9 August, Wednesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

Aug 9 – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

–  Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Paran and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

At this, the whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said:

‘I have heard the complaints which the sons of Israel make against me. Say to them, “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – I will deal with you according to the very words you have used in my hearing. In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall, all you men of the census, all you who were numbered from the age of twenty years and over, you who have complained against me. For forty days you reconnoitred the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins, and you shall learn what it means to reject me.” I, the Lord, have spoken: this is how I will deal with this perverse community that has conspired against me. Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.’

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Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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“O woman, great is your faith!”

In the Book of Sirach, there is a beautiful set of verses about fidelity – “…for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him” (Sirach 2:5-6). The first time I read it, I was on a train into HK, frantic and very late for an important job interview. There was no time and nowhere to change into a business suit; I ended up doing the interview in my jeans. When I arrived, I signed in, held that verse in my heart and hoped for the best. While waiting for word that evening, I obsessed over all the little details that I had screwed up. The panic I worked myself into was ridiculous! Yet despite my best efforts at self-sabotage, I got the job. And it started a chain of events that would change my life for the better. God had my back the whole time.; my faith just wasn’t strong enough to trust Him completely. I had to indulge in so much doubt and self-loathing even after I got the job, that I spent my first 3 years there in complete misery.

Faith is less about proclamation than it is about action. How we conduct ourselves when we are tested reveals the true measure of our fidelity. That’s true of all our relationships, not just the one we have with God. The Hebrews in today’s reading broke faith with God when they succumbed to their fears and pursued their own agenda instead of trusting in Him. They had more than enough reason to trust in Him – God had led them from captivity through the desert, right to the gates of the Promised Land. This was the last mile. He had proven His holy power time after time. Yet there was still doubt. We may think that we’re acting out of good intentions when our trust in Him wavers. We might even fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the best interests of everyone, that our way is the logical way forward. But our conscience always knows, and the fruit of our actions eventually reveals us for the fairweather faithfuls that we are.

The next time we are gripped by doubt, fear and self-loathing, let us pause awhile to check our emotions and examine our hearts. Is God trying to ask something of us? Is He testing our faith? How are we responding? Have we reacted impulsively and broken faith? Or have we stayed true and remained faithful to our hope in Him?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith and the presence of mind to keep calm despite the distress of unexpected life events.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for His mercy and His forgiveness. While we were bumbling sinners, He reached out to us and saved us from ourselves. For that we are, and will always be, thankful!

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