Monthly Archives: January 2017

1 February, Wednesday – For Better or For Worse

1 February 2017

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Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15

In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons? My son, when the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when he reprimands you. For the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness. So hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread; then the injured limb will not be wrenched, it will grow strong again.

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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 “… that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble through which many may become defiled”

My in-laws celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year. Imagine being married for 60 years! I’m into my 3rd year and I can already see how things would go awry if we are not disciplined about treating each other with mindfulness and love. The bad habit of taking someone for granted can just creep up on you. That old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is never more true than when it applies to marriage. Why is it that when we’re around someone a lot, we naturally become the lazier, less polite, less ‘edited’ versions of ourselves? My in-laws may have been together for 60 years, but I don’t for one moment believe that they were blissful and happy years. That they’re still together is a testatment to the sustaining power of God. You don’t stick it out through all that unless there is divine intervention; unless God himself has blessed you both with the grace to endure it.

Jesus nailed it when he said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house”. That’s especially true for spouses. A word harshly spoken, a wrongdoing unforgiven produces bitter roots that “spring up and cause trouble through which many become defiled”. Life is often all about timing, and divorce is what happens when two people want out of a marriage at the same time. I get angry sometimes with my husband, as most wives must do. And when that happens, I have to catch myself so it doesn’t spiral. It takes prayer and discipline to remember that its up to me to break the cycle of bad feelings. I need to forgive and, more importantly, forget instead of holding on to my hurt. Because bitter roots can take hold if you tend to them enough with all of your resentment. Before you know it, 10, 20, 30… 60 years would have passed that you’ve been looking back in anger, and you’ll be left wondering where all the time went.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to forgive our loved ones for their trespasses against us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the peacekeeper and divine presence in every successful marriage.

31 January, Tuesday – Focus!

31 Jan – Memorial for St. John Bosco, priest

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was the son of Venerable Margaret Bosco. His father died when he was just two years old, and as soon as he was old enough to do odd jobs, he did so for extra money for his family. Bosco would go to circuses, fairs, and carnivals, practise the tricks he saw the magicians perform, and then present one-boy shows. After his performance, while he still had an audience of boys, he would repeat the homily he had heard earlier in church.

He worked as a tailor, baker, shoemaker, and carpenter while attending college and the seminary. He was ordained in 1841. He was a teacher, and he worked with youth, finding places where they could meet, play and pray. He taught catechism to orphans and apprentices, and was chaplain in a hospice for girls.

He wrote short treatises aimed at explaining the faith to children, and then taught children how to print them. He was a friend of St. Joseph Cafasson, whose biography he wrote. He was confessor to Blessed Joseph Allamano. He founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) in 1859, a community of priests who work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and St. Francis de Sales. He founded the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, in 1872, and the Union of Cooperator Salesians in 1875.

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Hebrews 12:1-4

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne.

Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

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Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

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“… persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” 

I’m learning how to drive at the moment. You get three attempts at the behind-the-wheel exam in America. I’ve failed it all three times now. One of my issues seems to be an inability to decide what to focus on. It terrifies me that I have to watch so many things – the speed gauge, side mirrors, rearview mirror, my blind spots, the road around me, the road signs AND my GPS – all at the same time! I was always rubbish at multi-tasking, never mind doing it at high speed while barreling down the freeway. I’ve also developed the bad habit of obsessing over my rear and side mirrors. Where your focus goes, in that direction, as well as whether the car moves. All this glancing and bobbing my head around makes me veer the car alarmingly. It’s a completely miserable business! If I could, I would just Uber everywhere, all of the time!

‘Focus’ is the key theme in our readings today. How we orientate ourselves, where we look, what we choose to concentrate on, drives all of our actions. The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak was focused on healing. Jairus was focused on getting Jesus to his daughter. Jesus was focused on fulfiling God’s purpose for him. They were all orientated towards doing one thing – just one thing. A singular purpose.

I’ve noticed that while writing this column, I’ve stopped countless of times now to look on Amazon to see what’s new, checked my schedule to see what’s on for tomorrow, ordered dinner online, checked the weather forecast online, scrolled through my Instagram account, scrolled through my Facebook account, browsed my Netflix account – and that’s just been in the last 15 minutes. What have I achieved in these 15 minutes though? Not very much. A lot of restless flitting around, with nothing worthwhile to show for except tired eyes and a tired brain.

A distracted heart is the devil’s way of keeping us from running God’s race for us. Scripture is filled with examples of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things because they set their minds singularly on it and made it their sole purpose. Do one thing, just one thing. What a novel idea in this age of media overload and multi-tasking! And why not? We might be happier and feel more purposeful for it. We might even feel less exhausted all of the time!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the focus to finish what we have been tasked to do without veering off in all directions.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who brings us back when we wander off.

30 January, Monday – Evelyn

30 January 2017

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Hebrews 11:32-40

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – these were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises. They could keep a lion’s mouth shut, put out blazing fires and emerge unscathed from battle. They were weak people who were given strength, to be brave in war and drive back foreign invaders.

Some came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection; and others submitted to torture, refusing release so that they would rise again to a better life. Some had to bear being pilloried and flogged, or even chained up in prison. They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless, and dressed in the skins of sheep and goats; they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.

They were too good for the world and they went out to live in deserts and mountains and in caves and ravines. These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had made provision for us to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.

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Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – For Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.

Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.

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“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you”

My cousin, Evelyn, had serious bouts of epilepsy when she was a child. It was so bad that it hampered her development. So Evelyn, in her old age, still behaves as she did when she was 6. In those days, not a lot was understood about her condition. The family whispered amongst themselves, shaking their heads, wringing their hands. How could this have happened? People searched for ways to explain it. My grandmother blamed it on my aunt. Not everyone was kind.

Despite all this, Evelyn grew to know Christ and embraced Him as her saviour. Evelyn went to church. She understood happiness and sorrow. She had a deep sense of moral justice. And she was filled with joy, always laughing or smiling. She also prayed a lot. She told me once that she asked God something and He responded to her and it made me think, “…God has chosen what the world considers foolish, to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong…” (1 Cor 1:27-28). Evelyn likely had a closer relationship with God than any of us. She may even have tried to communicate that, but we dismissed her because we all thought she was ‘slow’.

I wonder what kind of resistance the man in today’s gospel faced from his family. Would they have dismissed his testimony as the chatter of an unsound mind? Or would their faith have allowed them to see that he had been touched by God? How we view life speaks to what we hold in our hearts. Are we cynical? We will view everything with skepticism. Are we resentful? We will try to compete with everyone. Are we proud? We will look down our noses at everything. Evelyn’s simpler life saved her from the illnesses of the ‘sound mind’ like pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice. Evelyn was wholly open to God because what else was she going to do? Seek affirmation from her mean-girl cousins? Those who love us are the ones most capable of hurting us. Evelyn might have seemed unaware but I think she knew what we were saying all those times we were sharp to her. And she would have been hurting even if she was smiling. In our suffering, we can all think of Christ on the cross – singular in his focus, hopeful in the worst of circumstances, faithful till the end. Perhaps that was the source of Evelyn’s joy – Christ – and he was enough to make her forget how hard life was. I sometimes wonder why she never said anything. But perhaps it is I that never really heard her in the first place.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to discern Christ even in the most unlikely of individuals.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His grace and mercy, that despite our past wrongdoings, He is merciful in His forgiveness.

29 January, Sunday – The Pursuit of Happiness

29 January 2017

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Zephaniah 2:3,3:12-13

Seek the Lord,
all you, the humble of the earth,
who obey his commands.
Seek integrity,
seek humility:
you may perhaps find shelter
on the day of the anger of the Lord.

In your midst I will leave
a humble and lowly people,
and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.
They will do no wrong,
will tell no lies;
and the perjured tongue will no longer
be found in their mouths.
But they will be able to graze and rest
with no one to disturb them.

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1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.

The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.

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Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What is the secret to happiness? That’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Often the pursuit of what we think will bring us fulfilment leaves us feeling spent and hollow. We seek wealth, power, pleasure and the respect of our fellow men, yet when we attain it, our thirst is not quenched. Chase after the wrong things in life and there lies the road to certain ruin.

With the Beautitudes, Jesus offers us a new and radical way to orientate our hearts. He asks us to give it all up! Give up your attachment to material security so that you may be free of its corrupting influence and become a good steward of it. Give up your need for pleasure and gratification because the path to lasting fulfilment lies in acting out your purpose, not your ambitious desires. Give up your pride because humility is the necessary condition for us to become the conduit of His love. Give it ALL up and empty yourself so that you may be filled with Him, and only in Him is there lasting happiness. That’s the radical message of the Beautitudes!

The mysteries of life are sometimes glimpsed through the movements of nature. In this instance, our giving up of our old selves is not unlike the beautiful metamorphosis of the lowly caterpillar. It sheds its awkward, flightless shell – to emerge reborn as this glorious, ethereal being. Perhaps our own metamorphosis will be just as radical, just as beautiful if we only gave Jesus a chance to work that change in us. Perhaps if we gave the Beautitudes a chance, we might experience happiness that endures. We might actually be free.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for Jesus to work that change in our lives, to guide us to be better daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends, to be better children of God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires us and helps us to see.

28 January, Saturday – Keep Calm and Go Forward

28 Jan – Memorial for St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was the son of the Count of Aquino. He was born in the family castle in Lombardy near Naples, Italy. He was educated by Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino, and at the University of Naples. He secretly joined the mendicant Dominican friars in 1244. His family kidnapped and imprisoned him for a year to keep him out of sight and deprogram him, but they failed to sway him, and he rejoined his order in 1245.

He studied in Paris, France, from 1245-1248 under St. Albert the Great, then accompanied Albertus to Cologne, Germany. He was ordained in 1250, then returned to Paris to teach. He taught theology at the University of Paris. He wrote defenses of the mendicant orders, commentaries on Aristotle and Lombard’s Sentences, and some bible-related works, usually by dictating to secretaries. He won his doctorate, and taught at several Italian cities. He was recalled by the king and the University of Paris in 1269, then recalled to Naples in 1272 where he was appointed regent of studies while working on the Summa Theologica.

On 6 December 1273, he experienced a divine revelation which so enraptured him that he abandoned the Summa, saying that it and his other writings were so much straw in the wind compared to the reality of the divine glory. He died four months later while en route to the Council of Lyons, overweight and with his health broken by overwork.

His works have been seminal to the thinking of the Church ever since. They systematized Her great thoughts and teaching, and combined Greek wisdom and scholarship methods with the truth of Christianity. Pope Leo VIII commanded that his teachings be studied by all theology students. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1567.

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Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land, and lived there as if in a strange country, with Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. They lived there in tents while he looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God.

It was equally by faith that Sarah, in spite of being past the age, was made able to conceive, because she believed that he who had made the promise would be faithful to it. Because of this, there came from one man, and one who was already as good as dead himself, more descendants than could be counted, as many as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore.

All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and nomads on earth. People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search of their real homeland. They can hardly have meant the country they came from, since they had the opportunity to go back to it; but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them.

It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He offered to sacrifice his only son even though the promises had been made to him and he had been told: It is through Isaac that your name will be carried on. He was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given back Isaac from the dead.

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Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’

And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’

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longing for a better homeland

Today, we still see news of asylum seekers trying to find a home, away from all their previous settlements due to war or political instability. They always look forward to a place where they can settle in peace and begin some sort of family life where they do not have to worry about just trying to stay alive each day. For them, there is nothing much to look back to, but seeking salvation in a country where they can start anew, with lots of hope ahead for them.

Someone of my background can never understand the hardships that they are going through, the faith that they have in them keeps them going forward. As with today’s reading, the Lord promises and delivers what is deserved over time. The unwavering faith in Abraham sets a good example of obedience and hope for everyone. We can always look around us and be sensitive to the needs of others, together with the works of the Holy Spirit in us; let us show unto others what faithfulness in God is about.

Despite all the hardships and difficulties that we are experiencing, we can rely on trusting God in calming the nerves. I think it is only very natural for us to feel jittery, anxious all the time and being so frightful of uncertainties ahead of us. Perhaps there is something for us to learn from those tough asylum seekers, that they do not look back but embrace what is ahead, where hope is, where home is, where the Lord is.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for those who are seeking home, who are trying to keep their family together due to violence or hatred, that being forgiving and loving is what Christ has promised us.

Thanksgiving: We truly give many thanks for peaceful surroundings, that we feel protected and encouraged to pass that peace onto others.

27 January, Friday – Telling Life Stories

27 Jan – Memorial for St. Angela Merici, virgin

St. Angela Merici (1474-1540) became a Franciscan tertiary at the age of 15. She received a vision telling her that she would inspire devout women in their vocation.

In Crete, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she was struck blind. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going on, visiting the shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way home, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost.

In 1535, she gathered a group of girl students and began what would become the “Institute of St. Ursula” (the Ursuline Sisters), founded to teach children, beginning with religion and later expanding into secular topics; her first schools were in Desenazno and Brescia.

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Hebrews 10:32-39

Remember all the sufferings that you had to meet after you received the light, in earlier days; sometimes by being yourselves publicly exposed to insults and violence, and sometimes as associates of others who were treated in the same way. For you not only shared in the sufferings of those who were in prison, but you happily accepted being stripped of your belongings, knowing that you owned something that was better and lasting. Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Only a little while now, a very little while,
and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.
The righteous man will live by faith,
but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.

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Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’

Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.

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Not the sort of people who draw back

I am quite sure many of us have heard the phrase ‘It is better to have tried and failed, than to never have tried at all’. I do not think that any of us would like to fail in any projects or any sort of work that we do. Successful people always share about their failures and wrong decisions, and then where they get to now is all due to the persistence in moving forward at what they do. Isn’t that all too familiar with today’s reading? We are reminded that the reward at the end of it all with God is great and we need endurance in doing God’s work here on earth.

With such a diversified environment, there are many challenges in keeping our faith strong and focused. Even when we are feeling dejected, alone and like a big failure, we do not draw back to hide in the hole. The only worse situation is to never grow from it, to never learn from it, and to let it remain unconquered. The pain and suffering Jesus endured for us, eventually dying on the cross, is pure strength in faith and loyalty to God the Father, to finish the will of the Father whatever and however He is to receive it.

We are to learn to express ourselves to others about our faith and strong belief in the best possible manner. Sometimes the way we understand the faith is not the way others see it. It takes time, focus and patience to bring a message to someone who does not believe in Christ. It is not just music, it is not just talks, it is not only about the Bible and so on. It takes the daily chores of the other person into consideration and to help them live the Bible. Jesus spoke to his disciples in parables because that is how they would be able to relate their lives with the works of our Lord. To convince someone a change of heart for the Lord is no easy task, it also requires a continuing prayer life, sensitive emotions, persistence and acceptance of failure.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Only with your guidance O Lord, bless us with a strong mental and physical health, so that we continue to share Jesus with the world, living the Bible.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for getting me through each day, rejoicing when it is good, and gracing me with persistence and hope when it is bad.

26 January, Thursday – More than Just You and Me

26 Jan – Memorial for Sts. Timothy and Titus, bishops

Timothy (d. 97) was the son of a Greek gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. He was converted to Christianity by St. Paul around the year 47. He was a partner, assistant and close friend of Paul. He was a missionary as well, and became head of the Church in Ephesus. He was the recipient of two canonical letters from St. Paul, and was stoned to death for opposing the worship of Dionysius.

Titus (d. 96) was also a disciple of St. Paul and was the recipient of a canonical letter from him. He was the first bishop of the Church in Crete.

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2 Timothy 1:1-8

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus in his design to promise life in Christ Jesus; to Timothy, dear child of mine, wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

Night and day I thank God, keeping my conscience clear and remembering my duty to him as my ancestors did, and always I remember you in my prayers; I remember your tears and long to see you again to complete my happiness. Then I am reminded of the sincere faith which you have; it came first to live in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I have no doubt that it is the same faith in you as well.

That is why I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy.

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Mark 4:21-25

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’
He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing.

The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

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…fan into a flame the gift

Of those who do not understand Christians, some have the misconception that being a good follower of Christ is having that individual relationship with God. It is just yourself and Him. That it is just all about getting into that little comfortable quiet corner of reflection and leading a pious life, showing Him every day what you have done to make Him happy. That you have carried out actions that perhaps you feel would please God and thus He gives credit when it is due.

In actual fact, it is building that relationship with our neighbours that qualifies us in spreading the love of our Lord Jesus. We are all inter-connected through prayers. The faith of someone who prays for us and influences us in our spiritual guidance and journey gives us the immense grace which we are so privileged to receive. Likewise, we pray for others who are suffering and for those who are in need, it could be for the health of a loved one, or the comfort to those who are emotionally hurt for various reasons. To be called a follower of Christ, we are responsible for being that testament of how God has touched our life, and to build on our own little faith which He has ‘implanted’ in us. We, like Timothy, and Paul have been called to be holy in our actions and in the way we treat others.

It takes a lot of prayer and hard work, including the deep faith of our fellow Christians and the grace of our Lord to fill our lives. For we are the blessed ones who have, and will be given more.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for the many faithful who are around us. Watch over them and may you shower them with the blessings of peace in their hearts, especially in times of heartache.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for the faith which you have planted in us. That it will grow and spread the Good News.

25 January, Wednesday – Hello?

25 Jan – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

St. Paul (3-65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus to arrest another group of them, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptised, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling and preaching. He died a martyr for his faith.

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Acts 22:3-16

Paul said to the people, ‘I am a Jew and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up here in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was taught the exact observance of the Law of our ancestors. In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you are today. I even persecuted this Way to the death, and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify, since they even sent me with letters to their brothers in Damascus. When I set off it was with the intention of bringing prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.

‘I was on that journey and nearly at Damascus when about midday a bright light from heaven suddenly shone round me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I answered: Who are you, Lord? and he said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, and you are persecuting me.” The people with me saw the light but did not hear his voice as he spoke to me. I said: What am I to do, Lord? The Lord answered, “Stand up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told what you have been appointed to do.” The light had been so dazzling that I was blind and my companions had to take me by the hand; and so I came to Damascus.

‘Someone called Ananias, a devout follower of the Law and highly thought of by all the Jews living there, came to see me; he stood beside me and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” Instantly my sight came back and I was able to see him. Then he said, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One and hear his own voice speaking, because you are to be his witness before all mankind, testifying to what you have seen and heard. And now why delay? It is time you were baptised and had your sins washed away while invoking his name.”’

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Mark 16:15-18

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’

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“I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”

The circumstances around Paul’s conversion are anything but usual, but this story gives us confidence in God’s divine plans for all of us. Paul was a zealous Pharisee who intensely persecuted Christians prior to his conversion. In his account of his conversion, a white light from heaven flashed around him, and he heard the voice of God instructing him to be God’s witness to all people. Paul then went on to be a powerful missionary of Christ, spreading the Gospel both near and far.

It struck me as beautiful that God would choose to call someone such as Paul to become one of the Church’s saints. I’ve encountered people in my life whom I felt would never change their ways, yet Paul’s story reminds me that our God can work to soften the hardest hearts and to instill in anyone the fervor to do His will. Usually, it is the most broken, and long-suffering people who become the greatest advocates of transformed ways of existence. Think of ex-smokers who suffered health scares, the Yellow Ribbon Project, and people with failed relationships. Their past experiences, as awful as they may have been, give them a reference against which to compare their new lives in Christ. While those testimonies are beautiful, I wonder if our transformations always have to be this way? Just as a journey of a thousand miles has to begin with one step, oftentimes, God does not call us to do immense things at every turn. Rather, our ‘conversion’ can be an evolving process of doing things slightly differently, and incrementally better every day, with our eyes firmly set on God’s guiding light and heightening our awareness to God’s call.

Paul was lucky. God’s call to him was not easy to ignore and I struggle to think of anyone who could avoid listening to such a call to action. Yet, I wonder how many of us are missing the more subtle ways God tries to nudge us into action in our lives. Be it through Whatsapp messages from caring friends, the nagging of our families, the strangers that come into our lives, or the situations we face that require our intervention, God may be reaching out to us, but we are often too numb (or prone to denial) to notice. I have tried very hard in recent times to be more sensitive to the stirrings of God in my life and have found the Ignatian idea of ‘finding God in all things’ very helpful. It is only after truly acknowledging that God’s hand touches everything, everybody, and every circumstance around us that I began to see my world through His lens and realize that He is with us always as we soldier on for Him.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are you persecuting Jesus in your daily lives, and in spite of that, how is God touching your heart?

Prayer: Dearest Lord, soften our hearts and open our minds to hear your calls to us over the rowdiness in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father for the chances you give us in our lives for new beginnings. We are so very grateful for your tireless persistence in drawing us ever closer to you.

24 January, Tuesday – Sitting with foes

24 Jan – Memorial for St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born in a castle to a well-placed family. His parents intended him to become a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche, Annecy, Clermont College in Paris, and law at the University of Padua. He became a Doctor of Law, returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.

It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me”. He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.

He became a priest, and a provost in the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Calvinists. He was a preacher, writer and spiritual director in the district of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church.

He was ordained Bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. He travelled and evangelized throughout the Duchy of Savoy, working with children whenever he could. He was a friend of St. Vincent de Paul. He turned down a wealthy French bishopric. He helped found the Order of the Visitation with St. Jeanne de Chantal. He was a prolific correspondent. He was declared a Doctor of the Church.

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Hebrews 10:1-10

Since the Law has no more than a reflection of these realities, and no finished picture of them, it is quite incapable of bringing the worshippers to perfection, with the same sacrifices repeatedly offered year after year. Otherwise, the offering of them would have stopped, because the worshippers, when they had been purified once, would have no awareness of sins. Instead of that, the sins are recalled year after year in the sacrifices. Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what he said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

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Mark 3:31-35

The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’

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Sitting in a circle about him

When you are in the hospitality industry, particularly one who works in the kitchen, you often get requests from people around you to hold a party at home. It is always a pleasure to host a party with the guests sitting around as you enjoy the company of people that come to share a meal. The challenge, somehow, is to invite people whom you are close with, or even knowing some of the friends whom have been known to be quiet and alone most times.

In today’s Gospel, if we are to take the bible story literally, Jesus seems to be a rather rude person, ignoring the arrival of his own birth mother, Mary and his brothers. Of course, this is not the sentiment. He is in the presence of those around Him. Jesus has made himself available to everyone, to every individual who is invited and willing to eat at the same table as Him. Surely, Mother Mary will not be disappointed about this because she understands Jesus’ ministry here on Earth. Jesus is all about being inclusive, not exclusive, when it comes to being with God. God does not discriminate and definitely does not alienate.

This brings us to challenge the way we show our presence for those who actually are in need of Christ’s presence. Yes, so often we talk and laugh with our fellow buddies and close friends, but have we talked about inviting the socially awkward whom we laugh about? Sometimes, even if I would like to, the other friends of mine will shun the idea of having the other person over.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to make those around us more inclusive and reach out to people who have depression.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for family, for friends, for all the wonderful relationships around me.

23 January, Monday – Second Salvation

23 January 2017

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Hebrews 9:15,24-28

Christ brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant. It is not as though Christ had entered a man-made sanctuary which was only modelled on the real one; but it was heaven itself, so that he could appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf.

And he does not have to offer himself again and again, like the high priest going into the sanctuary year after year with the blood that is not his own, or else he would have had to suffer over and over again since the world began.

Instead of that, he has made his appearance once and for all, now at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself. Since men only die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, too, offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself, and when he appears a second time, it will not be to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him.

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Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘Beelzebul is in him’ and, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.’ So he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last.

And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand. Now if Satan has rebelled against himself and is divided, he cannot stand either – it is the end of him. But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house.

‘I tell you solemnly, all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies; but let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ This was because they were saying, ‘An unclean spirit is in him.’

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Death took place to cancel the sins

I have been in a long-distance relationship for the past three years and it is going strong. There have been countless ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ at the airports. We come and then we go, spending a period of time together and then we look forward to the next trip. With our Lord God, time seems to be of an infinite nature. He does not count the years or by when that He has to achieve a milestone, or perform a miracle or sending a saviour to us. In His time, God sent Jesus to suffer and die for our sins. Jesus, of flesh and blood, living among us to be crucified and to have the sins from generations past forgiven through His passion on the cross.

With such an act of love, how do we as children of God respond and give ourselves back to God in love as well? Today’s reading and Gospel tells us of how God removes the evil in our lives. We are reminded of his power to expel evil and also the sins that we commit in our daily lives. Surely we do not take all these for granted. We respond by showing acts of love to those around us; the persistence of maintaining unconditional love to others, beginning from home, to family members and to those who are in need.

Jesus came and died for our sins, the Holy Spirit came down upon us to grace us with the gifts to do good. Are we prepared to meet and welcome God in the second coming? It was only about two thousand years ago that Jesus lived among us. Week after week, we are given all the opportunities to do God’s work. Let us not get caught up with the materialism of this world, but to be aware of the good that we have to do, so that we are to be rewarded by our Father in heaven, to save us from all temptations, to be ready and welcome His second coming.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Oh Lord Jesus, please continue to guide us in doing good. We can be filled with hatred and disappointments day after day; be with us so that we know that Your greater love can make us conquer the little things, for the greater good in life.

Thanksgiving: I am grateful for your son Jesus Christ, let us sing a new song to the Lord for he has worked wonders.