Monthly Archives: November 2016

1 December, Thursday – Not always about connections

1 December 2016

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven

Have you ever noticed when things are going well and you are prospering, you may find yourself surrounded by multitudes of friends. But when the chips are down, you wonder where everyone is? Everyone wants to be in your camp when you’re popular, no one wants to be left out. The danger lies in who you can trust, and weeding out who is genuine and who is a hanger-on. People will use their closely-guarded connections and name-drop or claim association, like gaining access to the VIP lounge in the hottest night club of the moment. In our world of doing business, it is deemed important to ‘get a leg up’ on other people, therefore it is about who you know that can get you there.

Not with Jesus though; Jesus doesn’t care about who you know, or if you claim association with Him. He is only interested in the condition of your heart, and what lies within: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jer 17:9-10). Jesus recognizes the “bad fruits” by their deeds and words. Their lips may have called upon his name, but their hearts may not be in sync with God. As such, in today’s readings we see that he disassociates himself from these people by calling them out, questioning their motives and actions.

In whatever that we do then under the standard of the church, be it in attending mass or volunteering in ministries, perhaps today’s reading is a call to us to re-examine our motives for doing so. Sometimes, the devil comes in to distract us so that we lose sight of the reasons why we joined a ministry, for example. When we lose our focus, it is easy to get caught up in the other things that we encounter in our work for God, from the simplest things like getting frustrated with the car park situation at the church, or annoyance at one of the members of the ministry for being ‘bossy’. We are human, and it is normal for us to feel negative feelings, but let us pray for patience and focus to prevent such things from distracting us from the reason at the end of the day — God. 

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, we seek forgiveness for the times when we have let our actions become “bigger” than you. Help us to re-focus and remember that ultimately, all that we do is for God and with God.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks for the opportunity to carry out works in God’s name. We pray that we will glorify His name in all that we do.

30 November, Wednesday – The Messenger

Nov 30 – Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!

I think I have been truly fortunate to live in a lifetime before the advent of email. As convenient and speedy as it may be, email has ironically made me appreciate snail mail more; and by snail mail, I do not mean the monthly bills and statements that we receive (sadly), but letters or greetings where someone has actually taken the time to sit down and write, in their own script, a personal message to you. The thought of that and the enclosed warm greeting would be enough to bring cheer to my heart and a smile to my face, and I’m certain it would be the same for you too.

Imagine then, in Jesus’ time, when the only way for news to arrive was if it were to be communicated in person, by word of mouth. The apostles were sent out to do just that, to spread the Good News of the Messiah, and this they had done via long journeys on foot, over land and sea. One such apostle was St Andrew, brother of St Peter. In the Gospel of John, St Andrew is depicted as one of Jesus’ first followers. In John 1:35-42, St Andrew, who was a disciple of John the Baptist, immediately followed Jesus, along with another disciple after John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to them. St Andrew subsequently brought his brother to Jesus after telling him that they had found the Messiah.

While in his lifetime, St Andrew preached as far as modern-day Ukraine and Greece, imagine if you would for a second, what it might have been for Simon his brother (later St Peter), to be out fishing, only to come home and be greeted in person by probably a rather excited and breathless Andrew, gushing that he had found the Messiah! Wouldn’t you, in Simon’s shoes, be terribly excited as well? Personally, I might have hugged him in delight and excitement! With such wondrous news, would you not also have done the same?

With the same level of enthusiasm, I believe this would have been how Andrew might have approached his mission. Yes, as the first reading indicated, not all heeded the good news, and not everyone who heard it, believed. However, for those who like him, had been waiting for news of our Saviour, his coming to preach would have been welcome tidings, and for them, this was their salvation.

In our modern day, our good tidings may come in an electronic form, but let us look beyond the form and see the substance that lies within, for what lies within may just be the good news that we are waiting for.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we hear all kinds of news these days over the media, some of which may be true, while others may be exaggerated. Help us to filter out the news that attempts to confuse us, and give us the wisdom to recognize the message of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the messengers whom you have sent out to spread your Word and carry out your works in your holy name. We pray that we too will be able to emulate them and spread the Good News to others too.

29 November, Tuesday – Propehcies

29 November 2016

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.

In this season of Advent, while we wait in anticipation for the good things that Christmas brings, I think back to the times of the olden days, in Jesus’ time, when such a thing had yet to materialize. I think back in particular, to Simeon, in the Gospel of Luke, who was a righteous and devout man. I think of what he might have experienced, the anticipation of a different kind, when the Holy Spirit told him that “he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

We will never know when that message was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Who knows, he might have waited for years, and every day for him would have been like Advent. But what an anticipation it would have been, to see God’s salvation in the flesh! He recognized Jesus as the one who would be a light to the people and declared as such — “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).

There is so much promise contained in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, it is almost too overwhelming to hear. But for those who believed and heard the word, they must have been waiting anxiously as Simeon did, for the day that this promise would be fulfilled.

Fast forward to current times — is there something that we are waiting for this Advent? Are we looking forward in earnest for the day when Jesus will come again in all His glory? Are we anticipating the wonders that He will bring? There are so many distractions that can lead us astray from the true meaning of Advent. Things are so complicated now, what with presents and shopping, and Christmas parties to plan and attend. I would like to invite us all to take a step back, and simplify our thoughts to waiting for the one thing, the one event that mattered, and that is the birth of Christ, the ‘signal to the peoples’ that salvation is at hand.

The reason for the season remains present; while we partake in our merriment during this time, let us not forget who this reason is, for He is very much still the living reason.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, as we prepare ourselves this Advent, let us not forget that You are the reason for the season, and that is all that matters.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks that we can celebrate You every year. We give you thanks for the blessings that you have given us throughout the year.

28 November, Monday – How is your faith?

28 November 2016

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Isaiah 4:2-6

That day, the branch of the Lord
shall be beauty and glory,
and the fruit of the earth
shall be the pride and adornment
of Israel’s survivors.
Those who are left of Zion
and remain of Jerusalem
shall be called holy
and those left in Jerusalem, noted down for survival.

When the Lord has washed away
the filth of the daughter of Zion
and cleansed Jerusalem of the blood shed in her
with the blast of judgement and the blast of destruction,
the Lord will come and rest
on the whole stretch of Mount Zion
and on those who are gathered there,
a cloud by day, and smoke,
and by night the brightness of a flaring fire.
For, over all, the glory of the Lord
will be a canopy and a tent
to give shade by day from the heat,
refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, only say the word and my servant will be healed.

We’re just over a month till Christmas and I am starting to stress about the state of my house, shopping for Christmas presents, making Christmas dinner, and just readying the house to look more ‘Christmas-y’. We are having family and friends over and I’m thinking to myself “Don’t come yet, I’m not ready!”

I’m a stickler for presentation and tidiness, which is a bit of a challenge when you have bedlam and a baby in your hands. It would drive me crazy not to have a presentably clean place for guests to walk into. I know that some people tend to cast a critical eye over your shelves, toilet and kitchen, and grunt their approval, or disapproval probably in my case. It is this scenario that Jesus would likely find me in should he come knocking tomorrow at my door, and it makes me ashamed to think about it. Imagine, if our Lord came calling tomorrow; what state would he find us in indeed?!

Yet, while we think we are unworthy to receive Jesus under our roofs, ironically Jesus wants nothing more than to come under our roofs. Yet our hearts though must be wanting his presence, clean house or not. As Jesus said, “I have not come to heal the healthy, but the sick”, I believe that the physical state of our being does not deter him from entering in. How our faith is like is what he is more interested in. The Pharisees used to dress well and sit at the heads of tables, but all this doesn’t make a difference to Jesus. He is knocking on the door of our hearts, the hearts of those who seek him and believe in him. The hearts who are calling for him, the hearts who need him. He makes no distinction as to your dress, rank, or race. The man who said this was a Roman centurion. He could have been cast aside for all you cared and labeled as the enemy. But his faith and humility amazed Jesus.

As we prepare our homes and plan our celebrations for Christmas, let us remember that the most important thing to prepare this Christmas is our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that even as we prepare for our Christmas celebrations, let us remember to focus and prepare the things that truly matter: our hearts.

Thanksgiving – We thank you Lord Jesus Christ, for persisting on knocking on the doors of our hearts, even when we are not worthy to receive us. Heal us and help us always oh Lord!

27 November, Sunday – Never going out of style with Jesus

27 November 2016

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Temple of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths;
since the Law will go out from Zion,
and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Romans 13:11-14

You know ‘the time’ has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

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Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

I have a confession to make — I’m not a big fashion person. I’m totally clueless about the latest fashion trends, and my wardrobe contains pieces that are at least a decade old. I’d like to think that these pieces are ‘classics’ in that I can still wear them and not look like I’m from another era!

On the off chance though, I do sometimes catch runway shows when they are on TV. While some of the fashion itself is too avant garde for me, I do like watching how the show comes together, the build-up to runway day, and all the behind-the-scenes snippets. So much work is put into the seasonal wear, yet one wonders how long the trend for that piece will last.

The armour of Christ does not go out of season. It is not something that you would be ‘seen dead in’; quite the opposite — it keeps us alive. It is the Armour of God that is described in Ephesians 6:10-17, a beautiful description of the pieces that come together to make the best piece of ‘clothing’ against harm: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace on your feet, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Clothing ourselves in the full Armour of God will ensure that we will be able to stand firm with Jesus, and stand our ground against any evil schemes that may thwart us.

Clothing ourselves in Jesus also means that we take on the characteristics of Christ Jesus. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” We are the elect of God the moment we accepted Christ as our beloved Saviour. We died to our old selves and, being born again in Christ, we put on our new selves, one that is borne out of love, and made of love. For with love, comes compassion and kindness, gentleness and generosity of spirit.

The Armour of God is designed to protect us from the devil’s schemes; love reinforces it. As we look forward to ‘don our gay apparel’ for Christmas, let us choose to wear a ‘classic’ that will never go out of style.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Father Almighty, as we greet the start of Advent, let us ready ourselves in the right apparel. This season of Advent is of love, to ready ourselves to receive the Son of Man You so willingly gave to us. Let us then clothe ourselves in love, in Christ Jesus, ready to receive You.

Thanksgiving: Father Almighty, we give you thanks and praise for making available the armour to protect us. We pray that we will wear it well, and wear it often.

26 November, Saturday – Tree of Life

26 November

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Apocalypse 22:1-7

The angel showed me, John, the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure for the pagans.

The ban will be lifted. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.

The angel said to me, ‘All that you have written is sure and will come true: the Lord God who gives the spirit to the prophets has sent his angel to reveal to his servants what is soon to take place. Very soon now, I shall be with you again.’ Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book.

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Luke 21:34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

Yesterday, we spoke of the fig tree and how its blooming heralded the arrival of summer. After the season’s harvest of fruit and vegetables is over, we move on to the next fruit and have to wait till the next season before we get to enjoy it again. How nice it would be if we could have fresh figs or berries all year round!

At the start of the Bible in the book of Genesis, we read about the creation of a garden in Eden. The tree of life is first mentioned here, planted alongside the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A river flowed from Eden to water the garden (Genesis 2:9-10). It is from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that God warns Adam not to eat, for the day that he eats of it, would be the day he dies. As we know, Adam and Eve do eat of it and they become aware of good and evil. God becomes angry and disappointed, and bars Man from eating of the tree of life as well, lest he lived forever, and banishes Adam and Eve from Eden, stationing an angel with a flaming sword to guard the tree of life.

At the end of it all, in the book of Revelation, we encounter this tree of life again. It appears to be the only variety of tree around, albeit there are several trees of life, growing on both sides of the river. Evil has already been conquered in this new ‘garden’; God will renew the heavens and earth and no evil shall enter therein. The tree, we are told, is bountiful in harvest; the leaves itself are a cure, not a way to hide shame. The trees are watered by a river of life that comes from God, clear as crystal.

God is the source of all life in this new heaven and earth. He is the eternal light in this place. He is the life in the river that waters the new earth. However, He has already made this new life available to us right now. The Word of God is already our eternal light: a “lamp unto our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). The ‘waters of life’ refers to the Holy Spirit that Jesus has sent from God, who will quench our thirst (John 7:39). And Christ Himself is the eternal Bread of Life (John 6:35). God has given us the available ‘tools’ to get ourselves to heaven, and to partake in this new earth; what remains is for us to make the choice of how we want to live our lives, how we choose to be guided in our lives. We can let God take over and be our guiding light; or we can walk away, banishing ourselves from the tree of life forever. What choice then are we going to make?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to be in our hearts and in our souls always, to guide us and show us the path. We pray that we will never stray from the path.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the guidance and the support to be the very best that we can be. We pray that we do not disappoint You or ourselves, and do all that is good and right.

25 November, Friday – Signs of the Seasons

Nov 25 – Memorial for St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin, martyr

Catherine (d. 305) was a noble who was learned in science and oratory. After receiving a vision, she converted to Christianity. At the age of 18, during the persecution of Maximus, she offered to debate the pagan philosophers. Many were converted by her arguments, and immediately martyred. Maximus had her scourged and imprisoned.

The empress and the leader of Maximus’ army were amazed by the stories and went to see Catherine in prison. They converted and were martyred. Maximus ordered her broken on the wheel, but when she touched it, the wheel was destroyed. She was then beheaded, and her body whisked away by angels.

Catherine was immensely popular during the Middle Ages, and there were many chapels and churches devoted to her throughout western Europe. She was reported as one of the divine advisors to St. Joan of Arc. Her reputation for learning and wisdom led to her patronage of libraries, librarians, teachers, archivists, and anyone associated with wisdom or teaching. Her debating skill and persuasive language has led to her patronage of lawyers. And her torture on the wheel has led to those who work with them asking for her intercession. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

While there may well have been a noble, educated, virginal lady who swayed pagans with her rhetoric during the persecutions, the accretion of legend, romance and poetry has long since buried the real Catherine.

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints invoked with special confidence, because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties. Though each has a separate feast or memorial day, the group was collectively venerated on Aug 8, until the feast was dropped and suppressed in the 1969 reform of the calendar.

They are invoked as a group because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346-1349. Among its symptoms were the tongue turning black, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. It attacked without warning, robbed its victims of reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. Brigands roamed the roads, people suspect of contagion were attacked, animals died, people starved, whole villages vanished into the grave, social order and family ties broke down, and the disease appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. This group devotion began in Germany, and the tradition has remained strong there.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Apocalypse 20:1-4,11-21:2

I, John, saw an angel come down from heaven with the key of the Abyss in his hand and an enormous chain. He overpowered the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the devil and Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and shut the entrance and sealed it over him, to make sure he would not deceive the nations again until the thousand years had passed. At the end of that time he must be released, but only for a short while.

Then I saw some thrones, and I saw those who are given the power to be judges take their seats on them. I saw the souls of all who had been beheaded for having witnessed for Jesus and for having preached God’s word, and those who refused to worship the beast or his statue and would not have the brand-mark on their foreheads or hands; they came to life, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Then I saw a great white throne and the One who was sitting on it. In his presence, earth and sky vanished, leaving no trace. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing in front of his throne, while the book of life was opened, and other books opened which were the record of what they had done in their lives, by which the dead were judged.

The sea gave up all the dead who were in it; Death and Hades were emptied of the dead that were in them; and every one was judged according to the way in which he had lived. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was thrown into the burning lake.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.

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Luke 21:29-33

Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Think of the fig tree and indeed every tree. As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

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Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

When I was working as a commis chef in London, the menus, as with most restaurants, were dictated by what was in season at the time. In spring, we would have asparagus flans and French braised artichokes; in summer, we would have cherries with almost everything, and fresh figs in abundance. Usually, before the vegetables and fruit arrive, the head chef would be busy planning his menu ahead of time and testing his recipes to ensure that he made the most out of the produce at its freshest.

In today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man, saying that His coming would be preceded by several signs. He likened it to the sprouting of the first buds on a fig tree, signifying that summer was nigh. Likewise, Jesus tells us that these signs will be in the sun and moon, the seas and stars, and once we see these signs we should be in a position to meet our deliverance. It is not that when the time is upon us that we should start preparing; no, our preparation needs to begin before that. As with a chef, he does not start thinking up a dish at dinner service; he needs to have planned for it well in advance, so that it can be prepared and tested ahead of time.

What happens then, when the Son of Man comes? Jesus tells us that it will be judgment day for mankind, when the names of those written in the Book of Life will be revealed. If we had prepared ourselves for judgment day, we would be found to be like a healthy fig tree, bearing good fruit. For the ill-prepared however, a curse shall befall them. Jesus caused the barren fig tree to wither and die (Matthew 21:19), and so shall it be for those who have borne no fruit.

We don’t know the hour when Christ will come again. We don’t know when the judgment day will happen. It could be tomorrow or next year, or ten years from now. What we do know is that when it does come, we want to be ready for it. Recall the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), five of whom were wise enough to bring oil for their lamps, and five who were foolish to come unprepared. We want to be part of the joyous party that meets the bridegroom when the hour comes. We want to follow him to the wedding banquet, and partake in the feast that has been prepared. Are we prepared enough for the hour when Jesus comes? Let us strive to be, lest we have the door to the banquet shut in our faces.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to have a better sense of urgency and priority and not to be complacent with the conduct of our lives. Let us be prepared for Your second coming, whenever that might happen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the signs and warnings that will precede Judgment Day. Thank you for the chance to redeem ourselves and to turn over a new leaf before the hour is too late for us.

24 November, Thursday – The Right Community

Nov 24 – Memorial for St. Andrew Dung-Lac, priest, martyr, and companions, Martyrs of Vietnam

Between the arrival of the first Portuguese missionary in 1533, through the Dominicans and then the Jesuit missions of the 17th century, the politically inspired persecutions of the 19th century, and the Communist-led terrors of the 20th, there have been many thousands of Catholics and other Christians murdered for their faith in Vietnam. Some were priests, nuns, or religious brothers. Some were lay people, some were foreign missionaries, but most were native Vietnamese killed by their own government and people.

Record keeping being what it was, and because the government did not care to keep track of the people it murdered, we have no information on the vast bulk of the victims. In 1988, Pope John Paul II recognized over a hundred of them, including some whose Causes we do have, and in commemoration of those we do not. They are collectively known as the Martyrs of Vietnam.

Andrew Dung Lac (1785-1839) was a Vietnamese priest who worked in the missions with the priests of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris (MEP). He was imprisoned and repeatedly tortured in the persecutions of Minh-Meng. He died with St. Peter Thi, beheaded in Hanoi for the offense of being a priest. He was canonized on 19 Jun 1988 by Pope John Paul II. He is one of the Martyrs of Vietnam.

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Apocalypse 18:1-2,21-23,19:1-3,9

I, John, saw an angel come down from heaven, with great authority given to him; the earth was lit up with his glory. At the top of his voice he shouted, ‘Babylon has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, and has become the haunt of devils and a lodging for every foul spirit and dirty, loathsome bird. Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, ‘That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

Never again in you, Babylon,
will be heard the song of harpists and minstrels,
the music of flute and trumpet;
never again will craftsmen of every skill be found
or the sound of the mill be heard;
never again will shine the light of the lamp,
never again will be heard
the voices of bridegroom and bride.
Your traders were the princes of the earth,
all the nations were under your spell.

After this I seemed to hear the great sound of a huge crowd in heaven, singing, ‘Alleluia! Victory and glory and power to our God! He judges fairly, he punishes justly, and he has condemned the famous prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has avenged his servants that she killed.’ They sang again, ‘Alleluia! The smoke of her will go up for ever and ever.’ The angel said, ‘Write this: Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb’, and he added, ‘All the things you have written are true messages from God.’

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Luke 21:20-28

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realise that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. For this is the time of vengeance when all that scripture says must be fulfilled. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!

‘For great misery will descend on the land and wrath on this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over.

‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’

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Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

The first time I ever heard about Babylon was in a book of Bible stories. Babylon was described as a great city with a huge population who spoke a common language. The people aspired to build a tower that was so high, it would reach the heavens and be near God. God looked down from Heaven and did not like the direction of their purpose and confused the people, scattering them all over the earth.

Today’s reading speaks of Babylon as a confused world or society, confused not because of a difference in languages, but confusion in morals. It is illustrated as a place that is rife with sin, a place that causes others to fall into sin as well. And the fate that will befall this city will be total annihilation by God.

While the passage speaks of a city or a large society, I think that this could also be viewed microscopically as a family unit or community as well. Our families and communities act as ‘support systems’ to our lives, and we, in turn, play a role to support those in our families and communities. If that support system fails or becomes directionless, then those who depend on it will also likely fail and become lost and scattered. If the unit is not built on a solid moral foundation, then the bricks that form it – the people who are part of the unit – will not be strong enough either, and will crumble. The unit would not be rooted in the Word of God and therefore, the lives that the people would lead would not reflect God’s ways.

The fate of such a unit or community is also foretold in today’s reading, where the destruction of Babylon was likened to a huge millstone-like boulder being hurled into the sea with such force, never to be seen again. Of course, the destruction may not take such a literal form, but I believe that mankind would have a hand in determining its own destruction, as the case may be. The millstone is akin to industry, built by man, and it is the millstone that will destroy the city – destruction caused by a product of our own hand. What I am saying is that we reap what we sow. If we sow bad seeds, we cannot hope to have good produce coming out of the soil. If we live and encourage a sinful life, we cannot expect our lives to be fruitful and godly. We cannot expect to know God, nor can we expect God to save us when the time comes. Our own decisions on how we live life will ultimately determine our fate.

So, what kind of support system do we want to create, to be a part of? We too must be the support system that we want to see, for as much as we depend on others, others will also depend on us. Let us strive to be a unit and a community that lasts for all the right reasons, that God may spare us, and not scatter us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your help to build our lives in Your ways that they may be fruitful and holy. Help us build a foundation that will last always.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the wisdom and direction to go down the right path with You, and for Your mercy and forgiveness when we go astray.

23 November, Wednesday – Shout to the Lord

Nov 23 – Memorial for St. Clement I, pope, martyr; Memorial for St. Columban, abbot

Clement (d. 101) was the fourth pope, and an apostolic Father. The Basilica of St. Clement in Rome is one of the earliest parish churches in the city, and is probably built on the site of Clement’s home. He is the author of the “Epistle to the Corinthians”. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Origen and St. Jerome identify him as working with St. Paul the Apostle.

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Columban (543–615) was well-born, handsome, and educated. He was torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decided to withdraw from the world. His family opposed the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He became a monk at Lough Erne. He studied Scripture extensively, and wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He became a monk at Bangor under abbot St. Comgall.

At middle age, Columban felt a calling to missionary life. With 12 companions, he travelled to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, had fallen far from the faith, but were ready for missionaries, and they had some success. They were warmly greeted at the court of Gontram, and king of Burgundy invited the band to stay. They chose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columban as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group drew disciples to join them, and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columban, to find solitude for prayer, often lived for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks overcrowded the old fortress, King Gontram gave them the old castle of Luxeuil to found a new house in 590. Soon after, a third house was founded at Fontaines. Columban served as master of them all, and wrote a Rule for them; it incorporated many Celtic practices, was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, but was superseded by the Benedictine

Problems arose early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops objected to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602, he was summoned to appear before them for judgement; instead of appearing, he sent a letter advising them to hold more synods, and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he used to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continued to years, with Columban appealing to multiple popes for help, but was only settled when Columban abandoned the Celtic calendar when he moved to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columban spoke out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court which was in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunehault stirred up the bishops and nobility against the abbot; Thierry ordered him to conform to the local ways, and shut up. Columban refused, and was briefly imprisoned at Besancon, but he escaped and returned to Luxeuil. Thierry and Brunehault sent an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship set sail, a storm drove them back to shore; the captain took it as a sign, and set the monks free.

They made their way to King Clothaire at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theodebert of Austrasia in 611. He travelled to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, Suevi, Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelisation work there was unsuccessful, and the group passed on to Arbon, then Bregenz, and then Lake Constance. St. Gall, who knew the local language best, took the lead in this region; may were converted to the faith, and the group founded a new monastery as their home and base.

However, a year later, political upheaval caused Columban to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treated him well, and he preached and wrote against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, the Lombard king gave him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilt a half-ruined church of St. Peter, and around it he founded an abbey that was to be the source for evangelisation throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columban always enjoyed being in the forests and caves, and as he walked through the woods, birds and squirrels would ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life came word that his old enemies were dead, and his brothers wanted him to come back north, but he declined. Knowing that his time was almost done, he retired to a cave for solitude, and died as he had predicted. His influence continued for centuries as those he converted handed on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelised untold numbers more, and his brother monks founded over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

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Apocalypse 15:1-4

What I, John, saw in heaven was a great and wonderful sign: seven angels were bringing the seven plagues that are the last of all, because they exhaust the anger of God. I seemed to see a glass lake suffused with fire, and standing by the lake of glass, those who had fought against the beast and won, and against his statue and the number which is his name. They all had harps from God, and they were singing the hymn of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb:

‘How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
just and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord?
You alone are holy,
and all the pagans will come and adore you
for the many acts of justice you have shown.’

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Luke 21:12-19

Jesus said: Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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How great and wonderful are all your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are all your ways, King of nations.

Today’s readings are quite overwhelming — about life and death, good and evil. God will destroy the wicked, yet also save the just. And the whole picture is painted with such tremulous yet glorious detail: a sea of shimmering glass mingled with the blaze of fire, with a great company standing on the sea, singing songs of victory and praise to God Almighty, accompanied by God’s harps. What an awe-inspiring sight it must be indeed!

Before such glory can be revealed though, there will be persecution and plague. Jesus speaks of this in today’s Gospel, foretelling what each of us may have to go through before we can be counted as one of the great many to be saved. It will be a lonely place — we will be isolated, denied, betrayed, executed. While we may stand alone, Jesus tells us not to fear, for he is with us. He, himself, will put the words in our mouths to give such a testimony that it will be beyond refute by the naysayers. We may feel like we will be all alone, but we won’t be, for our perseverance in our faith in Christ Jesus will determine our eternal lives. We may be alone, but we will eventually find ourselves standing in the great company of those who have been persecuted for their faith.

With this in mind, shall we not abandon the fear in our hearts and instead sing praises to the Lord, God Almighty? If God has already promised to save us if we persevere, let us cast aside our inhibitions and join in the resounding chorus to the King of the nations. Let us, without hesitation, give glory to God for the wonderful works that He has done, for the victory that He has won for us. Let us live our lives as those who would be saved, rather than be condemned. Let us put on the full armour of God and go forth to “take our stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11), for “if God is for us, who then can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your protection against our foes, against all schemes that try to shake us. Help us to stand strong and persevere, no matter the challenge.

Thanksgiving: God, You are marvelous and wonderful indeed! Great is Your mercy, great is Your love, and we thank you for that, and for all the wonderful deeds that You have wrought. Praise and glory be Your name forever and ever! Amen.

22 November, Tuesday – Time to Pray

Nov 22 – Memorial for St. Cecilia, virgin, martyr

Cecilia (d. 117) was a cultivated young patrician woman whose ancestors loomed large in Rome’s history. She vowed her virginity to God, but her parents married her to Valerian of Trastevere. She told her new husband that she was accompanied by an angel, but in order to see it, he must be purified. He agreed to the purification and was baptized. Returning from the ceremony, he found her in prayer accompanied by a praying angel. The angel placed a crown on each of their heads, and offered Valerian a favour; the new convert asked that his brother be baptized.

The two brothers developed a ministry of giving proper burial to martyred Christians. In their turn they were arrested and martyred for their faith. Cecilia buried them at their villa on the Apprian Way, and was arrested for the action. She was ordered to sacrifice to false gods, and when she refused, she was martyred in her turn.

She was suffocated for a while and when that didn’t kill her, she was beheaded. Her grave was discovered in 817, and her body removed to the Church of St. Cecilia in Rome. The tomb was opened in 1599 and her body was found to be incorrupt.

The Acts of Cecilia includes the following: “While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse.” It was this phrase that led to her association with music, singers, musicians, etc.

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Apocalypse 14:14-19

In my vision I, John, saw a white cloud and, sitting on it, one like a son of man with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the sanctuary, and shouted aloud to the one sitting on the cloud, ‘Put your sickle in and reap: harvest time has come and the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ Then the one sitting on the cloud set his sickle to work on the earth, and the earth’s harvest was reaped.
Another angel, who also carried a sharp sickle, came out of the temple in heaven, and the angel in charge of the fire left the altar and shouted aloud to the one with the sharp sickle, ‘Put your sickle in and cut all the bunches off the vine of the earth; all its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel set his sickle to work on the earth and harvested the whole vintage of the earth and put it into a huge winepress, the winepress of God’s anger.

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Luke 21:5-11

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’

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When you hear of wars and troubled times, do not be frightened; for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.

I came across an article once about Nostradamus, a French apothecary in the 16th century, who became well-known for his published works in which he was purported to have prophesied several major world events. One of his predictions was about the end of the world. It scared me for days, and I worried and mulled about it in my head. Some nights I couldn’t sleep just thinking about it. Understand though, that I was a young, impressionable, school-going child at the time. I believed almost anything then.

Fear is a gripping emotion. It can take hold of a strong person and paralyze him; it can reduce us to emotional wrecks. We fear what we don’t know. We don’t know what the future holds, so we worry about it. We don’t understand why certain things happen to us, so we are afraid to try. When we fear, it is when we are most vulnerable. We are like leaves, scattered and blown by the wind in all directions. If not checked, the core of our faith could be easily shaken and we would believe anything without a doubt, even if it wasn’t true.

We have been reading a lot of the wars and conflicts going on in the world today. The mindless murders and killings, of plagues and virus outbreaks, natural disasters which seem quite unnatural, it is all quite distressing to read about and watch. Some politicians and people with power have used these events to their advantage as propaganda to discredit their opponents and to incite popular unrest. In their fear, people are more inclined to hear out what these people are saying. Our heads want to believe, but what do our hearts tell us?

In these times of distress, do not fear; instead, lift up your hands in prayer to God to deliver us from our afflictions and distress. Now, more than ever, prayer is our most powerful defense. Now, more than ever, our spirit of brotherly and sisterly love is never more essential. Now is not the time to fear, but a time to pray. “Do not be frightened,” says the Lord. “The end is not so soon”. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters caught in the conflicts and disasters of the world today, and for peace and love. “For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for peace to prevail and wars and conflicts in the world today to end. Lord, we pray for those who are afflicted. Lighten their suffering, and we pray that they may find comfort and peace in Your love.

Thanksgiving: We give You thanks Lord, for never abandoning us in our times of trouble. You said that where two or three are gathered in Your name, You would be in our midst. Thank you for hearing our prayers Lord.