hide, and run away from all my deadlines and responsibilities.  Instances when I wished to escape and leave everything and everyone.  Temporarily.

Abraham must have felt devastated upon learning that his son, Isaac would be the offering. I cannot imagine if he had been able to sleep that night, thinking that he would be giving up his son for God.  He could have said, “No!” Nevertheless, he followed what God told him and prepared for everything.  There were questions that I wanted to ask.  How did he take it when he was informed that he would be offering Isaac as a holocaust? What were his thoughts before going to sleep? Was he even able to sleep the night before? Did his wife, Sarah, know that Isaac would become an offering? How was he feeling while on the journey, knowing that he would leave his son on the place of sacrifice? What was Isaac’s reaction when he was tied up by his father?

But on the third day, it was revealed that God was testing Abraham.  Isaac was saved from being the burnt offering.  God indeed provided the sheep for the offering.  A ram caught by its horns in the thicket replaced Isaac as the holocaust.  This tells us that God provides for everything.  And God sent us His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to be the Sacrificial Lamb for man’s redemption.  We do not need to die on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus has already done that and saved us.

Similarly, God also showed his saving grace to Jesus Christ.  On the third day after His death, Jesus rose from the dead.  And it is for eternity.  After the sacrifices and death of Jesus Christ, there is the Glorious Resurrection.

In our daily activities, let us be like Abraham who followed God and who was ready to surrender everything.  Saying “Yes!” to the Lord is easy.  But actually following Him can be difficult.  I personally struggle to faithfully follow God’s commandments.

Let us continue giving our all in everything that we do even if we are in a really difficult situation. Let us be reminded that the suffering we feel is nothing compared to what Christ has sacrificed for us.  In whatever hardships that we experience, let us remember that God never leaves us and He will lead us to surpass the rocky road.

(by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please let us be like Abraham to do our daily work as best as we can.  May we have the strength to endure anything that we will face and a heart that will lift everything to You.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for pouring upon us your divine providence that enables us to follow Your will.
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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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Rescued, We Are Victorious

“Yahweh, is my strength and my song, to him I owe my deliverance. He is my God and I shall praise him, my father’s God and I shall extol him. Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name.”

In this reading we read about the parting of the Red Sea, the freeing of the Israelites out of Egypt and from slavery. We read about the wonder, the power and might of God. We understand that as long as God is with us, nothing can stand against us.

But our lives, no matter how close we seem to be, or how faithful we are to God, will continuously be faced with problems and, at times, even the non-believers seem to be more ‘well off’ compared to us. When we make comparisons, we are unknowingly walking ourselves into slavery, walking ourselves back into Egypt, walking away from God. We fall into sin, focusing on the external rather than on our identity, on the influences rather than the truths, on the world rather than on God.

This reading isn’t just about how powerful God is but how powerful we can be. We are the ones who can walk out of our slavery. We too can lead others around us out of this slavery too. We can overcome sin, temptations and, more importantly death, because of the death of Christ.

It isn’t about what we have but whether or not we know who we are. And in Christ, we know we are saved as He is our salvation. We are rescued, we are victorious and we are loved. Let us see beyond the imperfections and insecurities that we have but to know we have the best gift of all, the gift of Life. Let us celebrate our lives, this victory and our salvation. 

(by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we ask you to continue to be our strength and our song. To deliver us from evil and to bring us to everlasting life. Lead us and bless us always. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of your son. Thank you for your sacrifice and your love for us. Inspire us and we continue to learn to be more like you each day. Amen.
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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsarial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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The Lord Comes to My Rescue But What About His Anger?

I did forsake you for a brief moment but with great love will take you back.

Very often, as a thankful, grateful Christian I can see our God’s loving hand of protection, guidance and providence in my life. This can come in many ways in our various walks of life.  For example, when the Lord delivers us from a bad boss or an unreasonable client.  Or when angels steer us away from disaster. Or when false accusations of wrongdoing are miraculously acquitted because of the unexpected change of heart of an accuser or witness. For these, we must be truly grateful for His grace and go on our knees to thank and praise our loving, caring God.

But, I realise that there are times when the Lord did turn His face away because I did not follow his way and was not faithful to His word and commands. These times, though less pleasant, also require our reflection and deserve close examination.  For we cannot just attribute the ‘good stuff’ to Him and the ‘bad stuff’ just happened by chance, because nothing is by chance.

If I fail to reflect on my trials and times of darkness, I may actually be missing out on what the Lord is trying to tell, train or teach me.  He may be admonishing me for my lack of love in my actions, or for the times I have chosen the easy way instead of His way.  Sometimes, it’s to wake me up from my own twisted self-rationalisation that I am doing what God wants… when it’s actually what I want.  We must not forget that the Lord is loving, but that He is also holy and wants us to be holy.  We should strive to be perfect and holy like him.

Time and time again, whenever I have realised that I have erred and do what I can to change, He would quickly come to my rescue and bail this poor soul out of trouble.  That’s grace, that’s our great and mighty God.  For I am His even when His anger is upon me but His anger is only for a short time but His love and blessings are forever.

(by Gerard Nah)

Prayer: Lord, help me to be attentive and discerning to your presence and messages in my everyday life.  May I be sensitive to your promptings and have the courage to change my ways no matter how hard it may be.

Thanksgiving: Abba, Father, thank you for always trying to train me for your kingdom. Thank you for training my soul, my body and my spirit, and for all the times you have delivered me by your gentle and omnipotent hand.
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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

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

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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What is Your Spiritual ‘Minimum Wage’?

Your wages on what fails to satisfy

What do we do after getting our pay-check? So we spend a little on food at the start of the month, we pay some bills, we pay the loans, we ignore the credit card bill, we spend on more food, we save some for the holidays in two months time, we give some to our parents, we give some more at someone’s wedding, we spend on a new bag, we pay for the gym membership and other social clubs and then we dig for coins to give as offertory on Sundays. If we could just take a pause on things that count as being satisfactory to life… are the things that we do life-giving? Whether we derive a genuine deep happiness in someone’s life through material needs or uplifting someone’s spirituality and mood through our Lord, it requires minimal or none of our wages.

I am someone who is very sensitive to money, whether it is about how much I have, or how I spend, or how it is being managed. As much as I dislike being judged on the material wealth of what I do not own, we are certainly being categorised based on our material wealth and status wherever we go, whomever we meet. We will never know the life of the other person and so we should not make quick judgements on how he spends his money. In today’s reading, the Lord reminds us to look towards Him as the way of life, and not be distracted by things that do not satisfy our soul. This requires great wisdom on how we manage our money, but it is not to say that we are to be lazy and not make ourselves useful to society.

As I have been moving about between cities for work, I have recently settled down and do not plan to move again. I have been blessed with a stable job and my skills have been noticed and respected. I have always told myself to find a ministry at my parish when I settle in. So I am sharing with you this Lent, that I am doing the life-giving things that the Lord has opened for me. I have returned to OXYGEN as a contributor and I am rostered to be a Lector at this year’s Holy Thursday mass at this parish that I have been attending. As we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord tomorrow, let us be mindful of the bread and wine that matters month by month, day by day. We pray to better ourselves at work and so that we will do greater things in the name of the Father, and be truly satisfied.

(by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray especially for those who are having difficulty in finding a job and feeding their family, that opportunities open for them and that they know in their hearts, the Lord is watching over them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the food we have, the clothes we wear and the roof over our heads. May we be able to help those who have trouble even to meet these basic needs.
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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsarial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Prayer As Conversation

Had you walked in the way of God, you would have lived in peace forever.

This reading from the book of Baruch is not often read during the Liturgy of the Word in the Easter Vigil celebrations because of pastoral considerations – i.e. length of time. However, if we do take time to reflect on the reading, we discover the importance of God in the history of Israel. The people of Israel were reminded that straying away from God brought about difficulties in their lives.

Sometimes it is easy to blame God for all the troubles and woes which we experience in our daily lives. Yet, Baruch reminds us of the need to possess the Wisdom of God to be able to discern the reasons for why we are going through a particular dark patch in our lives. This Wisdom comes from being familiar with the Law of God. This is not the same as being able to recall the 10 commandments in order, the ability to recite prayers without any assistance, or even full attendance at Church events. Familiarity with the Law of God requires us to enter into prayer with God to ask Him to share with us what He so desires for us.

Prayer must be done as a conversation with a friend except that now, this friend is Jesus, who is willing to hear what we have to say. This conversation does not need us to talk all the time. Being silent in prayer to hear what God has to share with us is something which we often fail to do. This is especially so in the midst of our pre-occupation with our troubles. Jesus wants us to depend on Him for His love and to show us that what we want in solving our problems is nothing compared to what He can offer if we trust in Him. Let us spend time to find out what is hindering us from discovering the voice of God speaking to us in our lives.

(by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Jesus, I trust in you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who spread the Love of God to those yearning for solace and comfort.
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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsarial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Cleansing

I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…

Last month, I went through a cleansing fast because I found that I was getting lethargic at the end of each work day and my energy levels were low. Immediately after the fast, I went for my annual company medical health screening. The results that came back recently totally validated my decision to do the cleanse, while also fasting from meat and alcohol for Lent. My previously high cholesterol levels plummeted to below the minimum reference range. As a result, my doctor told me to cut my medication in half and to do another check in a few months’ time to see if I could discontinue the statins once and for all. I have actually never felt fitter nor healthier since perhaps more than 10 years ago.

At the last healing service at CSC, Fr Erbin sprinkled the congregation with holy water during mass. I was blessed to receive a generous outpouring as the water hit my face. I thought to myself, ‘How amazing it feels to not just be physically cleansed but also cleansed from within.’ This is probably the first time in my life when my physical and spiritual selves have been aligned and cleansed. When I went for confession on Tuesday night, it was a wonderful 20 minutes spent in conversation with a priest who has always made me feel the presence of the Holy Spirit whenever he gives me absolution.

Somehow, this Holy Week feels different for me. The sacrifices I made during Lent have resulted in a ‘cleaner’ person in more ways than one. As I look back, I am indeed grateful to the Lord for protecting me and for steeling me against the temptations that came my way. This journey into my own desert never filled me with fear nor dread. In fact, I woke up each day raring to go and eager to face my daily challenges. Of course I faltered along the way but Jesus was always there to encourage and to give me a helping hand. Especially during those times when I felt totally helpless.

Today, I am a new person physically. Many friends and colleagues have commented that I am radiating a new energy and have a spring in my step. As part of my training routine, I did the Treetop Walk last weekend with an 80% loaded backpack and completed the nearly 10km circuit with ease. I know that one month ago, I would not have been able to do it. I praise and thank the Lord for giving me the willpower and determination to cleanse myself of my impurities – both physical and spiritual.

Brothers and sisters, have you all emerged from your journeys cleansed and refreshed? Or are you still wandering in the desert of your hearts? Wherever you are on your journey, know that the Lord will deliver you from the suffering and pain. And that you will be cleansed of all your sins and impurities as long as you open your heart to His everlasting love.

(by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, bless us all today as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Saviour, who continues to walk with us in our own desert, never forsaking us and always ready to lend us a helping hand.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us the way and delivering us from our trying circumstances.
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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsarial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Intertwined for Life

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him

What does it mean to be dead to sin, for that is what we are, when we die with Christ? While looking up this topic, I realized that I could draw a lot of parallels to my newfound role as a mother.

Before I entered motherhood, my life was pretty simple: work, sleep, eat, spending time with my husband. We could go out whenever we wanted to, and ate whatever we felt like eating. Getting ready to leave the house was but a work of a moment. As every parent would know, when you have kids, going out is a completely different adventure altogether. From tanking up the baby (so that baby is well fed for the journey) to making sure you have everything in the diaper bag, it is almost like going on a mini excursion. Ever since becoming a mother, my life has changed. I’m not as carefree as I was before, I am more careful of my diet, and I am completely attached to my little son. Sure, I can go back to that pre-parenting time but at what cost? The “old” me seems a thing of the past now. My life and that of my boy are now intertwined. When he is hungry, I feed him; when he cries, I feel it. We are so in “sync” that I have become familiar to his needs and wants even though he has no means of expressing himself other than by bawling.

I imagine that dying to sin in Christ Jesus is quite like that. Our old sinful lives were not intertwined with anything other than to ourselves. We were not yet “aware” of the love and grace of God, but once we accepted Christ, that was when we made that transition into our new lives. We accepted and acknowledged the Word of God by living our new lives according to the Word. For some of us, the transition was more profound, nevertheless our lives have changed. Salvation is at hand when we live with Christ, and we are no more the wandering souls that we were from before. Jesus gives us a purpose to live, not just a new life but a new meaningful life with Him. We are no longer a dead branch, cut off from a tree, but one that can be grafted to bear fruit once more. Sin no longer has a hold on us, but it is something that we must work to preserve, to prevent sin from becoming masters of our lives once more.

Our new lives in Christ Jesus gives us hope and purpose, yet it is not meant to be an easy path. Just as parenting has its downs as much as its ups, we have to “pick up our cross”. But like being a mother, with such highs to be had from looking at your wee one, would we even want to go back to our old lives when there is Christ waiting for us and journeying with us? For my part, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

(by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the strength to carry my cross on my newfound life with You. Help me when my cross gets too heavy to bear, that I may have the strength to see it through to the end of the journey.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for this wonderful life with You. Thank you for Your salvation and promise that You will journey with me always.  
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GOSPEL

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on entering discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there. As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side. Terrified, the women lowered their eyes. But the two men said to them, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?’ And they remembered his words.

When the women returned from the tomb they told all this to the Eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them also told the apostles, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.

Peter, however, went running to the tomb. He bent down and saw the binding cloths but nothing else; he then went back home, amazed at what had happened.
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The Heart Remembers

Remember what he told you… and they remembered his words

The heart remembers. But we usually attribute memory as a brain activity, borne by neural pathways and chemicals. The kind of memory the Gospel refers to is one that takes place in the heart. We hear the two angels telling the women at Jesus’ tomb to ‘remember what he told you.’ The angels did not explain what had happened, but merely pointed the their hearts towards the words Jesus had spoken before: ‘that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day.’ Immediately, they remembered and responded.

The kind of memory that a heart stores up is of a different phenomena. It is mystical and it is romantic. I don’t mean romantic as ‘lovey-dovey,’ but rather, a certain stirring inside the chest that reminds one of an ancient and cherished secret. Falling in love can sometimes feel as though the heart remembers an inchoate experience of one-ness and fulfilment – a déjà vu which had pre-existed in deep memory.

I think this is why when we meet the Son of Man, Jesus, this relationship can feel so personal and real. We identify; and we feel known. That we are loved, beloved, and blessed. Yet after some time, after experiencing some kind of trauma (like the women and the disciples did), we might forget. It is natural, and God understands. So He continues to send us messengers to remind us: through the Mass, priests in their homilies, friends, family, and ultimately, our own devotional quiet times where we contemplate on His living Word which is the Way, Truth and Life.

Today, as hundreds and thousands around the world receive the Sacrament of Baptism into the Faith, we the faithful who had been privileged to begin this journey earlier, are called to renew our Baptismal Promises – to reject Satan and renounce all his works and empty promises; to profess our faith in the God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Why? Because we can easily forget. We would rather choose to lean in to the world’s empty promises and the lies of the evil one; instead of leaning in to God’s promises, Jesus’s love, His Passion and Resurrection.

Our sisters and brothers who will be baptised can look forward to experience a transformation so profound and inward in the secret rooms of their hearts and souls… that Jesus is Love and Love now dwells in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you might even wonder at the familiar comfort and completeness of this love! Because your heart that was knitted by the loving will of God the Father, knows Him. You will remember the way home and this feeling of home – even if you had never been here before. It is all Grace.

May our hearts always remember Jesus’ deep love for us, even unto death. May our hearts respond like the women at the tomb – who received with childlike faith and passed on the glorious news. May we suspend our intellectual judgements – unlike the other disciples who thought the story ‘seemed pure nonsense.’ Instead, may we be like Peter who repented and rushed too see Jesus and be with him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for all who will receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist this Easter. That they may experience God’s great love for them and feel welcomed into our loving Catholic family.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for never giving up on me, for always reminding me to come back to you, confident of your love and compassion.

25 March, Friday – A Parent’s Love

24 March – Good Friday, Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Dear Readers, it is interesting to note the coincidence of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord with Good Friday this year. This Feast of the Annunciation is always celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25. This is a beautiful reminder that Mary’s trusting Fiat was integral to God’s salvation plan and leads us to the Good Friday of our Lord’s Passion. Saying ‘Yes’ to bear a baby which she would offer up for the world. A ‘Good’ Friday where our Lord suffered crucifixion and death for the ones He came to save. God’s paradoxes are ways He reveals Himself to us. For often, it is when events seem uncanny, that our clouded minds are made aware of that there is far more beyond the materiality of our lives. We do not belong in this world – we are lovingly made for eternity with the Father. Blessed Good Friday to all.

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

-Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’
Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he 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.

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John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:

They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.

This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:

‘I am thirsty.’

A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.

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Not one of those you gave me have I lost

As a young child, I was once out with my parents and my little brother on our regular weekend outings. My brother was just a toddler then. My parents were engrossed with something or other and soon, we found my brother missing from where they’d left him. Something must have caught his attention and he wandered off. My parents were frantic looking for him. We went to the customer service counter and they made an announcement over the PA system. My parents found him eventually much to their relief. When we got to him, he was sitting atop the cashier’s counter and sobbing his little heart out. As parents, we would never let our children go lost without finding ways and means of bringing them back.

Just a few days ago, my friend shared her story of hurt and pain as a mother. Her relationship with her daughter has been strained for a while. Brought on by years of wounds, hurts and feelings of being unloved and abandonment felt by her daughter. In truth, my friend tries to be the best mother she can and provides for her children best she can. Somehow, her daughter perceived otherwise. Just over Chinese New Year, a huge argument ensued between mother and daughter. Ugly and hurtful words were exchanged. I thought to myself – thank goodness I am not a mother or I would have spewed the most colourful of words at her and personally maybe strangled this ingrate of a child. Yesterday, this girl moved out of her mother’s home. A home my friend provided for – a comfortable, safe environment and she lacked nothing. She left without any other words except “Bye, the keys are in the shoe cabinet!” All my friend could muster up was a reply saying “Be happy, my child!” As upset as she was with her daughter, she felt a part of her die that day. I don’t profess to know exactly how she feels for I am not a parent. But I know she wants what’s best for her daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. By letting her child go, she is giving her daughter the freedom to find her own happiness and joy. Despite her own pain, anger and frustration felt towards her daughter, she will always be there, praying for her child’s safety and happiness, waiting by the side-lines, watching out for her child. And if one day, her child were to return home – she would be there, waiting to welcome her with open arms. Such is a mother’s love.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Our Heavenly Father feels this way each time we wander off from Him, thinking that we can find greener pastures out there. Our Father gives us free will by His unconditional true love. Free will to choose for ourselves – so that we might love Him willingly. However, as humans, we sometimes go our own way, use our given free will to do evil, go against God or sometimes it can be as simple as thinking we know better what is best for us. Rather than rely on Him. Our Father knows better what is best for us. We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way.  

So today on Good Friday, as we ponder on Jesus’ passion on the cross, we remember how God loves us so much that He sacrificed His sinless, spotless Son – and laid on Him all our sins. Jesus experienced the cruelty of the cross as if He was a hardened criminal just so He can make a payment for our sins. For those of us still living in sin, those who are lost though our own bad judgement, or those lost trying to find our own ways through our own limited strength. We know the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of the Lost Sheep – God is looking out for us, searching for us, to welcome us back home, to the fold. Not one of those you gave me have I lost. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, may we use the free will given to us, to choose wisely. So that through us, others will experience genuine love. Help us Father, to stay away from sin and hurting you. That You will experience love in us. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for giving us Jesus, who suffered so much humiliation and pain on the cross – just to cleanse us of our sins. Thank you for giving us the freedom to choose and yet never being too far away from us, seeking us when we go astray. Thank you Father, for giving your love so freely.

24 March, Thursday – I Have Forgotten How Pretty My Feet Are

24 March – Maundy Thursday of the Easter Triduum

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Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord. That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.” ’

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

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John 13:1-15

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

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Lord, are you going to wash my feet?

Today’s gospel reading holds a lot of meaning for me. I was given this verse to meditate upon at a retreat two years ago and it brought on such rich imagery and deep meaning for me.

In my contemplation, I was one of the twelve disciples that Jesus had invited to supper that evening. I went along wondering what the special occasion was. As we entered the upper room, it was filled with a warm glow, bathed in warm comforting and intimate light. Jesus looked ever so handsome. The gracious host that He was, welcoming everyone. His guests soon settled down and everyone was chatting and laughing. I caught sight of Jesus – for a brief moment, He looked distant and almost sad.

What thoughts were running through his mind? He knew that his time had come ‘to pass from this world to the Father’. This would be the very last evening that he would spend with his friends. He loved us so much and it pains him to think that one of us were going to betray him. Yet there was little He could do, to change the will of his Father. His heart was filled with so much pain and anguish but yet He loved us to the very end. I thought to myself as I observed Him “How can you do this? As if everything was normal, knowing what you know?”

Soon supper ends and Jesus stands up, changes out of his outer garment and wraps a towel round his waist. He bends down deep and low, holding a white alabaster jar and begins washing the feet of His friends. I watch silently, feeling somewhat uncomfortable by remain silent. Soon it was my turn. At first, I shrunk back my feet, feeling somewhat embarrassed. How could I let Jesus do this? Wash my dirty, dusty, ugly feet? I was so ashamed of them. But He looked up at me so tenderly and said “Let it be. It’s ok. Come let me.” I let Jesus take my feet, His hands warm and comforting. The cool water trickles down my feet and a streak of thick dust and dirt flows down into the basin. The years of disappointment, hurt, hardened exterior; dirt that had accumulated over the years weighing so heavily on me – in that one act of love, came off. Washed clean. To reveal a pair of perfectly formed and gleaming feet. I had forgotten how pretty my feet were! I am new again!

You loved me, when I was so unlovely,
You sought me, when I was lost;
You showed me, how much you really loved me,
When you bought me at the highest cost
There’s no greater love than this, there’s no greater love than this,
That a man would give his life for a friend;
There’s no higher sacrifice, than a man would give his life,
You have paid a precious price for me

And so, the washing of feet holds deep significance for me. I have observed how healing this very simple act can be. Those of us who are struggling to take that step forward in life, weighed down by years of dirt. Can we allow Jesus to wash us clean again? Can we also in humility and love, seek forgiveness from those we have hurt?

If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, by your love, you have forgiven us. Give us a heart after yours. In love and humility may we seek forgiveness from those whom we have hurt. May true charity and love dwell in us and may we be channels of your peace.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for your unfailing love and forgiveness. Thank you for washing away our pain, disappointments and anger. Thank you for your loving arms that carries us, when we find it simply too hard to move on.

23 March, Wednesday – How Have I Hurt You?

23 March – Wednesday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

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Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

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“Surely not I, Lord?”

It is so convenient to pigeon hole Judas as a dark and murky character. Someone our older generation would refer to as ‘a dog with no tail’; a person who has no gratitude. After all that Jesus has done for him, Judas betrayed his friend and master for a measly 30 pieces of silver. It is easier to place Judas in that little quadrant where would be far more comfortable for us to say “I would never do that!” But really. Have we not betrayed Jesus in our own lives?

Some years back, my team and I were assigned a new account to work on. The client was an on-line fashion portal. With fashion, the trends changed every season and it took a ridiculous amount of man hours to update the on-line spread, as well as physical catalogues – new outfits in several colours and price. As a company, we were simply not equipped to manage this type of client and it did not make financial sense. However, the head of country (i.e. my boss) made the decision to carry on with the business, despite the fact that it was draining our team resources and also their passion. The client was his friend, and he wasn’t going to forgo the business.

Late one evening, I had a call from the CEO of the company. A late evening long distance call from my boss’ boss, at home! He started to enquire about the client, the team morale, the business case. I felt extremely uncomfortable answering those questions, but I also knew that the CEO was validating what he already knew. The numbers spoke for themselves. We both knew that the time spent and the fee paid did not add up. Not long after that conversation, we resigned the business. I can only assume that the CEO had a discussion with my boss and made the decision. It was also at the same time, that my boss left the job and returned home to his home country. I will always remember what he said to me the day he left the office for good. That I had betrayed him. Years later, we found ourselves working across different continents but for the same organisation. But to this day, he would not speak to me. My actions hurt him deeply.

I recounted the incident over and over again. Could I have handled this better? Was I being self-righteous? Was I acting smugly virtuous? Yup, my boss did not make the best decision for the company but was I right to speak to his boss? Was I made an innocent scapegoat? Or was it – just business. Sure, my actions did not cause an individual’s life. But I was certainly Judas in this instance.

How have we betrayed Jesus in our lives, my brothers and sisters? Have we been honest with our relationships with one another? Have we acted like friends to another, only to turn around and speak ill of them? Have we relished in gossiping and passing on scandalous stories about others?

Have we hastily judged others and pigeon-holed them without hearing their side of the story?

How it must have hurt Jesus to know that the disciple he loved and with whom he was sharing a meal in communion with, would betray him. Yet Jesus continued to love Judas and share the most intimate meal of Passover with him.

Today, Jesus continues to love us, despite the countless times we walk the path of Judas. Can I be more mindful of the times when I hurt and betray others, that I am actually hurting Jesus?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, for the many times we have been self-righteous, judged others for their weaknesses and faults, been cruel and selfish, for the times that we have spoken ill of people –  we are deeply sorry. We know by our words and actions, we have hurt you. By your grace, teach us Lord, not to follow the path of Judas.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for loving us and forgiving us, despite the many times we have hurt you. Thank you Lord for not forsaking us. Thank you for each new day that presents us with a fresh opportunity to love you again.

22 March, Tuesday – He Revives the Bruised Reed

22 March – Tuesday of Holy Week

Dear Readers, I feel silly for the blunder on my part yesterday and today. As you may have realised, Monday’s reflection was mistakenly written using Tuesday’s scriptures. Thus, I have amended and written Tuesday’s reflection, using Monday’s beautiful Scripture, which calls to attention the imagery of God sparing the bruised reed. Thank you for bearing with our occasional errors. Wishing you a blessed Holy Week.

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Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

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John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

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He does not break the crushed reed

‘A bruised reed, he shall not break.’ I heard this particular translation of these words during the homily and those words sank deep roots in my heart. It made me remember moments of my tendency for harshness towards my loved ones. It also made me recall how I used to hate meekness as a child. I grew up with a father whose temper was frightening. Being the oldest, I wanted to grow up to be a boy to defend my family, fight back even. I detested what I thought was my mum’s meekness. In my childhood experiences, mercy was unheard of; only exhaustion and stone cold silence when the storms blew over. I was maybe five when I decided I had a core of tenderness that would never see the light of day. In order to survive, I had to brace my heart and expectations with cynicism and escape plans.

Many disappointments continually exposed my rawness, until thick scar tissues of shame and fear covered over my ability to feel tenderness and gentleness, and offer it to others. I was a bruised reed who was unused to mercy and compassion, or believed these to never last long – one day, you’re going to be disappointed again, I’d brace myself. This is a terrible way to live. Always frightful, anxious; never trusting. Unconsciously, I projected these fears onto my image of God. It’s been an ongoing emotional and spiritual excavation… a process that an anxiety-ridden me has to accept will never be complete until the day God calls me home.

I am learning to pattern my heart after the meek and humble heart of Jesus. It feels unnatural for this flesh-heart of mine, honestly. It is also very, very, painful to die to the part of my ‘self’ I’d created at a necessary point in life, in order to feel safe. This is what following Jesus means – Take up your cross and come, follow me, he says (Lk 9:23). Like saying Sorry – first. Like accepting apology and forgiving quickly. Like being kind and compassionate to myself. Like withholding judgement on my own weaknesses. Like believing that I am not condemned to remain the way I am. That I am worthy of love and God desires good things for me. That accepting the Father’s will, also means accepting that I have been forgiven by Him and forgiving myself.

A bruised reed is a symbol of feebleness, a blade of grass crushed by the weight of sinfulness and bad choices. Jesus came, not to torment us, nor crush us further with the weight of his Divinity. He came clothed in meekness of heart; he came as God’s servant – willing to bear humiliation and suffering for us. Why? Because such is the love of God: ‘Here is my servant… my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have endowed him with my spirit…’ (Is 42:1).

God’s Holy Spirit is Love – and Jesus is the fruit of His Love, being Love in Person. How wondrous to meditate on this grace-filled reality! I am learning to take this trinitarian relationship as the cornerstone of my faith and life. While Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipes it with her hair, he fiercely defends and lovingly receives the penitent and worshipping heart.

I hold dear the prophecy of Isaiah 42:7 for myself:
Jesus came to open my eyes from blindness to my beloved identity,
to free my captive heart from the prison of fear and self-condemnation,
and to lift my soul from the dungeons of sin and un-forgiveness.

Whenever I feel tempted to bruise my own already-battered spirit, I shall cling firm to my faith in God’s promises and fix my eyes on Jesus’ Sacred Heart, pulsing and bleeding with merciful love for me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I allow You to lovingly burn away the dross of distorted thoughts in my mind, and selfish love in my heart. I know it will hurt for now, but I shall rejoice for this chance to mature in love for You and grow in true virtues worthy of Your Eternity.

Thanksgiving:
I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness
  in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
  Hope in the Lord!