Monthly Archives: December 2016

1 January, Sunday – Due Credit

 

1 Jan – Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on Jan 1, the Octave Day of Christmas (i.e. 8th day after Christmas). It is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. The title “Mother of God” is a western derivation from the Greek term ‘theotokos’, the God-bearer.

The term ‘theotokos’ was adopted at the Council of Ephesus as a way to assert the divinity of Christ, from which it follows that what is declared of Christ is declared of God. So, if Mary is the mother of Jesus, she is the Mother of God. Therefore, the title ‘Mother of God’ and the ‘Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God’, which celebrates her under this title, are at once Mariological and Christological.

  • Wikipedia

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Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

This is how they are to call down my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’

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Galatians 4:4-7

When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.

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Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.

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‘As for Mary, she treasured all these things in and pondered them in her heart.’

There is an ancient advent prayer called the Christmas Anticipation Prayer and it goes like this,

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.”

What strikes me is where it says “in the piercing cold”. They had been travelling a long distance already, while heavily pregnant and it got me pondering how we can get caught up in the beauty and majesty and wonder of the incarnation, and rightly so, but we should also reserve some time to remember Mary’s role in all of this. And in this special role she played, she suffered greatly.

Simeon said at Jesus’ presentation in the temple that a spear shall also pierce her heart and she suffered many agonies when Jesus was undergoing his passion; which brings us back to the 9 months of labour. I know first-hand how difficult and painful it can be for a mother when morning sickness kicks in, when clothes don’t fit, when feet become swollen and when your back starts aching. Worst of all, when Mary watched and suffered in silence when her son, the Saviour of the world was beaten nearly to death and then hung for all to see until he breathed his last.

For a long time, I wasn’t quite sure of Mary’s role in my own life, until I undertook a 54-day Novena and really struggled through meditating upon Jesus’ life during those 54 days. At some point during the 54 days, I fell deeply in love with the Rosary and consequently with The Blessed Virgin. Some time later, my wife and I undertook the ‘33 Days to Morning Glory’ retreat and Mary’s role in salvation, and in my own life, became so much clearer and concrete.

When Jesus was on the cross, he gave Mary to all of us when he said to the beloved apostle to take her as his mother and in the year 431, the Council of Ephesus declared that Mary is the Theotokos or God-bearer; Mother of God.

She suffered greatly for us, and she still does. She has taken us into her heart as her children, and just as children very often do not give due credit to their mothers, so do we sometimes. The Memorare has become very close to me as I seek her maternal care and providence in my life and I pray that you too, may discover that Mary, Mother of God is also our mother in the order of grace; and she will indeed care for us as a mother does, maybe that is why it is often said that mothers know best.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence I fly unto thee O Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the word incarnate, despise not my petitions but in your mercy hear and answer me, Amen.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for giving us a human example or grace and humility to emulate and for giving her to us as a mother to intercede and to pour out graces upon us according to your will. Help us to love her as you did so that we may come to you, through her.

 

31 December, Saturday – New Year Resolutions

Dec 31 – Memorial for St. Sylvester I, pope

Sylvester (d. 335) was pope in the reign of Emperor Constantine I, who built the Lateran and other churches. He sent legates to the First Council of Nicaea, and was involved in the controversy over Arianism. The spurious Donation of Constantine was supposedly given to St. Sylvester.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 John 2:18-21

Children, these are the last days;
you were told that an Antichrist must come,
and now several antichrists have already appeared;
we know from this that these are the last days.
Those rivals of Christ came out of our own number, but they had never really belonged;
if they had belonged, they would have stayed with us;
but they left us, to prove that not one of them
ever belonged to us.
But you have been anointed by the Holy One,
and have all received the knowledge.
It is not because you do not know the truth that I am writing to you
but rather because you know it already
and know that no lie can come from the truth.

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John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.

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And we saw his glory

We have reached the last day of 2016. As I type this, I am watching a television programme that is reviewing the key events of the year that is about to pass. There were moments of great joy, and also great sorrow. There were also fun moments. The one event that had the greatest impact on me, interestingly, was a game called Pokemon Go. In order to capture the water Pokemon from the many Pokemon stops at the reservoir park, I made my way there. It was a momentous occasion, as I am usually found on the couch at home and never at the reservoir park, which is walking distance from home. The game got me addicted for a couple of months and even till now, there is a large number of addicts roaming around parks and other hotspots.

The Gospel passage today are the famous words that refer to the Incarnation. Without Jesus, I suppose God would have remained somewhat abstract and probably distant. But in this one great act of love, our world is changed forever, for Jesus showed us the way to His Father and to our salvation. The way is a narrow one, however, and it takes work to change ourselves so that we become more like Christ.

Since we are at the brink of welcoming the new year, making New Year resolutions can be one way to help us become better followers of Christ. Rather than the usual ‘cut down on drinking’/ ‘do more exercise’ kind of resolutions, I suggest resolutions of a slightly different kind. In his book ‘Catholicism’, Bishop Barron mentions four main areas that people are addicted to – wealth, power, pleasure and honour. Indeed, I believe that each one of us can name an addiction under one of more of these categories. For example, I am not really into accumulating a lot of wealth, nor do I enjoy having power, but I am definitely addicted to honour. I often fantasise about myself getting accolades for something great that I did. With that awareness, I know I have to consciously curb those thoughts and desire to be honoured for the things I do.

So what is it that you are addicted to – wealth, power, pleasure or honour? What kind of resolution can you make to steer yourself away from that addiction and towards Christ?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to discern our addictions in life, so that we can resolve to not let ourselves be enslaved by them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for 2016, for the good, the bad and the ugly, as they have contributed, in one way or another, to our relationship with our Lord.

30 December, Friday – Challenges of the Call

Dec 30 – Feast of the Holy Family

We celebrate the Holy Family of Nazareth, which is the model for all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

  • The Sunday Missal

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Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17

The Lord honours the father in his children,
and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
do not despise him in your health and strength;
for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

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So Joseph got up

Joseph is famously silent in the gospels. There is no record of him uttering a word anywhere. But there are records of his actions, which show that he is a faithful man, devoted to God and to caring for his family. Mary was the one who said ‘Yes’ to God to bring the Saviour to the world. Although largely overshadowed by his wife, Joseph had also said ‘Yes’ in a big way, ensuring that the Saviour was protected, and grew up in a complete family. He had to relocate his family over long distances based on a message received in a dream. Also, he surely could not tell others the truth of his son’s parentage, and he had to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up the son of God.

Being obedient to God’s call usually comes with its challenges and sacrifices. Over the past two years, I have been active in the Catholic Student Community in my school. I stepped up after the main teacher left, mainly because I saw a need to fill the gap, and there are only a handful of Catholic teachers in the school. I did not think too much about how it would impact my workload, and it turned out to be, if I may be blunt, quite burdensome. My core work is in my subject area, and in managing the department and the teachers under me. In terms of my appraisal, such work on a religious level is quite extraneous and not given much prominence.

There were times when I was rushing out a lesson plan on religious education, or slides for mass, that I felt I was reaching the end of my tether, drowning in work. But my desire to do something for the Catholic teens helped me to push on. In the process, there were highlights that would become precious memories in my faith journey, and there were also countless instances of disappointment and frustration. I have since left my job, and I may not know what I managed to achieve, if there was anything at all. I just did what I could with my time there, trusting that God’s grace and might is way above my own inadequacies.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that when we encounter difficulties in our relationships with family members, we would turn to the Lord for guidance and healing.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the joy amidst pain in our daily lives.

29 December, Thursday – The Wait is Over

Dec 29 – Memorial for St. Thomas Becket, bishop, martyr

Thomas (1118-1170) was of Norman ancestry. He was educated at Merton Priory, Paris, Bologna, and Auxerre. He was a civil and canon lawyer, a soldier and officer. He was archdeacon of Canterbury, and was a Friend of King Henry II, as well as Chancellor of England. He was ordained in 1162 and was appointed archbishop of Canterbury the next day. He opposed the King’s interference in ecclesiastical matters. He was exiled several times, and was eventually murdered (and martyred) in 1170 in the Cathedral at Canterbury, England.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 John 2:3-11

We can be sure that we know God
only by keeping his commandments.
Anyone who says, ‘I know him’,
and does not keep his commandments,
is a liar,
refusing to admit the truth.
But when anyone does obey what he has said,
God’s love comes to perfection in him.
We can be sure that we are in God
only when the one who claims to be living in him
is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
My dear people,
this is not a new commandment that I am writing to tell you,
but an old commandment
that you were given from the beginning,
the original commandment which was the message brought to you.
Yet in another way, what I am writing to you,
and what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his,
is a new commandment;
because the night is over
and the real light is already shining.
Anyone who claims to be in the light
but hates his brother
is still in the dark.
But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light
and need not be afraid of stumbling;
unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness,
not knowing where he is going,
because it is too dark to see.

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Luke 2:22-35

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

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Your word has been fulfilled

The day was 13 August 2016. I was in school that Saturday morning, overseeing the setting up of a carnival booth by students. Upstairs, a packed school hall was witnessing history. The whole place was pulsing with noise and I could not be sure, but I thought I heard screams and uproarious cheering coming from the hall. Moments later, a colleague walked past and announced, “He did it!”

To be very honest, I had long given up hope of Singapore garnering an Olympic gold medal. It was just one of those things that elude tiny countries like ours, no matter how wealthy we become. As a Singaporean, I felt my heart bursting with pride, and so deeply moved that a nation’s hope had been fulfilled so perfectly by a determined and gifted young man. The wait was over. We would never lament the futility of gunning for an Olympic gold ever again.

In today’s Gospel passage, Simeon had spent a lifetime waiting to glimpse his salvation. As his hair grew completely grey and his footsteps turned into a shuffle, would he have wondered whether his wait was worthwhile? Or would he have forged on with confidence that the Lord will fulfil his promise made to him? Imagine his joy when the wait was over.

Lately, I have been praying Simeon’s prayer at night, having decided out of the blue to start praying the Divine Office. I find it a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, as it expresses peace of mind at having accepted Jesus, joy at seeing the work of the Lord, and a humble submission to God’s will. “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that despite our wounds, we will find peace in our hearts.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the signs of grace that God places in our lives.

28 December, Wednesday – Incarnation

Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

During this octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent; when He fell into the hands of His enemies at the time chosen by God it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.

Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

– CatholicCulture.org

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1 John 1:5-2:2

This is what we have heard from Jesus Christ,
and the message that we are announcing to you:
God is light; there is no darkness in him at all.
If we say that we are in union with God
while we are living in darkness,
we are lying because we are not living the truth.
But if we live our lives in the light,
as he is in the light,
we are in union with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son,
purifies us from all sin.

If we say we have no sin in us,
we are deceiving ourselves
and refusing to admit the truth;
but if we acknowledge our sins,
then God who is faithful and just
will forgive our sins and purify us
from everything that is wrong.
To say that we have never sinned
is to call God a liar
and to show that his word is not in us.

I am writing this, my children,
to stop you sinning;
but if anyone should sin,
we have our advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, who is just;
he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away,
and not only ours,
but the whole world’s.

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Matthew 2:13-18

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.

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He is the sacrifice that takes our sins away

The Jewish people had been hoping for a messiah for a long time. And a Messiah God did send, just not one who quite fulfilled their expectations of overthrowing their present rulers and becoming a worldly king. The Messiah came to be born into a poor family and the events surrounding his birth were difficult for his parents and disastrous for many innocent families who lost their sons to Herod’s decree. So much for a messianic grand entrance.

Jesus did not come to rid the world of suffering, He joined us in it. The point of this is something that is quite beyond human understanding. Whenever we find ourselves in mental or physical suffering, our natural bodily desire is to remove that suffering so that we feel better and can move on with our lives. But Jesus did not promise to simply end suffering. What He did promise is to give us rest amidst our labour and burdens.

I think that the incarnation, ultimately, is about trusting in the Lord. It is not a passive kind of trusting or a vague kind of hope, but a conscious decision to live a life in Christ. It is about forming new habits and getting rid of old ones that lead one away from God. It is about trusting that all that we do as believers will lead us to the eternal life that Christ promised.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will be able to have a child-like trust in the Lord.

Thanksgiving: We look back on the year and give thanks for the many opportunities that we had to grow closer to God.

27 December, Tuesday – Jesus, Human and Divine

Dec 27 – Feast of St. John, apostle, evangelist

St. John, also known as the ‘beloved disciple’ of Jesus, was the son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of St. James the Great, and was called one of the Sons of Thunder. Before becoming Jesus’ disciple, he was already a disciple of St. John the Baptist, and a friend of St. Peter the Apostle. He was called by Jesus during the first year of Christ’s ministry, and travelled everywhere with him. He took part in the Last Supper, and was the only one of the Twelve not to forsake the Saviour in the hour of his Passion, standing at the foot of the cross.

He was made guardian of Our Lady by Jesus, and he took her into his home. Upon hearing of the Resurrection, he was the first to reach the tomb; when he met the risen Lord at the Lake of Tiberius, he was the first to recognise him.

During the era of the new Church, he worked in Jerusalem and at Ephesus. During Jesus’ ministry, he tried to block a Samaritan from their group, but Jesus explained the open nature of the new Way, and he worked on that principle to found churches in Asia Minor and baptising converts in Samaria. He was imprisoned with Peter for preaching after Pentecost. He wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and possibly the Book of Revelation.

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1 John 1:1-4

Something which has existed since the beginning,
that we have heard,
and we have seen with our own eyes;
that we have watched
and touched with our hands:
the Word, who is life –
this is our subject.
That life was made visible:
we saw it and we are giving our testimony,
telling you of the eternal life
which was with the Father and has been made visible to us.
What we have seen and heard
we are telling you
so that you too may be in union with us,
as we are in union
with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.

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John 20:2-8

On the first day of the week Mary of Magdala came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed.

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That life was made visible

Ever heard of Arianism, Apollinarism and Monotheletism? In the early years of Christianity, the church struggled to understand and make clear to all believers the teachings of the faith. Those long names are the names of heresies that came about in the few hundred years after Christianity was established. The concept of Jesus’ humanity and divinity was one of the most highly contentious and divisive.

For most of us, it might seem a little too heavy on a theoretical level to delve all the way into whether Jesus had both a human soul and a human will, or whether he had a human intellect that was separate from a divine intellect. But, if questioned, would you be able to articulate your understanding of who it is that you are worshipping? For your reference, this is how the fifth century Athanasian Creed puts it – “He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity but he is inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ. And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed into God. He is one, not at all because of a mingling of substances, but because He is one person.”

For me, the Christmas season is a good time to reflect on God’s love for us. We are somewhat trapped within our limited understanding of time, seeing the birth of Christ as an event happening in a very distant past, and a very foreign land where there was a crazed leader wanting to murder all first-born sons. But the appreciation cannot start and end there, at the scene of the Nativity. Jesus, being fully human, knows exactly how it is like to think and feel as a human. He also knows how suffering is like, enduring a most painful death two thousand plus years ago. Here and now, since Jesus is also fully divine, He is here with us, in our minds, our hearts and everyday lives.

During Christmas vigil mass, I had this reflection — that I am merely a speck of dust or less in God’s eyes, completely subject to his might and power and yet, I am loved; and not only that, am given the choice to accept that love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the Spirit can move more hearts and minds among Catholics to seek God in scripture and deeper study.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for entering into our human suffering, and although we may not fully understand His purpose of doing so, we will always remain faithful to Him.

26 December, Monday – Dying to Self

Dec 26 – Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr

Stephen is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.

– Universalis

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Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

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Matthew 10:17-22

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

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The man who stands firm to the end will be saved

 Today’s first reading reminds me of a soon-to-be-released film by Martin Scorsese, entitled ‘Silence’. It is a movie that is supposedly 28 years in the making, about two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to meet their mentor whom they heard had committed apostasy. The film is based on a novel written by Japanese author Sh?saku End?. During the climax of the story, the lead character Sebastião Rodrigues, one of the Jesuits, decides to renounce his faith by stepping on a fumie (a carved image of Christ) in order to free local Christians from further torture.

Although the story is a work of fiction, it seems plausible that such methods were indeed used to threaten and torture priests during the persecution of Japanese Catholics. I have tried, but failed to imagine myself in the shoes of the priest made to renounce his faith in order to save his fellow Christians from torment. What is the right thing to do? To step on the fumie, or not renounce the faith but let the torment of others continue?

Something that I am sort of figuring out, and which is perhaps more related to the circumstances of my life, is the dying to self for the purpose of honouring God. There are certain actions that I like to do without feeling much guilt, although I know that they are technically contrary to the teachings of the church and of the Bible. At some point recently, I realised that I need to make a conscious decision to constantly die to myself and reject those sinful actions, so that I can truly stand and say that I am a follower of Christ. During the Advent Penitential Service this year, I confessed sins that had long been buried in my heart and which I had not even realised were there. I just somehow decided that there was no need to be a slave to fear or shame, and to make a decisive move to love Christ rather than waver and fret and make half-hearted attempts.

In this Christmas season, let us be open to renewing our hearts for Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to die to ourselves constantly so as to give glory to our God.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the martyrs of the faith whom we know are praying for us and our salvation.

25 December, Mass in the Day – Everything

25 December

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Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
proclaims salvation,
and tells Zion,
‘Your God is king!’

Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices,
they shout for joy together,
for they see the Lord face to face,
as he returns to Zion.

Break into shouts of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord is consoling his people,
redeeming Jerusalem.

The Lord bares his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

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Hebrews 1:1-6

At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command; and now that he has destroyed the defilement of sin, he has gone to take his place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty. So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

God has never said to any angel: You are my Son, today I have become your father; or: I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Again, when he brings the First-Born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.

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John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.

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“Through Him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through Him.”

 Everything comes from God. This is easy to accept from a cocoon of comfort, earthly fulfilment, and perceived happiness. What is harder to fathom, are the hurts, disappointments, and injustice in our world that we have all come to experience over the course of our lives. Even Jesus was not spared from such trials, which shaped His life and being in preparation for His role as the “radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of His nature”.

Many times during my faith journey, I have asked our God who works wonders, to work miracles in my life. Many of my requests seemingly appeared unanswered, while God moulded and shaped me in His perfect ways, and perfect time; using me as His instrument. Just like how the prophets in the second reading, and John the Baptist did their part to prepare for Christ’s coming, we all serve God’s purposes for this earthly world in our unique way. This was not an easy realisation to arrive at, but rather was one forged in a crucible of prayer, meditation, reflection, and especially time with community.

For many, Christmas involves taking some well-deserved time off, and being with our communities of family and friends. During this holiday season however, many of us insulate ourselves from our trials, challenges, and difficult relationships only to have to face them head-on once the new year begins. We overindulge in food, drink, and superficial merriment, without truly acknowledging the healing we need and the brokenness within us. I’ve always asked myself if there is a better way to glorify God during this special season, while still celebrating the end of another year gone by. This year, I’ve decided to try something different and I invite you to join me.

Friends, let us take some time today to ponder on the events and people in our lives. The strokes of good luck, and the crosses that seem too heavy to bear, our hard-won successes, and catastrophic failures, the simple blessings, and the grating inconveniences. Our nearest and dearest, and the colleagues we barely tolerate, our childhood friends, and the new neighbours from abroad. Let us spend quality time building authentic relationships with the people God has called into our lives, and let us acknowledge God’s hand in every person and circumstance in our lives. Let us make this Christmas season a meaningful one that nourishes our hearts and minds, and not just our bodies.

May God fill us with the grace to accept His plans for us, just as He wove the haphazard events of His own son’s life into a tapestry of love that fills our hearts and homes from today until eternity.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Anonymous)

Prayer: Lord, we ask for the child-like faith to trust in you no matter what comes our way. Fill us with wonder and gratitude as we journey with you in this life.  

Thanksgiving: Dearest Father, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything and everyone that you bring into our lives as you patiently nurture us to be instruments of your will.

25 December, Mass at Dawn – The Light of God

25 December

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Isaiah 62:11-12

This the Lord proclaims
to the ends of the earth:

Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look,
your saviour comes,
the prize of his victory with him,
his trophies before him.’
They shall be called ‘The Holy People’,
‘the Lord’s Redeemed.’
And you shall be called ‘The-sought-after’,
‘City-not-forsaken.’

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Titus 3:4-7

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

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Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

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“This day new light will shine upon the earth – the Lord is born for us”

The bright bluish light sparkled like a diamond and dropped, and then it sparkled again, and dropped. I called it, the ‘tear-drop light’. I was totally enthralled by it when it was first introduced at the Orchard Road Christmas light-up a few years ago. That year, the theme was ‘fairyland’, and it was as if these tear-drops hanging high up above the streets, lit up and awakened the sleeping fairies, elves and icons of Christmas lined up below the street lamps. It was a dazzling, enchanting sight.

This year, I chanced upon this ‘tear-drop light’ again. For a moment, I was excited by the familiar sight. But strangely, it no longer held my attention. It no longer touched me. It took me a while before I realised why. The deepen question in my heart was, “What has the ‘tear-drop light’ lit up for me?”

The ‘tear-drop light’ I saw this year, in my heartland, was disconnected from the rest of the Christmas decorations set up in another part of the street. On its own, it looked lonely — as each droplet sparkled and vanished into the dark, it re-appeared three seconds later; only to disappear again. The cycle tirelessly repeats itself and slowly, it began to hold my attention again. Despite its loneliness, despite not lighting up any other Christmas decorations, it continued to shine on its own, slowly and steadily. As I stayed on a little longer to observe, its intermittent sparkling light was actually gently lighting up the ordinary trees and shrubs along the sidewalk, giving a soft bluish glow, like icing on those everyday evergreens. It was a warm, humbling and enchanting sight, right here in my heartland.

As the first light of dawn breaks over the horizon this morning, like the shepherds of that first Christmas morning, we ordinary men and women, enthralled by the celestial light and message of the angels, hurried away from our heartland to town (Bethlehem), only to find our Lord born in a manger – a humbling sight. Our Lord humbled himself from the pedestal of divinity to becoming incarnate in the flesh and to embrace humanity. Our God is with us (Emmanuel) to journey with us in this world as He continues to glow and grow in our hearts, each day, each moment.

Has the tear-drop celestial light of Christ touched your heart this Christmas morning? Has Christ found a permanent dwelling in your humbled heart? This morning, we respond together with the Psalmist,  “This day new light will shine upon the earth: the Lord is born for us.” Happy birthday, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

(Today’s Oxygen by Stefanie Ng)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, we are restless souls dazzled by the myriad of distracting lights on earth. On this Christmas morning, “by renewing us with the Holy Spirit”, helps us to re-focus only on you — the eternal and life-giving light.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord Jesus Christ, by your incarnation, you embrace humanity and journey tirelessly with us to show us how to be like you, ‘gentle and humble in heart.’ Thank you, Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, for your faithfulness to God’s will in caring, protecting and nurturing Infant Jesus.

25 December, Midnight Mass – Love and Sacrifice

Dec 25 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

The name “Christmas” was derived from Old English: “Cristes Maesse”, Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.

The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.

Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.

Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.

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Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.

For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.

For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 2:1-14

Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and travelled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Each holiday season, the people at my parish organize something called ‘Adopt A Family’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The program matches us with lower-income families, to help them with financing family dinners and gifts for their children. While the intentions of the program are noble, I often get discouraged by some of the requests I see on wishlists. This year, I was matched with a single mother and her spoiled 11-yr old son. She asked for warm blankets and a new iron. He wanted the latest Beats 2 headphones and a pair of fancy Jordan basketball shoes. What must the conversation be like in their household? It made me reflect on the meaning of Christmas. When parents struggle to make ends meet, yet children have unreasonable demands, the meaning of Christmas is overshadowed by the weight of unmet expectations and resentment on both sides. As a parent, how do you cope with that?

I think of Mary and the demands that were made of her as she travelled with Joseph to Bethlehem. It can’t be much fun being pregnant and stressed out from traveling. Behind the candlelit romance of the nativity scene, we forget that Jesus’ birth was nothing short of traumatic for his mother. The manger would have smelled. It would have been cold. She would have been exhausted, but she just kept going.

A parent’s love transcends all suffering. That’s a universal truth. We see that even in this dubious age of conspicuous consumption. A mother will work two jobs just to provide her child the luxuries she can’t afford. Why? Because the ultimate expression of love is sacrifice as Mary, and Christ, showed us. This season, as parents, there will be times when we will grit our teeth with frustration from the unreasonable demands that are made of us. Giving, like love requires sacrifice, but sometimes we give with doubt and resentment in our hearts. Let’s not let our anger stop us from experiencing the true meaning of Christmas. Like Mary, or the mother of that spoiled 11-yr old, God will find us where we are and give us the resources – financial, spiritual, emotional and physical – to see us through. Have faith that there will be deliverance into the light, even for those of us who are beleaguered parents.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all families who struggle with providing for their children this season.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the individuals who sacrificed to give us better lives, even when we were too spoiled and self-absorbed to fully appreciate their efforts.