Monthly Archives: July 2016

1 August, Monday – Little Faith

1 August – Memorial for St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop, Religious founder, Doctor

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life and lived that way for over 90 years. As a lawyer, he had his own practice by age 21, and was a leading lawyer in Naples. He never attended court without having attended Mass first.

As he matured and learned more of the world, he liked it less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He was ordained at age 29. As preacher and home missioner around Naples, St. Alphonsus was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).

As bishop, St. Alphonsus worked to reform the clergy and revitalise the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. The royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology, and his skills as a lawyer, St. Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king’s approval.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 28:1-17

At the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, a Gibeonite, spoke as follows to Jeremiah in the Temple of the Lord in the presence of the priests and of all the people. ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, says this, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. In two years’ time I will bring back all the vessels of the Temple of the Lord which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon carried off from this place and took to Babylon. And I will also bring back Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who have gone to Babylon – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, I am going to break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”’

The prophet Jeremiah then replied to the prophet Hananiah in front of the priests and all the people there in the Temple of the Lord. ‘I hope so’ the prophet Jeremiah said. ‘May the Lord do so. May he fulfil the words that you have prophesied and bring the vessels of the Temple of the Lord and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Listen carefully, however, to this word that I am now going to say for you and all the people to hear: From remote times, the prophets who preceded you and me prophesied war, famine and plague for many countries and for great kingdoms; but the prophet who prophesies peace can only be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord when his word comes true.’

The prophet Hananiah then took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it. In front of all the people Hananiah then said, ‘The Lord says this, “This is how, two years hence, I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and take it off the necks of all the nations.”’ At this, the prophet Jeremiah went away.

After the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke which he had taken off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah the word of the Lord was addressed to Jeremiah, ‘Go to Hananiah and tell him this, “The Lord says this: You can break wooden yokes? Right, I will make them iron yokes instead! For the Lord Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: An iron yoke is what I now lay on the necks of all these nations to subject them to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. They will be subject to him; I have even given him the wild animals.”’

The prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, ‘Listen carefully, Hananiah: the Lord has not sent you; and thanks to you this people are now relying on what is false. Hence – the Lord says this, “I am going to throw you off the face of the earth: you are going to die this year since you have preached apostasy from the Lord.”’

The prophet Hananiah died the same year, in the seventh month.

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Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they answered ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.’ ‘Bring them here to me’ he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.

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Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.

One Saturday early this year, both of us were approached by our parish priest to help out in the parish’s fund raising project. I was made to understand that it was simply to look at the finances of the project — simple enough, but I asked for a day to think about it. I was hesitant, given my rather heavy commitment in the music ministry that I am part of.

However, on the very next day, our parish priest sent out an official note to all in the committee introducing us. That’s how both us became ‘Co-Chairs’ of the parish fundraising committee. We didn’t even have the opportunity to say ‘Eh, maybe not…!’ All too soon, we found out that it entailed more than just looking at numbers. We had to put an entire programme together and it was already February! The building works were well in progress and the building would be up before the year ends. Our priest tricked us!!

My partner in crime was more confident than I was. He obviously is stronger in faith. We have never been in parish ministry. We did not know anyone. How would we put together smaller committees to get all the projects going?

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Yup, I had little faith that we could pull this off. As we put together our ‘action plan’, my anxiety went from level five to ten. However, we went along with the projects, praying and trusting Jesus to guide us along the way.

Fast forward 6 months later. ‘Five loaves and two fish’ means so much more to me. Jesus has been the project leader all along. He is ever so generous in sending people to help us carry out his work. My initial trepidation was unfounded. Everything has been moving along swimmingly well. All I needed to do was say “Yes!” and surrender everything to Jesus. And He did everything else. Whatever little we had to offer, He multiplied it several times over.

At the end of May, we kicked off our very first project. We told our fellow parishioners we hoped that our five loaves and two fish would come back yielding twelve baskets full of scraps. And indeed it has! Praise God.

“Take my five loaves and two fishes

Do with it as you will. I surrender

Take my fears and my inhibitions

All my burdens, my ambitions

You can use it all to feed them all”

The lovely song by Corrine May says it all.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, when you call on us, teach us to trust that you will equip us with everything we need to do in order to fulfil your will. May we never fear nor be anxious about anything.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for your graces. Thank you for our gifts and talents. May we use them for your glory. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’! And you will take over.

31 July, Sunday – Why do I fret?

31 July – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim’s robes. He lived in a cave for a year, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ecclesiastes 1:2,2:21-23

Vanity of vanities, Qoheleth says. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!

For so it is that a man who has laboured wisely, skilfully and successfully must leave what is his own to someone who has not toiled for it at all. This, too, is vanity and great injustice; for what does he gain for all the toil and strain that he has undergone under the sun? What of all his laborious days, his cares of office, his restless nights? This, too, is vanity.

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Colossians 3:1-5,9-11

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.

That is why you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god; and never tell each other lies. You have stripped off your old behaviour with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator; and in that image there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised or the uncircumcised, or between barbarian and Scythian, slave and free man. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.

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Luke 12:13-21

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?.” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’

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Look for things that are in heaven

I have been thinking about death recently. What will it be like when my time comes? What will the state of my life be? More specifically, what will my life look like in this secular world at the point of my death? What would my legacy be? What will people remember me for? Or will they remember me at all?

Recently I attended a funeral of a dear friend’s husband. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October last year. When I last saw him in November, he was already looking weak from the effects of the illness. At the wake, I was completely shocked and deeply saddened. He was not at all the person I remember him to be. The sickness has ravaged my friend to an unrecognizable 40kg shell. Seeing how shocked I was, his wife said to me ‘Remember him as he was. Happy.’

As I look at the photograph the family picked for the occasion, I will always remember him that way. Not the person lying in the box – that’s just a shell. He had returned home; to the arms of Jesus, accompanied by the multitudes of Saints and Angels; happy, healthy and at peace.

It is a reminder for us all. We benchmark ourselves according to the secular culture’s call to a measureable success. All over the news today is the panic about Brexit, the uncertain economy, people losing jobs. As we fret and are anxious about our lives today, what we have, where we are, our positions in life, will this all matter when the Lord calls us to our eternal home?

For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has laboured under the sun?

Don’t misunderstand me. We live in the secular world. Even as we strive to be holy, the truth is, there are some realities and we all have our earthly responsibilities and yes – worries.  I am definitely guilty of this. I sometimes ask God “So how do I do this Lord? Eat bread and drink honey and hope for the best? And who is going to pay the rent, school fees, put food on the table, Lord?” Some well-meaning friends will come forth and sprout scripture and that makes me even angrier. And guilty.

Why guilty? Because Jesus is so ever present in our lives. In my life. I look back on the last few years in sheer amazement. Where I came from and where I am today – it is most definitely God’s hand in it.

I shared previously that I walked away from a corporate job some years ago and while I waffle and meander through these past 2.5 years asking Jesus, ‘So what’s the plan? What is my vocation? Just what you want me to go on to?’. Recently in prayer, He answered me. Shot the answer square in between my eyes …. “You are living your vocation! If only you would let me lead.” Wow! His mercy and blessings far outweigh what this world can possibly give us…and more. I am actually living quite a happy existence but I still whine like a spoilt child. So why do I get anxious?

If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

So my brothers and sisters, fret not what we attain on earth but seek to gather what matters in heaven. Live out your vocation today, be the person God meant for each of us to be. Look for things that are in heaven.

I know my friend lived his vocation – he was a loving and supportive husband, a doting and giving father and a very genuine friend.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Teach us oh Lord, to gain wisdom of heart. That we may fully surrender our lives to you and let you lead. Teach us not to hanker after things that do not matter but seek to love as you loved us. Help us live out our lives, as you had meant for each one of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being so present in our lives. For being ever so patient with us, especially during the times when we become arrogant and hard-hearted.

30 July, Saturday – Your Glory or God’s Glory

30 July – Memorial for St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop & Doctor

An adult convert, St. Peter (406-450) fought paganism and heresy, enforced reforms, and built several churches and ornate altars in his see. A preacher with outstanding language skills, he was given the name ‘Chrysologus’, referring to his ‘golden word’. 176 of his sermons have survived; it is the strength of these beautiful explanations of the Incarnation, the Creed, the place of Mary and John the Baptist in the great plan of salvation, etc., that led to his being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24

The priests and prophets addressed the officials and all the people, ‘This man deserves to die, since he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’ Jeremiah, however, replied to the people as follows:

‘The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you. For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.’

The officials and all the people then said to the priests and prophets, ‘This man does not deserve to die: he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’

Jeremiah had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison.

How far would you go in order to keep your word? If you are running a business, being able to keep your word is a an expensive, intangible asset. Break your word, and you will lose people’s trust and your reputation. As Warren Buffett said, ‘If you lose money for the firm I will be understanding. If you lose reputation I will be ruthless.’ That’s how much one’s word means.

We see the same thing with the king in today’s Gospel reading. He had given a blank cheque and even when the price proved too great, he chose to honor the his commitment in order not to be labeled as untrustworthy; he had John the Baptist beheaded. He went so far to do something he does not believe must be done in order to preserve his reputation. The moral of the story? Don’t give a blank cheque.

I would like to propose that there is another moral of the story. That is when choosing between saving our faces and obeying God, let us choose the latter. It’s a tough call. That’s why to remind us that it is possible to accept humiliation in order to glorify God, we have the Crucifix. The Crucifixion is the most humiliating punishment during Jesus’ time, yet he allowed himself to be humiliated, so God could be glorified.

According to stories, soon-to-be-saint Blessed Mother Theresa was spat on by a baker when she was begging for bread for a child. She accepted it and persevered asking for bread. My personal struggle would pale in comparison to hers, I merely struggled to pray before meals in public, give an appropriate bow as I pass by the Blessed Sacrament, or even to stick to my fasting. At those times, I didn’t want to ruin my reputation of being modern. Most of us will not have to choose between life and death; but our little actions or struggles to glorify God, by doing what is embarrassing by the world’s standards, will make God smile.

Let us make God smile today.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Lord, help me live my life to praise you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to receive human honor, because you have provided us with something we can offer you for your glory.

29 July, Friday – Stealing Another’s ‘Peace’

29 July – Memorial for St. Martha

Jesus liked to stay at the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his friends at Bethany, when he was in Judaea. One of these visits has ever remained dear to Christian memory. On that occasion Martha, busily serving the Master, asked Him to persuade Mary to help her. Jesus explained to her that certain souls, called by God, should choose a better part still — the primary duty of listening to Him and contemplating Him.

After His Ascension, she was seized by the Jews, together with many other Christians. They were put on board a ship without sails or oars, and left helpless on the open sea. But God guided the ship, and they all arrived safely at Marseilles. Martha, after having won the love and admiration of the Marseilles people by the sanctity of her life and her wonderful charity, withdrew with several virtuous women to a spot remote from men, where she lived for a long time, greatly renowned for her piety and prudence.

http://www.catholicculture.org/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2006-07-29

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Jeremiah 26:1-9

At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘The Lord says this: Stand in the court of the Temple of the Lord. To all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the Temple of the Lord you must speak all the words I have commanded you to tell them; do not omit one syllable. Perhaps they will listen and each turn from his evil way: if so, I shall relent and not bring the disaster on them which I intended for their misdeeds. Say to them, “The Lord says this: If you will not listen to me by following my Law which I put before you, by paying attention to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send so persistently to you, without your ever listening to them, I will treat this Temple as I treated Shiloh, and make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.”’

The priests and prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah say these words in the Temple of the Lord. When Jeremiah had finished saying everything that the Lord had ordered him to say to all the people, the priests and prophets seized hold of him and said, ‘You shall die! Why have you made this prophecy in the name of the Lord, “This Temple will be like Shiloh, and this city will be desolate, and uninhabited”?’ And the people were all crowding round Jeremiah in the Temple of the Lord.

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John 11:19-27

Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

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How can I restore what I have never stolen?

I am deeply saddened that I cannot share my faith about many sensitive issues now without being labeled a bigot. The world seems to have evolved into a place where to disagree with a lifestyle means to disagree with the person. And by speaking up against the lifestyle, you become a thief who has stolen someone’s peace of mind by trumpeting the truth. How can you restore their peace if you were not the one who stole it in the first place?

For prophesying as God commanded, Jeremiah was nearly killed. During the legalization of LGBT marriages, I put up a comment on Facebook that while I respect the rights to life of LGBT community, I cannot agree with same-sex unions for a variety of reasons. In return, I got hate comments on my wall. It still bothers me that rainbow profiles abounded that time, yet I did not have the courage to continue professing the truth – I felt like a thief.

As I write this reflection, I was hoping to end with a phrase that triumphs over this tribulation but I will not be doing that. The first reading ended with the crowd rounding Jeremiah. I would like to invite you, my brothers and sisters, to look at this ending as a challenge to us. Standing up for the truth might cause us despair, we will be accused of being thiefs, non-conformists, and backward. Our safety might even be compromised but we need to continue to struggle to become messengers of God – no matter how much the world is against us.

Let us continue asking God for help, and let us continue prophesying. Let us prophesy always, sometimes, let’s not hesitate to use kind words.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Lord, it is you and me against the world. Give us to courage to persevere through what we have been baptized for – to be prophets for you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to see and accept the truth of life.

28 July, Thursday – Going Roundabout

28 July

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Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do. Then this word of the Lord was addressed to me, ‘House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’

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Matthew 13:47-53

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

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‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’

Have you ever asked a person a question, hoping to get a quick answer, yet he/she goes on and on with a story and you are straining to understand how the answer addresses your question? Reading Jeremiah today, God’s commandment to Jeremiah to go down the potter’s house before God tells him what to do feels a bit unnecessary for me. If you want something, why not just say it straight? Yet, it seems that God wants to give us long answers, in a roundabout way. The Israelites had to wander for 40 years before knowing where the Promised Land was.

Why does God not just answer our questions when we ask it? Why does he ask us to do something in order to find the answer? I must admit that I sometimes feel frustrated with this way of God.

Before I left my previous job, I had to talk to God about it for more than two years. My journal is filled with questions asking for a yes-no answer. I had to go through feelings of uncertainty (I hope you can empathize with me that living with uncertainty is not enjoyable at all). I was not getting straight answers. I had to learn to talk to God as his plan unfolded. It’s like he was inviting me to come down to the potter’s house and understand the events unfolding into my life. I had to talk frequently with God. Looking back, it deepened my prayer life.

I learned to sit still and search for God. I learned to pray from the heart, I learned to open my heart to God. I learned to be patient. I learned to trust. Often, we look just at the end-point that we forget that forming us into better Christians is the intent of our whole life experience. Perhaps God’s indirect way of answering is really meant for us to grow in faith and in virtue.

A baby needs nine months in the womb before being born, and that is only to form its physical body. I’m sure our spirit might need more than that. It will be difficult to live if we are premature in spiritual experience. That’s why God patiently goes the roundabout way with us.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Lord, please help me enjoy the roundabout you are taking me on.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your patience in explaining things to me step-by-step, and sharing only what I need when I need it.

27 July, Wednesday – Just A Father’s Love

27 July

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Jeremiah 15:10,16-21

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.

‘When your words came, I devoured them:
your word was my delight
and the joy of my heart;
for I was called by your name,
the Lord, God of Hosts.
I never took pleasure in sitting in scoffers’ company;
with your hand on me I held myself aloof,
since you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my suffering continual,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Do you mean to be for me a deceptive stream
with inconstant waters?’

To which the Lord replied,
‘If you come back,
I will take you back into my service;
and if you utter noble, not despicable, thoughts,
you shall be as my own mouth.
They will come back to you,
but you must not go back to them.
I will make you
a bronze wall fortified against this people.
They will fight against you
but they will not overcome you,
because I am with you
to save you and to deliver you
– it is the Lord who speaks.
I mean to deliver you from the hands of the wicked
and redeem you from the clutches of the violent.’

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Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.’

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For I am with you, to deliver and rescue you…

I recently attended a retreat entitled ‘Get Out Of The Boat’ and it was a 3D2N getaway in a rustic retreat centre in Johor Bahru. I shared my experience with a one or two other people and today, I would like to share it with all of you.

From the time we arrived at the retreat centre, I knew the Lord would be speaking to me and true enough, the first night was a revelation. I struggled to sleep the entire night as I had an asthma attack and did not have an inhaler with me. It has been at least 18 months since my last attack yet instead of panicking, I told myself, “He wants me to spend time with Him in the chapel.” I had been tossing and turning in bed since 10pm and I knew it was affecting my roommate. So at 2pm, I went to the small chapel within our block and settled down in the soft chair, hoping to get some respite from being horizontal and counting the hours to when I could venture out to a pharmacy to buy an inhaler.

I ended up being woken up at 5.30am and very soon, it was time for breakfast. Of course, the other retreatants (there were 11 of us in total) were concerned and one of them offered a decongestant, which I stubbornly refused. However, something prompted me to reach out and take the pill, which provided me some relief. By 11am, when the others were preparing to go for mass, I decided to go head back to my room to take a nap so that I could drive out during lunch to the nearby pharmacy. By 1pm on the second day, I had my inhaler in hand and the rest of the retreat was a breeze.

So what, you may ask, did the Lord reveal to me? Between the first night and the time I got hold of the inhaler, I could sense His presence right by my side. There is no way I could have remained so calm during the few hours I was struggling to breathe. And even before dinner on the first day, when our spiritual director drew a small boat asked us to take stock of our family, parish, ministry, neighbourhood, health, recreation, work and vocation, God had already revealed to me the many boats I find myself in and the many characters I am called to be in each life situation. I wasn’t being asked to get out of one boat.

Because at work, I am on a speedboat and at times, am called to be Christ, to be Peter, to be the rough waters, to be the boat itself. In ministry, I am on an 80-ft yacht and am one of the disciples on the boat. In my family, we are on a small sampan, floating on a calm sea and I am called to be Peter and to take the lead. My health has gone through a very calm patch and I have recently been able to wean myself off certain medication. So I am in a dinghy on calm seas, wondering what lies ahead.

Brothers and sisters, we all, at some pointing our lives, have to take courage and step out of our boat(s) in order to experience the awesome, saving touch of the Almighty Father. Again, it is something that is beyond human comprehension. I know that my Lord is always there for me, whatever the circumstances (rough seas or calm waters). Are you aware of God’s presence in your life today? When is the last time you called out to him in faith, “Master, save me!”

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: O God, you who are always there for us. We ask that you never leave us to drown in our daily battles but empower us with your loving touch and show us your almighty hand in everything we do.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for never abandoning us in our struggles. Thank you for always being there when we call out to you.

26 July, Tuesday – The Lord is Near

26 July – Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Virgin Mary

By tradition Joachim and Anne are considered to be the names of the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. We have no historical evidence, however, of any elements of their lives, including their names. Any stories about Mary’s father and mother come to us through legend and tradition. It was the parents of Mary who nurtured Mary, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. Such parents can be examples and models for all parents.

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Jeremiah 14:17-22

The Lord said to me:

Say this word to the people:
‘Tears flood my eyes
night and day, unceasingly,
since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people,
a most grievous injury.
If I go into the countryside,
there lie men killed by the sword;
if I go into the city,
I see people sick with hunger;
even prophets and priests
plough the land: they are at their wit’s end.’

‘Have you rejected Judah altogether?
Does your very soul revolt at Zion?
Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?
We were hoping for peace – no good came of it!
For the moment of cure – nothing but terror!
the Lord, we do confess our wickedness
and our fathers’ guilt:
we have indeed sinned against you.
For your name’s sake do not reject us,
do not dishonour the throne of your glory.
Remember us; do not break your covenant with us.
Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain?
Can the heavens produce showers?
No, it is you, the Lord.
O our God, you are our hope,
since it is you who do all this.’

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Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

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You alone have done all these things.

The world has been undergoing tremendous turmoil of late. We read of terror attacks in France, Turkey, India and even closer to home, in Malaysia. Financial markets are fluctuating with no sign of stability in sight and the mass migration of refugees is a real concern, especially in Europe. Amidst all this, one wonders whether or not our God is indeed present and why He allows all these atrocities to happen.

At mass this weekend, our parish priest gave us a mantra to take home. He quoted from Philippians 4:5 and said that all we needed were four words, “The Lord is near.” He repeated it many times and made us all repeat it with him so that the phrase would sink into our minds. Indeed, brothers and sisters, the Lord is near at hand. In face, it is in these troubled times that we must learn to lean on Him even more. Yet, we tend to forget and even shun mass, opting for a much more enjoyable brunch or long lunch, then feeling tired at the end of a work week and telling ourselves that we need to rest at home rather than to ‘fight’ with parking at church or the wardens who seem to have no sense of direction in directing traffic flow.

But wait, surely Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for us and gave up his life for all of us deserves much more than a cursory hour every weekend. All He asks of us is some quiet time with Him so that we can learn to discern and start to understand why He sacrificed himself for each and every one of us. And why at times when we are down and the situation seems hopeless, somehow, a small miracle presents itself or a door opens to an opportunity.

We spend too much time and effort worrying about the wrong things. Easy for some of us to say perhaps; yet, when you look back at your life and reflect on all those times when you have been rescued, bailed out or had a tough situation suddenly resolve itself, who do you think has been there for you? Who is the one who prompted a family member, colleague, or even a kind stranger to lend a helping hand? To reach out to you and say, “Let me help you”?

The Lord is indeed near.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, we want to experience your saving touch and feel your presence each and every day of our lives. Show us how to discern your presence and reveal to us your hand in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for the many times we witness Your works through friends, family and others.

25 July, Monday – Leading by becoming a servant

25 July – Feast of St. James, Apostle

St. James (died 44) was the first Apostle to be martyred. He preached in Samaria, Judea, and Spain. His work in Spain, and the housing of his relics there, led to his patronage of the country and all things Spanish.

Like all men of renown, many stories grew up around St. James. In one, he brought back to life a boy who had been unjustly hanged, and had been dead for five weeks. The boy’s father was notified of the miracle while he sat at supper. The father pronounced the story nonsense, and said his son was no more alive than the roasted fowl on the table; the cooked bird promptly sat up, sprouted feathers, and flew away.

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But as we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be, to the glory of God.

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Matthew 20:20-28

The mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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…whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.

I have been meeting regularly with my 3 unit heads of late, in preparation for my three-week absence in September, when I embark on my Camino. Truly, it has been a trying time at work, with disunity and discord reigning. The vibes have been obvious over the past few weeks and I have had to carefully manage the dynamics of the new team since three new hires came on board from last year. I always predicted that this day would come, when those who have been with me longer would feel a certain way towards those who have just come on board and have yet to ‘prove their worth’.

More and more, I have come to realise why I have been put in this role and what He has in store for me. I tell my staff members that I am there to guide them and to help them become better leaders and better communicators. How I do it truly depends on who I am dealing with. But I encourage every one of them to treat each project/task/day as a learning journey. Not just with me but with all those around them, especially those who have been around for more than two years. I emphasise that none of us is smarter, more knowledgeable or better than the other. Our strength comes from our collective wisdom and the unity that we all need to have.

Hence I open myself to criticism, comments and the opinions of those around me. It is quite a vulnerable position to find myself in sometimes but I believe that it is the only way I can be Christ-like in my approach to leading a motley crew of professionals who each have their own unique stories. No longer am I in charge of a group of young, single, bright-eyed upstarts. I have staff who themselves are parents with responsibilities at home, who have to care for aging parents and who have other personal issues to deal with. At the same time, I am bringing in new staff to help cope with the increasing responsibilities placed upon my team.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus himself taught us that in order to lead, one must be compassionate and merciful in order to win the hearts of those who follow. Indeed, that is what I have been reflecting on as I begin to contemplate who will take on my burden for the three weeks in September that I am gone. I truly am hoping that my 3 colleagues will unite as one in order to take on the challenges ahead. I ask for your prayers, that they may be enlightened and learn what it means to be a servant leader.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for an outpouring of your graces upon all those who are in leadership roles at work, at home and in ministry. Give them a heart filled with mercy, compassion and love so that they may lead from the heart.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for all the times you have guided us through the rough waters at work, at home and in our parishes.

24 July, Sunday – Ask In Order To Receive

24 July – Memorial for St. Charbel Makhluf, Priest

St. Charbel was a Lebanese monk, born in a small mountain village and ordained in 1858. Devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he spent the last twenty three years of his life as a hermit. Despite temptations to wealth and comfort, St. Charbel taught the value of poverty, self-sacrifice and prayer by the way he lived his life.

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Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord said, ‘How great an outcry there is against Sodom and Gomorrah! How grievous is their sin! I propose to go down and see whether or not they have done all that is alleged in the outcry against them that has come up to me. I am determined to know.’

The men left there and went to Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Approaching him he said, ‘Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner? Perhaps there are fifty just men in the town. Will you really overwhelm them, will you not spare the place for the fifty just men in it? Do not think of doing such a thing: to kill the just man with the sinner, treating just and sinner alike! Do not think of it! Will the judge of the whole earth not administer justice?’ the Lord replied, ‘If at Sodom I find fifty just men in the town, I will spare the whole place because of them.’

Abraham replied, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this to my Lord, I who am dust and ashes. But perhaps the fifty just men lack five: will you destroy the whole city for five?’ ‘No,’ he replied ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five just men there.’ Again Abraham said to him, ‘Perhaps there will only be forty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the forty.’

Abraham said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry, but give me leave to speak: perhaps there will only be thirty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this, but perhaps there will only be twenty there.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the twenty.’ He said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry if I speak once more: perhaps there will only be ten.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the ten.’

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Colossians 2:12-14

You have been buried with Christ, when you were baptised; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised: he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins.

He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross.

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Luke 11:1-13

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.”’

He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

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…how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

We were asked earlier this year to help with our parish fundraising activities and in expectant faith, I said ‘Yes’. Strangely, I wasn’t perturbed nor did I feel daunted by the task ahead to raise the final 40% needed in order to complete our church building annex. I truly believed that the Lord would send us angels along the way and true enough, for each major project that we have started planning for, somehow, we have been blessed by generous, caring parishioners who have rallied to help out.

We even have an artist who is based in the United States helping us with designs for a calendar that we never thought would see the light of day. I remember the day we discovered her work on Pinterest. G asked if we should just go ahead and approach her. My reply was, “We will never know till we ask. We have nothing to lose.” And lo and behold, we made the connection and it turns out that the artist flies into Singapore regularly to help out at OYP (Office of the Young People). Indeed, God has His way of working things out for us, his sons and daughters. All we need to do is to ask.

But most of the time, I find that we are too afraid to ask. We tend to rationalize away the probability of success by imposing our human will (negative at that) on a situation. I have found myself encouraging other subcommittee members to ‘have faith’ more often in the past few months. Don’t ask me where it comes from. It is more than a mantra, for me, it is what keeps me going each time we hit a roadblock or a hurdle. There is no denying that we must put in our human effort and make sacrifices of time and, in some cases, money. But at some point, we must also remember that our endeavours on this earth are not solely ours. For we are all part of a divine plan, something that no one can fathom nor control.

So brothers and sisters, for whatever issues, challenges or burdens we all face on a daily basis, let us learn to ask the Lord for His divine intervention and for Him to work his wonders on our lives. How we do it is really up to each one of us to determine. But we can always start with the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…” It is a prayer that we know by heart and recite each week at mass. Next time you recite it, believe that He will indeed give us all that we need in order to live the life that He has chosen for each and every one of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for our lives, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our challenges, our burdens and our daily crosses.

23 July, Saturday – Living Out Our Faith

23 July – Memorial for St. Bridget of Sweden, Religious

Coming from a noble yet religious background, St. Bridget (1302-1373) was friend and counsellor to many priests and theologians of her day. As chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Blanche of Namur, she counselled and guided the Queen and King Magnus II. She was harassed by others at the court for pursuing a religious life.
She eventually renounced her title of princess and became the foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Savior (Bridgettines), chastening and counselling kings and Popes Clement VI, Urban VI, and Gregory XI. St. Bridget encouraged all who would listen to meditate on the Passion, and of Jesus Crucified.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 7:1-11

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Go and stand at the gate of the Temple of the Lord and there proclaim this message. Say, “Listen to the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who come in by these gates to worship the Lord. The Lord Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: Amend your behaviour and your actions and I will stay with you here in this place. Put no trust in delusive words like these: This is the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord! But if you do amend your behaviour and your actions, if you treat each other fairly, if you do not exploit the stranger, the orphan and the widow (if you do not shed innocent blood in this place), and if you do not follow alien gods, to your own ruin, then here in this place I will stay with you, in the land that long ago I gave to your fathers for ever. Yet here you are, trusting in delusive words, to no purpose! Steal, would you, murder, commit adultery, perjure yourselves, burn incense to Baal, follow alien gods that you do not know? – and then come presenting yourselves in this Temple that bears my name, saying: Now we are safe – safe to go on committing all these abominations! Do you take this Temple that bears my name for a robbers’ den? I, at any rate, am not blind – it is the Lord who speaks.”’

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Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

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The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.

I chanced upon this article and felt I shouldn’t rewrite it, so here it is for you to enjoy. May it speak to you as it did to me.

“A friend recently wrote to me about how prolific her garden was, but that the weeds were prospering as well. She said that because of the rains, the weeds would be easy to pull up. I thought how when we allow the rain of God’s word into our life, the lies, untruths and deceptions are also easy to weed out. But if the word is not given its place of priority, then when those evils take root and the ground hardens, how hard it is to pull up the weeds! Have you ever tried to pull a weed out of a dry, caked, hardened piece of ground? What usually happens is you pull off the green foliage above the soil, but the root remains, only to quickly grow up again. Notice the word ‘quickly’. Weeds don’t grow slowly. But the trick in pulling them up successfully is to soak the ground with water, soften the soil and then weed-pulling becomes a pleasure again. I remember when I was a boy and I had to weed my Dad’s garden. The tops of the weeds would come off and I would say to myself, “Oh, well, at least it LOOKS LIKE I got that weed out. Dad won’t know,” and I would leave it, being satisfied with that. In the spiritual realm, apathy towards the weeds in our life is just as deadly to us as the real weeds are to the future fruit of a vegetable garden. Water, or the word of God, plays a crucial part in both the natural realm and the spiritual in staying weed-free.

There is a time to distinguish between darnel and wheat. The fruit of the darnel is smaller than the fruit produced by true wheat. They say the difference is very distinguishable and obvious, and the difference in the sizes of the seeds makes separating them an easy task. There are those who have convulsed, been made drunk, trembled uncontrollably, stammered in their speech, were stupefied, turned giddy, etc., who have tried to tell us that that was wheat. There are also those who have not fallen into such things, but have brought confusion into the Church with darnel such as the non-Trinitarian doctrine, a watered-down gospel, and agendas that lead the Church off into corporate efforts God never sanctioned. Are these things wheat or darnel? Some are obviously darnel, while with others, it takes time to make the distinction. This I know for sure: The One who planted the good seed which bears fruit will come back to harvest His wheat, and not one grain of darnel will be found in the barn.” Adapted from http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/tares.html.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we may not just take the easy way out and choose the most comfortable path for ourselves, but it is also to be able to be patient for you will reveal to us the fruits of our labour, for us to choose the path that will lead us to you. Help us to be fervent in our prayer, that we may be able to distinguish between your will and that of the evil one. Help make our hearts like yours. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your Word, for touching our lives and speaking to us. Thank you for your mercy, graces and your love. Amen.