21 March – Monday of Holy Week
Dear Readers, I apologise for the late newsletter this Monday of Holy Week. Holy Week has its interesting challenges – and I thank you for keeping us in prayers, and letting us know that you were ‘deprived’ of OXYGEN today. It means a lot to us to know that our work matters. Thank you for your spiritual friendships and support, we are grateful and blessed to serve. Glory be to God!
Debbie & team
Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.
He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;
and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.
And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:
‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:
‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.
‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,
where I am going, you cannot come.’
Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’
While I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain’ / all the while my cause was with the Lord.
In the last days of 2015, I took off on a much-needed retreat with my fiance to a Cistercian Abbey in the middle of the Australian outback. There, I witnessed a humbling simplicity of souls and life. We were put up in modest guesthouse rooms and shown a gentle hospitality by the brothers who ran it. The monastic brothers had a highly-structured daily routine which they conducted in prayerful silence: manual labour, house and farm chores, and daily reading and private prayer. It was a blessed community of people! I took it all in with awe and respect.
What struck me most, was their day punctuated with the Liturgy of the Hours – six precious moments throughout every day where their choir of heavenly voices would chant the Divine Office prayers. The earliest begun before first light. What!?! Yes, 4am. Yet all the while, they radiated a warmth, peace, and blessed assurance that surpassed us urbanites’ understanding. One of them even seemed to be ‘floating’ across the yard while hugging piles of dirty laundry!
I recall wondering how they dealt with the reality of loneliness in living a cloistered monastic life. These were ordinary men who, like you and me, grew up around family and friends, went through school, caught the movies, lip-synced to the radio, enjoyed a good cup of latte, or hit the surf. They were not simplistically born into the monastic life. They chose it through prayer and discernment. Yes, they chose this unseen, unglamorous, unexciting, uncomplimented labour for God’s glory. And it must have been lonely, surely. Probably a lot more than we would ever know.
Jesus must have been lonely a lot too. In John’s gospel today, Jesus predicts two counts of deep gut-wrenching personal betrayal from Judas and Peter, and the scattering of his disciples. We must have experienced betrayal and heartbreak in our lives. Except, Jesus’ was even unto death. It may appear that he sounded calm, even resigned or detachedly omniscient. But our Lord was ‘troubled in spirit.’ He suffered, and the depths of his loneliness no one knew – not even those who claimed to love him. But you and I can know.
For us who are broken and shattered by a love or life lost; a hope dashed; a plea or cry ignored; our labour and sacrifices unacknowledged – let us graft our wounds unto the Cross of Jesus and seek him in the quiet of our hearts. We are assured that ‘even before a word is on my tongue Lord, you know it completely’ (Ps 139). What need have we for words, when our tears and silent aches bind us up mystically and spiritually in His Passion.
Truth is: it is us who need to identify with Jesus’ sufferings. While we think “Who knows I’ve suffered and toiled in vain through life’s injustices!” may we take today’s Psalm as our guide: ‘In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame / It is you, O Lord, who are my hope, my trust…’ (Ps 70).
Christ reveals his loneliness and his stronghold in today’s gospel, ‘But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.’ (Jn 16:32)
Holy Week is indeed a lonely week. But you are not alone. It is our honour to suffer with Christ and participate in his Passion. Would you try to find your way to church this week before Good Friday, to keep silent watch with our Lord in Gethsamane?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are holy, holy, holy; yet You have chosen friendship with me a sinner, and given me a share of Your inheritance. May I never forsake Your love.
Thanksgiving: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like Yours.