Monthly Archives: April 2017

1 May, Monday – Beautiful are those who follow His law

May 1 – Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Joseph (d. 1st century) was a descendant of the House of David. He was a layman, a builder by trade; traditionally a carpenter, but may have been a stone worker. He was the earthly spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the foster and adoptive father of Jesus Christ. He was a visionary who was visited by angels. He was noted for his willingness to immediately get up and do what God had told him to do. He died of natural causes, prior to the Passion of Christ.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 6:8-15

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.

So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’

The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.

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John 6:22-29

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’

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“Rabbi! When did you get here?

Today’s reading illustrates the splendour of a man filled with the Holy Spirit. I am always in awe when I read about these fervent saints; and that includes St Stephen. And after praying various novenas seeking their intercession, I sometimes feel a little inclined to want to be like these saints. Though very quickly, I feel like running in the other direction to avoid ‘having to live the life of a saint.’ This is, in some sense, like the apostles who seek Jesus but only for their own gain. Why do we seek Jesus today?

Can we seek Him so that we become like Him? Are we ready to be like Him only during the resurrection? Have we forgotten that there is no resurrection without the crucifixion?

The Lord knows that we pick and choose, that sometimes we are half-hearted. Are we ready to turn our hearts to Him, just as it is right now? There are things that He is ready to do for us that only He can do.

How beautiful are the ones who obey his laws and yearn for His will. Brothers and sisters, let us be such as these today.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, heal my heart and ways that are self-seeking. Bless me with the grace to receive your body and blood every Sunday. Ignite me with your love and teach me your ways.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I believe in the one who was sent for me.

30 April, Sunday – Did I not recognise you?

30 Apr – Memorial for St. Pius V, pope

Antonio Ghislieri (1504-1572) was born to impoverished Italian nobility, the son of Paolo Ghislieri and Domenica Augeria. He worked as a shepherd as a boy, and received an excellent education in piety and holiness, including a scholastic education from a Dominican friar. He joined the Order in 1518, taking the name Michele. He studied in Bologna, Italy, and was ordained in 1528 in Genoa.

He was appointed teacher of philosophy and divinity in Genoa, and was a professor of theology in Pavia for 16 years. He was the Master of novices and prior of several Dominican houses, and he worked for stricter adherence to the Order’s rule.

He was an inquisitor in Como and Bergamo, and the commissary general of the Roman Inquisition in 1551. On Sep 4, 1556, he was ordained Bishop of Nepi and Sutri against his will. He was Inquisitor in Milan and Lombary in the same year, and created cardinal on Mar 15 the following year, made Grand Inquisitor on Dec 14, 1558, and was part of the conclave of 1559. He was appointed Bishop of Mondovi, Italy on Mar 17, 1560. As bishop, he worked to lead his flock with words and examples, and served as a continual messenger encouraging personal piety and devotion to God.

He became the 225th pope in 1566, and immediately faced the task of enacting the reforms of the Council of Trent. New seminaries were opened, a new breviary, new missal, and new catechism were published. Foundations were established to spread the faith and preserve the doctrine of the Church. He spent much time personally working with the needy. He built hospitals and used the papal treasury to care for the poor. He faced many difficulties in the public forum, both in the implementation of the Tridentine reforms and interaction with other heads of state. He created 21 cardinals. At the time of his death he was working on a Christian European alliance to break the power of the Islamic states.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 2:14,22-33

On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice: ‘Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you all know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified by men outside the Law. You killed him, but God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades; for it was impossible for him to be held in its power since, as David says of him:

I saw the Lord before me always,
for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me.
So my heart was glad
and my tongue cried out with joy;
my body, too, will rest in the hope
that you will not abandon my soul to Hades
nor allow your holy one to experience corruption.
You have made known the way of life to me,
you will fill me with gladness through your presence.

‘Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, what he foresaw and spoke about was the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not experience corruption. God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that. Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.’

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1 Peter 1:17-21

If you are acknowledging as your Father one who has no favourites and judges everyone according to what he has done, you must be scrupulously careful as long as you are living away from your home. Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ; who, though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God.

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Luke 24:13-35

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.

Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

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Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In the past few days, I wondered what was making my heart burn. I was fully aware of how I let myself and my self-worth stand on the words and deeds of others. It made me realise that when I allow myself to be consumed by the works and words of mere men, I am setting myself up for disappointment and, more importantly, creating room for drifting from my Lord. I have no doubt that I was made for Him and that without Him I am not just nothing, I am definitely not me. Do you, like me, give room for the words of others to take hold in your life? Are you holding on to words of hurt, sin and anger? Isn’t this the time to ask the Lord to take His rightful place, right at the centre of our lives and our hearts?

I was recently reading an article written by a man who faces same sex attraction. In his sharing, he said that his ways were bad and God knew it; but He kept praying even though he continued to be attracted to men. He shares that it’s because God knew his heart and knew that he wanted to be attracted to women so that he could be immoral like most men he knew. He realised that God was interested in his heart and wanted to make it right first and foremost – to want God above everything. We could have been there, praying for something and waiting in vain with our unanswered prayers. It can be hard, it can hurt and be painful. What are we called to do here? We are asked to look to Him, to help us carry this cross with faith. And despite a horrendous burden on our backs, to help our sisters and brother carry their cross – this is the call of Christianity.

We need to constantly let our hearts burn with the Scriptures, sacraments and devotions. Give Him your whole heart, let Him mould it, heal it, guard it and fill it in the way we need it to be filled. Only He can and knows how to do it. Trust in Him to inflame your heart and recognise His gentle presence.

I will be praying for you at mass today, that He inflames your heart for the rest of your days.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, show us your path, let us hear your voice. We are desperate for you.

Thanksgiving: My lips and my hearts will sing of your praises.

29 April, Saturday – Jesus in our Storms

29 Apr – Memorial for St. Catherine of Siena, virgin & doctor

Catherine (1347-1380) was the youngest child in a large family. At the age of six, she had a vision in which Jesus appeared and blessed her. Her parents wanted her to marry, but she became a Dominican tertiary. She was a mystic and stigmatist. She received a vision in which she was in mystical marriage with Christ, and the Infant Christ presented her with a wedding ring. She was counsellor to Pope Gregory XI and Pope Urban VI. She was proclaimed Doctor of the Church on 4 October 1970.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 6:1-7

About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked.

So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’

The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.

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John 6:16-21

In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.

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It is I. Do not be afraid.

The gospel account of Jesus walking on water is perhaps one of the most famous of Jesus’ deeds in the bible. It is highly symbolic in the sense of Jesus coming to us in the midst of the most terrifying and traumatising storms in our lives. By the miraculous act of walking on water, He shows us that He is master over nature, and that He can control what we cannot control. He is the calm amidst the storm, but what were the disciples’ reactions when they saw him? They panicked, thinking that only a spirit is capable of something like that. In that same way, it is not easy to recognise Jesus when our minds are wrapped up in fear and worry. It is also not easy to believe that He can lead our boat to shore in such dire circumstances.

Sometime last year, I faced a great mental struggle as I was making the big decision to resign from my job of ten years. The main reasons for my struggle were the uncertainty of not having a salary and the lack of support from my mother, who wanted to, but failed to understand why I would want to leave a perfectly decent-paying job to further my studies. It was really challenging to see the silver lining amidst the doom and gloom picture that my mother kept painting for me. Spiritually, I lapsed into long periods of what I recognised as desolation, defined by Saint Ignatius of Loyola as “experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil”, “assaulted by all sorts of doubts, bombarded by temptations, and mired in self-preoccupations.”

I cannot say that I experienced any spiritual epiphany that helped me through the storm and the desolation. What helped me was that I clung on to the advice given by Saint Ignatius, that in times of desolation, one must maintain spiritual practices even if one does not feel like it. Routines like mass attendance and daily prayer should be adhered to and even increased in intensity. Saint Ignatius also taught that the most important key to surviving periods of desolation is to focus on the fact that God’s grace is enough for us to withstand the onslaught of our enemies. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:9.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we may have the discipline to stay in contact with the Lord through mass and prayer, especially in times of suffering and trial.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the comforting hand of the Lord to lift us up when we feel we are falling.

28 April, Friday – Leaving behind a legacy

28 Apr – Memorial for St. Peter Chanel, priest & martyr; Memorial for St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, priest

Peter Chanel (1803-1841) was born to a peasant family and was a shepherd as a boy. He was an excellent student and was ordained at 24. He was assigned to Crozet, a parish in decline; he turned it around, in part because of his ministry to the sick, and brought a spiritual revival. He joined the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers) in 1831, and taught in the Belley seminary for five years.

In 1836, he led a band of missionaries to the New Hebrides, an area where cannibalism had only recently been outlawed. He converted many, often as a result of his work with the sick. He learned the local language and taught in the local school. He was killed by order of Niuliki, a native king who was jealous of Peter’s influence. He was the first martyr in Oceania.

“He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.”

  • one of St. Peter’s catechumens, explaining why he believed Peter’s teachings.

Louis-Marie (1673-1716) was born poor. He studied in Paris, France, and was ordained in 1700. While a seminarian, he delighted in researching the writings of Church Fathers, Doctors and Saints as they related to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom he was singularly devoted.

Under Mary’s inspiration, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Wisdom, a religious institute of women devoted to the care of the destitute. During this work, he began his apostolate of preaching the Rosary and authentic Marian devotion. He preached so forcefully and effectively against the errors of Jansenism that he was expelled from several dioceses in France.

In Rome, Pope Clement XI conferred on him the title and authority of ‘Missionary Apostolic’, which enabled him to continue his apostolate after returning to France. He preached Mary everywhere and to everyone.

He was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, and was one of the greatest apostles of the Rosary in his day and, by means of his miraculously inspiring book, The Secret of the Rosary, he is still so today. The most common manner of reciting the Rosary is the method that originated with St. Louis’ preaching. In 1715, he founded a missionary band known as the Company of Mary.

His greatest contribution to the Church and world is Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin. He propagated this in his day by preaching and, after his own death, by his other famous book ‘True Devotion to Mary’. Consecration to Mary is, for St. Louis, the perfect manner of renewing one’s baptismal promises. His spirituality has been espoused by millions, especially Pope John Paul II, who has consecrated not only himself but every place he has visited as pope.

In True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis prophesied that the army of souls consecrated to Mary will be her instrument in defeating the Devil and his Antichrist. As Satan gains power in the world, so much more shall the new Eve triumph over him and crush his head.

The cause for his declaration as a Doctor of the Church is now being pursued.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 5:34-42

One member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a doctor of the Law and respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the apostles taken outside for a time. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin, ‘Men of Israel, be careful how you deal with these people. There was Theudas who became notorious not so long ago. He claimed to be someone important, and he even collected about four hundred followers; but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them. And then there was Judas the Galilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters; but he got killed too, and all his followers dispersed.

What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go. If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.’

His advice was accepted; and they had the apostles called in, gave orders for them to be flogged, warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. And so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.

They preached every day both in the Temple and in private houses, and their proclamation of the Good News of Christ Jesus was never interrupted.

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John 6:1-15

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.

When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

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If it does in fact come from God

There are scores of famous people whose names have lived on through the ages. Not all are famous for the right reasons unfortunately, but those who made a hugely positive impact would tend to have buildings and roads named after them, and even holidays instituted to commemorate their work. What was it about them that enabled them to leave behind such a legacy? I would say that their actions and words appealed to what is true and good in our human nature, making us want to emulate and learn from them.

In the first reading, Gamaliel gives the Sanhedrin very wise counsel about the attitude that one should have towards the new “Jesus movement”. If the movement did not originate from God, it would die a natural death. If it did, however, there would be no stopping it. The followers of Christ have brought the faith to all corners of the world, witnessing to the faith and suffering great persecution in the process. Even if some parts of the world have experienced a steep decline in the practice of Catholicism, other parts are adding numbers to the faith everyday. Gamaliel’s wisdom still rings true for the world today. For those of us who might be overwhelmed or deeply perturbed by the state of the world in the present age, I think Gamaliel’s words bring a message of hope. The truly bad stuff will not last, as God will ultimately prevail.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern and support movements that originate from God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the moral and spiritual leaders in our Church who continue to inspire and teach Christ’s followers.

27 April, Thursday – Obedience to God or man

27 April 2017

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Acts 5:27-33

When the officials had brought the apostles in to face the Sanhedrin, the high priest demanded an explanation. ‘We gave you a formal warning’ he said ‘not to preach in this name, and what have you done? You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and seem determined to fix the guilt of this man’s death on us.’

In reply Peter and the apostles said, ‘Obedience to God comes before obedience to men; it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, but it was you who had him executed by hanging on a tree. By his own right hand God has now raised him up to be leader and saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through him to Israel. We are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’

This so infuriated them that they wanted to put them to death.

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John 3:31-36

John the Baptist said to his disciples:

‘He who comes from above is above all others;
he who is born of the earth is earthly himself
and speaks in an earthly way.
He who comes from heaven
bears witness to the things he has seen and heard,
even if his testimony is not accepted;
though all who do accept his testimony
are attesting the truthfulness of God,
since he whom God has sent
speaks God’s own words:
God gives him the Spirit without reserve.
The Father loves the Son
and has entrusted everything to him.
Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life,
but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life:
the anger of God stays on him.’

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Obedience to God comes before obedience to men

You may have heard of this rather famous social psychology experiment called the Milgram experiment. In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments on Americans to test if German Nazi soldiers were merely following orders in their massacre and abuse of their prisoners. He had volunteers (the test subjects) administer ‘electric shocks’ of increasing voltage to another person (the ‘learner’) in another room but visible to the volunteers, whenever the learner got questions wrong. The electric shocks were not real, although the learner pretended to receive it. At some point, the participants got uncomfortable, but 65% of them went on to administer the final shock of 450 volts, with prompting from the experimenter.

Although the experiment has had its fair share of criticism for its methodology, I am quite disturbed by its results and when I imagine myself in such a situation. Would my subjection to authority override my moral values? I cannot say that it will definitely not happen.

Thanks to the deviousness of our human nature and influence from previous experiences, we will likely need to struggle to make a variety of moral decisions on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is not just a matter of struggling against our own will, but also against that of others. The latter can prove to be a lot more challenging than the former. What if your parents, or your superior at work, or even the law, requires you to do something that is morally wrong, by which I mean against the teachings of the Church?

I would assume that most of us were brought up in cultures where it is the norm to respect and obey authority; and, similar to the conclusions drawn by the Milgram researchers, we would tend to conform to that norm. That is of course a good and necessary thing for a functioning, structured society, but there is such a sin called the sin in excess against servility – meaning adherence to a directive that is contrary to a higher law. For example, civil law permits abortion, but that is against the law of our church.

Thomas Aquinas declared in his Summa Theologica that God is to be obeyed in all things, while human authorities are to be obeyed in certain things. It takes a lot of guts and a firm conviction in one’s faith to disobey authority who is commanding something contrary to God’s law. Most of us will not come naturally equipped with the resources to do this, and it is really only through God’s grace that we can rise up above ourselves.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the Spirit will give us the courage to stand up to injustice and abuse of authority.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the role models around us who have dared to give witness to the faith.

26 April, Wendesday – Joy of Easter

26 April 2017

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Acts 5:17-26

The high priest intervened with all his supporters from the party of the Sadducees. Prompted by jealousy, they arrested the apostles and had them put in the common gaol.

But at night the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and said as he led them out, ‘Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new Life.’ They did as they were told; they went into the Temple at dawn and began to preach.

When the high priest arrived, he and his supporters convened the Sanhedrin – this was the full Senate of Israel – and sent to the gaol for them to be brought. But when the officials arrived at the prison they found they were not inside, so they went back and reported, ‘We found the gaol securely locked and the warders on duty at the gates, but when we unlocked the door we found no one inside.’ When the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard this news they wondered what this could mean. Then a man arrived with fresh news. ‘At this very moment’ he said, ‘the men you imprisoned are in the Temple. They are standing there preaching to the people.’ The captain went with his men and fetched them. They were afraid to use force in case the people stoned them.

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John 3:16-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.

On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

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God loved the world so much

“Happy Easter!” I believe that many people greet, or expect to greet Easter with some degree of happiness. With that expectation comes disappointment when the happy feeling fails to arrive. Bells are ringing during Easter day mass, the priest is telling the congregation to wish each other “Happy Easter”, but maybe in your heart you are thinking – Okay, Jesus has risen, I know that. But I am not feeling very happy, though I think I ought to be.

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” Today’s gospel reading begins with the lines that form the core of the entire gospel. Our creator, our God, has showed us that our lives are worth living, and that there is something to look forward to at the end.

As eloquently expressed by Pope Benedict XVI, “He who follows the will of God knows that in the middle of all the horrors he may encounter, he will not lose the ultimate protection. He knows that the foundation of the world is love and that therefore even where no man can, or will help him, he can go forward trusting in Him, who loves him.” This is what we should be happy about – a deep assurance and faith in His love.

In the film Castaway, the island castaway Chuck Noland describes to a friend what he felt after his failed suicide attempt on the island where he spent four long years in solitude. He is reflecting on that after realising that he cannot be together with the love of his life after his rescue and return to his home.

I had power over *nothing*. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

To me, Chuck’s blanket of warmth represents the substance of faith. In the face of deep loss, sadness and despair, can we still ask, “Who knows what the tide could bring?”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that our faith will be a disciplined one.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the silver linings and unexpected good things that God has sent our way.

25 April, Tuesday – Proclaiming the Gospel

25 Apr – Feast of St. Mark, evangelist

St. Mark is believed to be the young man who ran away when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52), and the “John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25). He was a disciple of St. Peter who travelled with him to Rome, and was referred to as “my son Mark” by the first Pope. He was the author of the earliest canonical Gospel. He travelled with his cousin St. Barnabas, and with St. Paul through Cyprus. He evangelized in Alexandria, established the Church there, and founded the first famous Christian school.

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven and said to them:
‘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.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Building on the previous readings, we see in the Gospel today how Jesus asks us to go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel. The truth really is not so much that Jesus asks us to do so, but if we have truly encountered the Risen Lord in our lives, we will want to share Him with all.  When we know who Jesus is, when we know who we are and who we are called to be, there really is nothing to fear when we are speaking the truth, living in the truth, living in light.

Many times, we rely on our own strength and we fear that we are not good enough, that we are not ready, and question who are we to comment/advise or to share our experiences and our lives. Of course, humanly it is very daunting but, when we trust and allow the Holy Spirit to take over, not only do we encounter Christ in His working within us, we allow others to encounter Christ too.

Evangelisation isn’t solely spreading Jesus by word of mouth. It is really allowing Him to live in us, and by our example, enable others to see Christ. So we practice what we preach but very importantly, with humility, recognising and giving thanks for all the blessings that Christ has bestowed on us — the people He has sent in our lives, the opportunities given to us, the graces we’ve received. In other words, to give Him the glory not just with our mouths but also with our lives.

Together with the spirit, nothing is too difficult to overcome. Let us embrace this spirit, our faith, our baptism, to go forth and share our Risen Lord with all.

“You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all graces who called you to eternal glory in Christ will restore you, he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to be faithful to you. Help us to embrace our identity, for you created us in your image, with love. Help us share you by our lives with all.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your love and your Word. Continue to show yourself to those who do not know you.

24 April, Monday – Birth from above

24 Apr – Memorial for St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, priest & martyr

St. Fidelis Sigmaringen (1577-1622) was a lawyer and teacher of philosophy. Disgusted by the greed, corruption, and lack of interest in justice by his fellow lawyers, Mark Rey abandoned the law, became a priest and a Franciscan friar with his brother George. He changed his name to Fidelis and gave away his worldly wealth to poor people in general, and poor seminarians in particular. He served his friary as guardian and worked in epidemics, especially healing soldiers. He led a group of Capuchins to preach to Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. The success of this work, and lack of violence suffered by mission was attributed to Fidelis spending his nights in prayer. He was, however, eventually martyred for his preaching.

“Woe to me if I should prove myself but a halfhearted soldier in the service of my thorn-crowned Captain.” ~ St Fidelis

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Acts 4:23-31

As soon as Peter and John were released they went to the community and told them everything the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they lifted up their voice to God all together. ‘Master,’ they prayed ‘it is you who made heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them; you it is who said through the Holy Spirit and speaking through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why this arrogance among the nations,
these futile plots among the peoples?
Kings on earth setting out to war,
princes making an alliance,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.

‘This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate made an alliance with the pagan nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, but only to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen. And now, Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

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John 3:1-8

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

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“In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above”

“In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit…” The Gospel today reminds us of our identity. Who are we? After our Baptism, after our Confirmation, after our Marriage, who are we? Who am I?

As we are into the second week of Easter, we proclaim our Risen Lord, we profess our faith, we receive Christ week after week in the Eucharist. What is it we are doing? As Catholics, even for myself, I get trapped and worried about all the rules, commandments and practices that I find myself trapped in a meaningless routine and Christ seems more distant than ever. Catholicism is often also associated with the carrying of our crosses, pains, sufferings. Am I called to suffer just as Jesus did? Am I called to live in the conditions that Jesus lived in?

Our faith, today, challenges us in so many different but very difficult ways. Ways that draw us away from our true identity. We listen to the voice of the world and not that of God. We are told who we are by the world and, for some reason, we believe it more. We find ourselves like Peter and Pilate, during the Passion of Jesus Christ, not standing up to who they are and what they believed in; they simply wanted to blend in with the crowd that followed blindly.

The Gospel today mentions that we can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit. We need to allow the Spirit to live in us, to acknowledge Christ as our Lord, our Father and we, as His children. It’s not about knowing our future, but trusting in the Lord’s providence, that as long as we live our lives for Him, He will not be outdone in generosity. Let us welcome the Spirit into our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for strength that many times, we fail to stand up for our faith. We let the world dictate who we are, we let the lies control our lives. Lord, help us listen to you, your Word. Help us allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. Lead us Lord to your kingdom.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your Spirit, for the many gifts and blessings you have showered upon us.

23 April, Sunday – The Divine Mercy

23 Apr – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Congregation for Divine Worship decreed in 2003 that “throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difference and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come”.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy was promoted by St. Faustina Kowalski, canonized on 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

Memorial for St. George, martyr; Memorial for St. Adalbert, bishop & martyr

St. George (d. 304) was a soldier who was martyred for his faith. That’s all we know for sure.

Several stories have been attached to St. George, the best known of which is the ‘Golden Legend’. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this fierce creature, and had gone down in painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day; when mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in local villages, and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came St. George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon and converted the locals. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away.

Due to his chivalrous behaviour (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to St. George became popular in Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century, his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated ‘Knights of the Garter’ are actually ‘Knights of the Order of St. George’. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine, was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries.

He is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

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Adalbert (957–997) was born to the Bohemian nobility. He took the name of St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, the archbishop who healed, educated and converted him. He became Bishop of Prague (in the modern Czech Republic) on Feb 10, 982. He was a friend of Emperor Otto III.

Adalbert encouraged the evangelization of the Magyars, and worked on it with St. Astricus. He was opposed by the nobility in Prague and unpopular in the area, so he withdrew to Rome, Italy and became a Benedictine monk, making his vows on Apr 17, 990. But Pope John XV sent him back to Prague anyway.

He founded the monastery of Brevnov, met more opposition from the nobility and returned to Rome. There being no hope of his working in Prague, he was allowed to (unsuccessfully) evangelise in Pomerania, Poland, Prussia, Hungary and Russia. He and his fellow missionaries were martyred by Prussians near Koenigsberg or Danzig at the instigation of a pagan priest. Not long before his death, Adalbert met, and was a great inspiration to, St. Boniface of Querfurt.

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Acts 2:42-47

The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.

The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.

They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.

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1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time.

This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

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John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

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“…when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.”

In the first reading, we read about the early Christians, how they were on fire, their hearts filled with love, giving, caring, celebrating the Risen Lord. And like many of us today, we are in the season of celebration, we have the victory that Christ has won for us, the eternal life, our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins. But it is also very important that we do not take our faith for granted.

Many times, we are trapped in seeking the reward that we fail to seek the giver. Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Often, we seek the forgiveness, we seek heaven and eternal paradise but how often have we forgotten about Jesus, about God our Father? Even for myself, many times I’ve missed the point. It’s not about the sufferings, not about our sins nor the cross we have to carry. It is about Jesus, not just about His death but about His life. I believe that His resurrection isn’t complete till we have resurrected with Him, in Him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us not just pray for mercy given unto us but that we may be like Christ — givers of mercy. For it is more than if we are saved but to want to save others also. To bring love to the people we meet. For Jesus, too, came to save and not to be saved, He came to love and not to be loved.

So once again, let us not focus on the reward, for we may find an empty tomb in front of us. But if we truly know who Jesus is, we know that He already has a place for us in heaven, in His heart. Let us not live for the reward but for the people in our lives, especially our loved ones; to be merciful and loving towards them. Christ has died for us, let us now live for Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we will not focus on the reward alone but on you. For you are the example, the Divine Mercy. Help us to be more like you, in the way where we can bring you to many others in our lives. For many to encounter you through us. Make our hearts like yours.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your life. Thank you Lord, for taking on that journey in which you have given us hope, love and your life.

22 April, Saturday – Witnessing

22 April 2017

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Acts 4:13-21

The rulers, elders and scribes were astonished at the assurance shown by Peter and John, considering they were uneducated laymen; and they recognised them as associates of Jesus; but when they saw the man who had been cured standing by their side, they could find no answer.

So they ordered them to stand outside while the Sanhedrin had a private discussion. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a miracle has been worked through them in public, and we cannot deny it. But to stop the whole thing spreading any further among the people, let us caution them never to speak to anyone in this name again.’

So they called them in and gave them a warning on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.’ The court repeated the warnings and then released them; they could not think of any way to punish them, since all the people were giving glory to God for what had happened.

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Mark 16:9-15

Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala from whom he had cast out seven devils. She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them.

But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him. After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country. These went back and told the others, who did not believe them either.

Lastly, he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.’

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It is impossible not to speak about what we have seen and heard

Recently, United Airlines came under fire for the way it had manhandled one of its paying passengers, when the airline tried to bump him off the plane due to their overbooking the flight. Videos taken by the other passengers showed the man, limp and impassive, being dragged down the aisle by enforcement officers, with his clothes disheveled and glasses askew and later on, images surfaced of the same man with a bloodied mouth. The news spread like wildfire on social media, and became a PR nightmare (no less also from the way the airline initially responded).

The appalling treatment of this passenger resonated so strongly with our moral compass that it became hard for us not to speak up about it, to stand in solidarity with what was right and just. It need not be a negative occurrence — we love sharing light-hearted stories too. Remember the BBC interview when the interviewee’s two children video-bombed his interview?

The point is that when something that we have seen and heard interests us, we feel the need to share it. Likewise with Peter and John, who said it was impossible not to share what they had seen and heard. This was, however, something much bigger than just gossip or hearsay. This was about the Messiah, that had been described for so long in scripture, which was now actually happening; in their lifetime! Not to mention all the miracles that Jesus had performed and how he had resurrected from the dead. Why would they not share such a wondrous event?

Peter had also pointed out that we are witnesses. As witnesses, we are called to give testimony on what transpires. We affirm things that have taken place, and our account puts to rest any speculation or rumour since we have seen and heard it ourselves. Peter and the disciples aren’t the only witnesses — we too are witnesses of God’s love and mercy in this day. Our own acceptance of our Saviour and the death of our old self is testimony that God is merciful and gives us a new life in Christ. The very things that God does in our lives, be it in the smallest of ways, are proof that God is present everywhere. We are not called to doubt and question when these events happen; we are called to give testimony of God’s great power so that through us, others may believe. When others believe, God is able to work more through their lives. Not sharing our faith means that we turn off the tap, and God, who is the water of life, is not able to flow and work through us.

When we accept Christ, we are called to be witnesses of Christ. Let us renew our testimony this Easter,  that God may continue to work His miracles through us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for courage to give testimony on the works You have done in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all the miracles that You work in our lives, small or big. We appreciate all the little miracles that you bring forth, and we pray for wisdom to recognize them.