Monthly Archives: March 2018

1 April, Sunday – Rolled Up Cloth

1 Apr – Easter Sunday

Alleluia!

This mass is our Alleluia; our song of praise to the risen Christ who is our life and whose triumph over death we proclaim to all the world.

– Sunday Missal
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Acts 10:34.37-43

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
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Colossians 3:1-4

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.
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John 20:1-9

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

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

It has been forty days (excluding Sundays) since Ash Wednesday. How were we these past weeks? How did we prepare ourselves during the Lenten Season? Did we have any realizations?

Every Lenten period, we comply with abstaining from meat every Friday. When Holy Week comes, my family has this tradition of visiting seven churches. Until now, I do not know the real reason behind going to seven churches. I have friends who visit nine churches. Their explanation is related to ‘novena’ (latin: novem) — it is praying repeatedly, for nine times. Anyway, we make prayers and wishes in every church. Sometimes, my prayers for all the churches are the same. There were times when my prayers were answered. But there are still plenty in my wish list. Even so, I still continue praying and hoping for a ‘yes’ answer. I just have to patiently wait for it.

When Mary of Magdala went to the tomb, “she saw that the stone had been moved away and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved).” She told them that the “Lord has been taken out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.” These two disciples then ran together to the tomb and the other one (not Peter), arrived first. He did not enter but peeked inside and saw the cloths lying on the ground. Peter arrived next, went inside the tomb and observed that the cloth for the head was not on the ground but “rolled up in a place by itself.” When John (the other disciple whom Jesus loved) entered the tomb, “he saw and he believed.” They still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead. They still hadn’t realized that God overcomes death. And Jesus Christ is the only manifestation for it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not only signify the greatness of God, it also shows the mercy of God. When we sin, it reduces our life with God — similar to death. We stray from God and forget that it is only through Jesus Christ that we can be saved.

Lenten season is not only about abstaining from what to eat. What have we offered to God during the previous weeks? Some may have given up long hours on social media. Some may have extended help to a co-worker or another person. Some may have given up luxury time. Some may even hurt themselves during Lenten period. Small or big, it does not matter. What matters more is our preparation for a great anticipation — the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection reminds us that we can always start anew. Whatever wrongdoings we have done, we must repent and start all over again. We may experience suffering and hardship, but we must always remember that Christ also suffered before resurrection. And Jesus Christ on the cross is a sign that there is always light after darkness. It does not always come easy. Our patience, perseverance, and faith are always tested.

As we begin the Easter Season, what is the current state of our heart? Are we ready to welcome and believe in the resurrected Christ?

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please forgive all our wrong doings. Please help us keep our faith.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus Christ to set us free. Thank you for the gift of life.

31 March, Saturday – Easter Vigil

31 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, together with our regular contributors, we welcome back Steven and Rebecca, as well as guest contributor Kristel. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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God’s Creations

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all.

The first reading brings us back to the beginning of time, how God created the world out of nothing. For me, being in nature is one of the most basic, yet greatest reminders of God’s amazing creation.

I had the opportunity to climb Mount Rinjani a couple years ago. It is known to be a difficult hike, but one that is well-rewarded with beautiful views. I thought I had trained hard and prepared well for it, but we cannot always predict and plan everything to the detail; especially when dealing with the elements, we just have to go with the flow and adapt to the best of our abilities, and trust in God’s plan.

It was a very humbling but edifying experience for me. I was one with nature during that 3-day hike – camping outdoors, no toilets nor showers, no electricity. Amidst all that simplicity, you learn to appreciate the little things even more. The guides and porters whose livelihoods depend on this mountain were like superheroes to me. Their loads and responsibilities were far greater than ours, yet they carried it all so effortlessly. They were completely selfless and generous, and their primary concern was just making sure we were well taken care of, and helping us reach the summit.

By God’s grace, I made it to the top. Standing at 3,726 metres, my breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of this mountain. Basking in all that glorious majesticness, you can only marvel at how amazing God’s creation is. This was 100 per cent nature, nothing man-made about it. I was completely overwhelmed and filled with wonderment and gratitude.

But I had also struggled a lot, especially while trying to summit; without the help of these guides I probably might not have made it. At one part of the journey, one of them saw I was shivering and took off his jacket for me, leaving himself with just a thin long-sleeved shirt and a blanket in the freezing temperatures. He had selflessly insisted, “If you are okay, then I am okay.” These are moments when I see Jesus in people, and a great lesson for me to try and be like Jesus to others too.

The beauty that surrounded me in the mountains was not just in the amazing views, but also in the people. This is exactly God’s creation, the earth and mankind. I was initially worried that I was not prepared enough for the hike or that I was not fit enough, but God had sent me these angels to guide me and carry me. We often fear that we are not good enough. But we are God’s creation, and He has a plan set out for each and every one of us. We just have to trust in Him. And no matter what, we are always enough for God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we will grow in faith and learn to place our trust in You. We pray that we will always be appreciative of all the little things, and never take anything for granted.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for all your wondrous creations, the beautiful earth and all its creatures you have entrusted unto us.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsorial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Journey Mercies

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

We will never understand God’s ways. I was on a snowboarding trip recently and was riding really well. Really well until I attempted to jump off a ramp and sufferred a nasty fall which kept me out of action for the next few days. That was the first time that I had ever gotten injured; I had made it through National Service and a lifetime of sports and physical activity without any such incidents.

During my recovery, I had plenty of time to reflect on what God was trying to teach me through this experience. Was I overconfident? Probably. Had I taken my good health and fitness for granted? Quite likely so. Was I prideful with regard to my snowboarding ability? Yes I was. Was there a good outcome to all of this? Absolutely. Upon reflection, it dawned on me that God was showing me my limits, and teaching me how to act in a sensible and deliberate way. I believe that God was protecting me from further injury as I was planning to attempt even more reckless runs and jumps during our trip.

My injury also provided an opportunity for God’s love to be manifested through others as my friends took care of me and nursed me back to health. Allowing others to care for me and letting God work through their hands gave me a deep sense of peace and contentment in spite of my weakness. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God shows his greatest power.

This Holy Week, let us recall Jesus’ immense suffering and sacrifices for us as we go through our own trials in life. May we always see the good in every situation, and bloom powerfully beyond our wildest imagination.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Heavenly God, we pray that you will give us strength in our weakness and hope for our futures.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Jesus, for the instruments of your love scattered all around us. May we never lose sight of your unwavering care.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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The Desert Journey Is Really Hard

The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians

In preparing the reflection for today, I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus, which was released in 2014. For 90 odd years, Hollywood has produced various movies depicting Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to free the Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Over the years, CGI and animation techniques have improved. I was reading up on the technicalities of how this scene was created over the years. Can you believe that in a 1923 version, the effects were made by 2 slabs of jello?!

Today, as I read the verse and watch the film, what stood out for me was when the Israelites lamented and blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. Though life in slavery was intolerable, but faced with dark clouds, a tumultuous way ahead and with no rainbow in sight, they felt that being in Egypt was better. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Like us today, the Israelites saw and felt with their own human eyes and hearts, and they were afraid and unsure of what was ahead of them. ‘It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’

Slavery was bad but the eating was good. Who can blame them? They were in slavery for 400 years. They may have been so numb to the hardship that they simply gave up. As the saying goes, ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ We can get so comfortable with our pain and fears that we are too paralyzed to move on. Or are we so cosy in our comfort zone that we never think about making things better? Yes, change is never easy, change is not fun, change is downright scary but in this case, there is a ‘guaranteed return on investment’ — God’s promise.

I ponder on my life — my own journey to the Promised Land, I recognize that even as I make the journey forward, many a time I cast an eye back and wonder if I should have left my ‘Egypt’. I have often questioned if life would have been different had I stayed there. Things would not have been great but perhaps, it won’t be as dry and painful as it is now. The journey ahead to my Promised Land is certainly no shady, tree-lined boulevard either. The desert journey to get there is truly hard. And hearing the homily last weekend by my parish priest kept bringing home the message about dying to self – the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life.

And so I plod onwards on my journey, dying each day to myself, and looking ahead to God’s covenant with us.

As we await the coming of Easter in just a few moments dear brothers and sisters, draw strength from knowing that though things maybe a bit bleak now in your lives, though you may not understand why God has led you to where you are in your life journey today, know that God is with us and for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, getting through the pain of the cross is possible only by going hand in hand with You. As you lead us out of the parched dryness of our own deserts, give us the courage to not look back, and the hope to keep moving forward. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for clearing the way ahead of us and leading us to where we are today. We may not understand your ways, but we trust that it is the better way.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsorial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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You Are Never Alone

His anger lasts a moment; his favour all through life. At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.

 My baby has just hit a developmental leap. His level of awareness of his surroundings has surged and he now realizes there are things, situations, and sounds he feels afraid of. One of the major changes to him now is the awareness that I have left the room or space that he is in. This separation anxiety can strike even when he awakes suddenly from a nap. So he cries with an urgency that shocked me initially.

I began to reassure him of my presence by calling his name, speaking to him, and popping in his line of sight as I buzzed around the house doing my chores. I found myself telling him “You are not alone my darling” every now and then.

As I said this to him, I reflected on the readings today. In it, God tells his people in Isaiah that He is ever with them.

“I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back.

In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you.

But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.”

Being a mother to my son has been a humbling journey and a process of unlearning the old ways I thought about love. As imperfect humans, we cannot help but operate on the duality of rewards and punishments, giving and withholding. I unconsciously love this way sometimes. But with my beloved son, there is never any withholding of my love and tenderness. Even in my exhaustion; my frustration with decoding his cranky and clingy needs; the external stressors of work-family balance, with God’s grace, I still manage to find the energy to attend to him. Even if it should mean forgoing my own needs, my me-time, or delaying my rest. What more of our heavenly Father who is perfect and all Love?

“my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken…”

Of course, this cannot be a one-time lesson in love. Many of us have been loved imperfectly in our lives and relationships. We have been angered, hurt and short-changed of our affections. But deep within us, I believe we all have a ‘dark memory’ of how perfect love feels like and should be. This subconscious awareness is the seed that triggers our lifelong search for what we call ‘true love’. Perhaps, like me, you have found human relationships tried and wanting. Perhaps, you are still trying to forgive and mend, or forget broken relationships. Maybe you think you have waited too long to be loved properly and are on the verge of giving up. Maybe you feel too broken to hope for more.

Do take heart that there will always be onward growth in your life. This is God’s promise to his sullied ‘bride’ Israel. God’s pity over his people is his great sorrow and sympathy for the mistakes you and I have made in our search for love and fulfilment. And His swift and immediate action is forgiveness and redemption.

Just as I will never leave my baby’s side, just as he is constantly on my mind as I buzz about the house doing a million things for the family… God is whispering gently to you “You are never alone my beloved.” Every now and then, He checks in on you by calling out your name, sending angels to encourage and journey with you, tugging you into his embrace with a longing and ache that you find impossible to be filled by the world’s distractions. This is your Abba Father who says, “Come back to me: I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the courage and grace to love myself as you have loved me.

Thanksgiving: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me. In my ignorance I have neglected you, but you never forget me.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Fully connected to God

Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live

We live in a world where internet connectivity is important. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable for a person to own a phone without mobile internet. We look for places with strong wifi signals and for each other to be in touch with one another. I remember once when my friends were totally completely clueless as to what to do when the hotel which they were living in did not have wifi. If we, who are so dependent on internet connectivity, can become so clueless in its absence, that means as Christians, we need to be in constant communion with God to be sure of what he desires of us.

Being in connection with God means that we need to be in constant communication with God. Just as data is often sent between a mobile phone user and his friends, we also need to communicate with God in prayer. The Church has a huge treasury of prayer which we can tap on to be in connection with God. Be it through quiet meditation, the use of Scripture to encounter God, or the use of song to bring ourselves to union with God, there is an important need for us to find the most suitable way to be with God and then continue.

This also requires us to be part of a community where we get to live out our lives in joy and happiness. Community living allows us to discover what it means to appreciate our faith as we journey with each other to discover what the will of God is for us. As we continue to reflect on our Easter Vigil readings, let us discover the great plan which God has for us in the Scripture readings and allow it to unfold in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for us to remain connected to you in prayer and in worship as we enter into the wonderful love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We pray for those who continue to share the faith with others.

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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsorial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Growing Old In A Foreign Country

…why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country…

 It’s been a long time since I last contributed to Oxygen. Last summer, my family and I moved back to New York after having lived in Hong Kong for over a decade. The journey has been long and oftentimes arduous. There has been an endless list of ‘to dos’ which, whenever one task is completed, a few more emerge. We’ve had to tie up many loose ends while trying to find new routines to follow. There have been many goodbyes and farewells said while trying to amalgamate into a new community. For my kids especially – they’ve had to start over in a new school while trying to navigate in an entirely foreign system. The list can go on and on… but the truth is…

My absence from writing has less to do about my life circumstances and more to do about my spiritual condition. I concluded that of all the things that have been going on with my life, contributing to Oxygen required me to sacrifice the most. I had grown tired of committing the time and energy to preparing the devotionals. I no longer wanted to be held to writing deadlines. I didn’t want to be accountable for studying and then interpreting scripture. Even more so, I didn’t want to write about standards and values that I myself could never live up to. I simply just don’t like to write. And so, I opted for the path of least resistance. I quit.

While I’ve found myself with more free time, that ‘freedom’ has come at a price. I’ve ended up devoting less time to God’s Word and have become a lot more anxious about the future. I’ve become more pre-occupied with the decisions and actions needed to be taken. And even bitter when things haven’t gone my way. It has been tiring and I’ve grown weary.

In the second passage from today, we read an excerpt from David’s song of praise to God. David’s passionate declaration of his love towards God was grounded on his view as to who God was to him… “my rock, my fortress and my deliverer… in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2) Despite being under siege by his enemies and on the verge of defeat, David turned towards God to ask for deliverance from his troubles… “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” (Psalm 18:4-6). And so God, in His infinite mercy, responded. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19)

A few weeks ago, I felt a desire to catch up on some old Oxygen contributions. Upon loading up the website, I came across the call for volunteer writers for this upcoming Holy Week. Maybe this was God reaching down from on high and taking hold of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for forgiveness for all the times we’ve turned our backs to You. May the Holy Spirit guide us according to Your will.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for Your great mercy. As we journey through this life, may we see that we are all living in a foreign country and that Your kingdom will be our eternal home — made possible not on our works, but through the sacrifice of Jesus.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsorial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Protect His Kingdom

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

When I read this passage, one of the first things I noticed was how God isn’t asking Ezekiel to ‘watch’ over His people. Rather, He is commanding Ezekiel to do it and protect the faiths and lives of Israel’s people. “Be their watchman”, He orders.

To put things into perspective, we need to understand that back in those days, watchmen were sentinels, posted along the outermost walls of a city. They were tasked with keeping an eye out for enemies both within and outside the city. Without them, a kingdom would fall into the hands of her enemies, her people’s lives ended or they would be forced into slavery. Basically, lives will be completely ruined.

We know that God has told us to defend his kingdom.

But what does this mean for us, the modern-day layman who doesn’t belong to an armed force? What enemies are we keeping an eye out for? What kingdom are we trying to protect?

The answer — We are in charge of keeping watch over the kingdom of God. This kingdom is the one that lies in our soul.

Our enemy — sin

Our weapon — The Word of God.

I try to make it a point to read the Bible every day. For me, it is how God talks to me and lets me know which turnings to take along the path He leads me. Not only does reading and hearing His word keep me from straying (too) far from that road, but it is also the best form of defence against the spiritual warfare we face everyday. The ways of the world are such that it is okay to tell white lies to save your back, promiscuity is perfectly normal, forgive but don’t forget, the list goes on and on.

It’s not enough to just read it though. We have to practice what we read and pray as well, just like Jesus commanded in Matthew 26:41 (NIV)

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate Easter tomorrow, let us begin anew our journey towards God. Let us rebuild and strengthen our defences against sin. Let us pray we never fall asleep as we keep watch over God’s Kingdom that dwells in our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: God, our holy Father, give us the strength and the willpower to stay awake to protect and defend your Kingdom against the evils of the world.

Thanksgiving: We thank you God, for the season of Lent, which has made our spirits stronger and brought us closer to You and to your son Jesus.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsorial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Images of God

Death has no power over him anymore

There is a saying that a person is ‘a chip off the old block’ if their behaviour and, sometimes, even physical resemblance is similar to their parents. Indeed, the way people behave can sometimes tell us a lot about their upbringing and the company they hang around with. Similarly, as Christians who have experienced the death of the Lord on Good Friday, we also get to experience the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

The joy of being an Easter people means that we get to live in confidence that the sufferings which we go through on Good Friday, whilst tremendous and seemingly overwhelming, are actually nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrection which we will go through. All of us are going through or have been through suffering. Be it through the challenges we face at work, being a caregiver to a loved one, or even the financial problems, these things overwhelm us and make us realise how challenging it is to stay sane amidst these problems. We must remember that there is a reward to be seen at the end of the suffering, and this is how we enter into the life of Jesus more closely.

Just as Jesus went through much suffering when He was alive, we also have to go through suffering on this world. Yet, the suffering of this world will allow us to appreciate the joy which the Resurrection will bring to us once the suffering is relieved. The Epistle reminds us of the need to stay strong on our task and to never lose sight of our heavenly goal – which is to return to heavenly union with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you let us see that our problems are slight and that you will take care of us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who bring hope to this world.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

30 March, Friday – On Pilate

30 Mar – Good Friday

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.
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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
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John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
‘I am thirsty.’
A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.
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“I find no guilt in him” 
It has become very difficult to be openly Catholic in my adopted country, America. We seem to be caught in the throes of a form of ‘liberalism’ that, viewed through the lens of history, is frighteningly similar to some of the more nefarious ideologies of the 20th century. I don’t know why we have let ourselves get to this place, why we have abandoned kindness, tolerance, moderation and respect for our neighbor, to embrace this extreme, ‘self-righteous’ anger. It’s as if the mob (or social media) has become our arbiter of truth. Because a mob derives its strength from chaos, he who speaks the loudest, who espouses the most extreme views, is the most powerful. Our politicians and the media understand this. To remain relevant, they know that they too must adopt the extreme, even if they don’t necessarily agree with it – and they do. So we are all caught in this vicious spiral of hate and vitriol, all of it our own doing. How do we dig ourselves out of this mess? I honestly don’t know.
Pilate was dealing with a mob that Good Friday. Though he was Roman, his brief encounter with Christ touched him, enough for him to try reasoning with the crowd. We see him declare Christ’s innocence repeatedly, to no avail. Pilate is often painted as the one who ordered for Christ to be flogged and executed. I don’t think Pilate had a choice; he would have been attacked, maybe even executed, if he had not handed Christ over. Scripture says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23-26). That perfectly encapsulates Pilate’s dilemma. Do the right thing but lose it all, or stay out of it and leave the Jews to sort themselves out?
Pilate was not all good, nor all bad; his greatest sin was that of self-preservation. Elected to be a steward of the people, Pilate was forced to do something he didn’t believe in because that’s what the people wanted! Wasn’t that the whole point of democracy after all, to do what the people want? Wasn’t he just doing his job? Right to the end, we see Pilate try to appease his own conscience, eg when he washes his hands, and when he writes ‘King of the Jews’ on Jesus’ plaque and defies the crowd who demand that he change the wording. Pilate must have realized that a great injustice had happened on his watch, and he sensed the role he had played in it. But he was one man against a mob; and there was so much on the line for him. The emotional conflict must have been impossible to bear. Christ said, “for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). Faced with the angry mob outside the praetorium, Pilate chose to save his own life. What would we have chosen in his shoes, I wonder? And what of my own predicament right now? Confronted with the prospect of being ostracized for my beliefs, why don’t I stand up for God against these angry liberals anyway? Why should I care what they think of me? Pilate may not have had the full benefit of Jesus’ teachings because he was raised a Roman – what excuse do I have to stay quiet?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : We pray for the courage to stand up for our convictions, even if it means that we are persecuted and ostracized for them. 
Thanksgiving : We give thanks for Jesus, who paved the way for us, who stood up to his detractors with calm, grace and dignity and became a shining example of what it means to live our faith.

29 March, Thursday – Faith Anew

29 March – Maundy Thursday

Here are the readings for the morning Chrism Mass:

_______________

Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

______________________

Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

________________

Luke 4:16-21

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

_________________

“The Spirit of The Lord is upon me”
I have often wondered how I would react if Christ returned in my lifetime. Would I recognize him? Or would I let my conservatism get the better of me? We look with judgment on those who failed to see Jesus the first time round; but would we have perceived otherwise? I don’t know. We can be a little too ingrained in our ways.
My husband is a cradle Catholic who fell away from the faith. He is now tentatively finding his way back to church, one mass at a time. Mass is both new and familiar to him; some things have changed, some things have stayed the same. I want him to have a good experience each time he is in God’s house. I want to show him that the Catholic faith is loving, compassionate and accepting. That it is not the harsh, overbearing faith he grew up with. Very often though, I find I am on the defensive, standing up for God and the Church against his questions and ‘pointy’ comments. His observations are not groundless. If Christ returned, might he ask the same questions of the faith he founded? Some examples of ‘pointy’ remarks I’ve had to field – “Why is there so much focus on fund raising during mass, 5 mins for the homily, 15 mins for the fundraiser?”, “Why do only some masses ‘count’, it’s not like God keeps office hours?”, “Why are people so ‘clique-ish’ at church, like they’re part of a cool kids crowd and I’m not?” , “Why doesn’t the church make the Bible easier to understand, why can’t it be in simple English?”
All that aside, I think my husband’s faith is more authentic than mine. He is often moved to tears at mass. He notices the old man with the walker two pews in front, and observes how great his faith must be, to be showing up for communion despite his pain. My husband bothers to count, and marvels at the number of people who show up at daily mass on a Saturday morning, ‘just to see God’. He is aware of a homily’s message, whether it has touched him or not. I don’t see or hear any of this. I’ve become numb in so many ways, as if worship is a box I have to tick. So have a lot of us, I think.
This Holy Week, when Christ is closest to us, let us take the opportunity to seek the authenticity that the first Christians experienced, when Jesus walked in their midst. Perhaps we can try to worship with new eyes, and seek for ourselves a more authentic way of practicing our Catholic faith. We have much to learn still, especially from those who seek God with “childlike faith”, who are unafraid to ask the honest questions. I know I have much to learn from my ‘renewed again’ Catholic husband.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : I pray for the wisdom and the awareness to be a better, more humble steward of the faith. 
Thanksgiving : I give thanks to God, for allowing my husband and I to share a faith journey together. I give thanks to God that He has been willing to be the cornerstone of our married life. 

28 March, Wednesday – Judas and Us

28 March – Wednesday of Holy Week

_________________

Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

______________________

Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

________________________

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you”
“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you” – such cold words, bartering one’s soul for a few silver dollars. And then the feigned surprise, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” when confronted with the truth.
It’s easy to hate on Judas, and see him as that one-dimensional villain when we have history on our side. We know how his story ends. But being self-righteous about this is akin to obsessing over the speck of dust in our brother’s eye, while we miss the plank in our own. Let’s be honest, we have all danced with the Devil. Our language might not be as overt; we may not even have exchanged any words. But every time we’ve told a little lie to save ourselves, every time we’ve been sharp-tongued instead of compassionate, every time we’ve joined in the gossip instead of halting it — we’ve danced with the Devil.
“How is that the same?!”, you say. “I didn’t sell Jesus out to his enemies?!” Judas probably didn’t think Jesus was going to be crucified either. He failed to grasp the enormity of the moment and placed his trust in the wrong people. A fall from grace does not occur overnight. It’s the result of countless bad decisions compounded over several years — the company we keep, how we choose to spend our time, our approach to money, how we treat the people in our lives. All these add up so that when crunch time comes, we make a fatal decision. “If you are faithful in the little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in the little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (Luke 16:10). Sin is an innocuous thing. It starts off harmlessly, but when we get away with things often enough, a kind of carelessness sets in. And at the end of it, that’s what Judas was. He was careless, with the greatest living treasure no less.
This Holy Week, take some time to reflect on the ‘little things’ in your life. Could you be more kind, more humble, more patient, more compassionate, more honest? Is there a wrong that has been gnawing at you, that needs to be made right before the start of Easter? Judas wasn’t born evil — that behavior was learned and conditioned into him. How are we conditioning ourselves? Are we setting ourselves up for a fall too?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : We pray for the humility to recognize and change the things about ourselves that are not right with God. 
Thanksgiving : We give thanks for those who remind us what right living should look like. We give thanks for all the positive role models that God sends our way. 

27 March, Tuesday – Whose Cause Is It?

Dear Readers,

We apologies for today’s erroneous post. Please find the correct readings and reflection for today.

27 March – Tuesday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

_________________

John 13:21-33,36-38

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,
where I am going, you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’

__________________________

“Amen, amen I say to you, one of you will betray me” 
Yesterday, we talked about the different kinds of believers and touched briefly on one group — those who subvert Christ’s cause for their own ends. Anyone who has ever volunteered at church can attest to how ambition, greed and pride often overwhelm the best of intentions. No one ever starts off being self-serving. Most people volunteer wanting what is best for the parish. Yet, personal agendas always seem to find a way to muddy the waters. Before you know it, you’re making decisions that affirm your point of view, that support your needs. I used to serve on the board of a charity.
I thought that some of the women I worked with were kindred spirits. But a disagreement over something small blew up into a boardroom fight to oust dissenting voices, and I saw my friends with new eyes. You think you know someone but really, you don’t until your friendship has been tested. These women are not bad women. They’re good mothers, and daughters, and sisters. They’re responsible members of the community. They care about social justice. So how did we end up here? Many, like me, have left because dealing with all that anger is exhausting. It is easier to walk away and leave the politics to those who have the endurance for it.
When we think about Jesus, and all the craziness he had to deal with — running a ministry, managing the apostles, dealing with the Pharisees, trying to side-step the Romans — it’s mentally exhausting! People are hard work. Love thy neighbor? I’m sure he wanted to throttle them sometimes. It must have hurt to watch his ministry undermined like that, and then to be betrayed by someone within his inner circle, someone he called a friend. The traditional view of Judas is that of the one-dimensional ‘bad guy’. But, perhaps he started out with good intentions too, just that pride and greed got in the way. Good people can make bad choices too.
While I had the option of throwing in the towel, Jesus did not; and that’s the crux of the reading from Isaiah today : “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense if with my God.”
God will find a way to sustain you if you’re fighting the good fight, even when it seems all is lost. And if you seek fulfillment not from worldly success, but from being a part of His bigger mission, God will be your strength. You’ll be impervious to all the politics, you’ll rise above the craziness because He will hold you up. If your cause is faithful to Him, God will see it to its end for you.
So to all of us who are trapped in untenable circumstances, take a step back and see — have we let ourselves drift away from His purpose for us? Is what we are doing still honoring Him? If not, perhaps it is time to shift our focus back to fighting the good fight.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the awareness to step away from causes that appear to be good, but that in reality, serve things other than Him.  
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who toil tirelessly at their work, despite being under-resourced, overworked and underpaid. To all the people who labor unjustly, may God give them strength and courage to rise above their circumstances

26 March, Monday – What Kind Of Believer

26 March – Monday of Holy Week

______________

Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

____________________

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.

Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

__________________________

“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
What is the quality of our worship? And against what yardstick are we to measure this? Those are the questions posed to us as we ponder today’s gospel story of Mary and her bottle of spikenard oil. The players in today’s gospel each represent a particular type of believer – Mary, Martha, Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests and finally, the throng of Jews. Let’s take each one in turn:
Mary – The significance of Mary anointing Jesus with spikenard, using her hair to wipe his feet, was not lost on Jesus. Spikenard oil, in Jesus’ time, was used for consecration and worship at the tabernacle. Costing a year’s wages, the oil was likely Mary’s prized possession. She gave her most precious belongings – her treasure and her hair, her crowning glory – to honor him. Mary’s worship was like “Christ’s fragrance rising up to God, and perceived by those who are saved as well as by those who are lost” (2 Cor 15). Mary represents the believer who through faith, perceives Christ for who he is and understands the significance of the moment. Mary is the kind of believer whose faith is so pure, she inspires us to be faithful as well.
 Martha – When we first meet Martha, she is obviously the alpha female of the house (Luke 10:38-41), opinionated and unafraid of confrontation. Then she experiences the life-changing miracle of her brother’s resurrection (John 11:1-44) and is transformed. Today’s gospel reading shows a humbled Martha, serving dinner, at peace with her vocation. Gone is the smart-mouthing; in its place instead is quiet contentment. Martha represents the believer who, through a deeply personal experience of Christ, opens her eyes, sees Christ for who he is, and finds her peace – “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
 
Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests – Both of these are really the same kind of believer. They may have started off with good intentions, but they let money and power corrupt their perspective. Judas and the Chief Priests are like those who have subverted Christ’s cause for their own purpose. We see these believers all the time, usually aspiring to positions of higher office in church. We may even possess shades of Judas ourselves, if we have ever served with intentions other than to do God’s work. These believers are like the Pharisees who “appear as religious to others, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within” (Mat 23:28). They’re more interested in the things of the world – money, position, politics and power – than in God’s purpose.
The throng of Jews – These are the believers who are searching for any form of authentic worship, whose hearts are open, but whose spirits may not necessarily be ready for the long haul. Jesus described them in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:20) as those who accept the Word with joy, but who lack the tenacity to hold on when they are subjected to trials.
Wherever we are in our faith journey, there are shades of each of these believers in all of us. We are neither wholly good, nor wholly bad, not so perfect that we don’t need salvation, not so evil that we’re beyond redemption. The question is, in what general direction have we been moving lately?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray that God will open our eyes so we may perceive as Mary and Martha did, the things that are truly significant in our lives. 
 
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the examples in Scripture that so vividly depict our human condition, and all that ails us. 

25 March, Sunday – The Passion Story for 2-year olds

25 March – Palm Sunday

The Gospel is read at the procession with palms before Mass.

__________________

Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, in sight of Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go off to the village facing you, and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, “What are you doing?” say, “The Master needs it and will send it back here directly”.’ They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and the men let them go. Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heavens!’

___________________________

Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

__________________

Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

____________________________

Mark 14:1-15:47

It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death. For they said, ‘It must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people.’

Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper; he was at dinner when a woman came in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the ointment on his head. Some who were there said to one another indignantly, ‘Why this waste of ointment? Ointment like this could have been sold for over three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor’; and they were angry with her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her? What she has done for me is one of the good works. You have the poor with you always, and you can be kind to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. She has done what was in her power to do: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. I tell you solemnly, wherever throughout all the world the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.’

Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted to hear it, and promised to give him money; and he looked for a way of betraying him when the opportunity should occur.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, and say to the owner of the house which he enters, “The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room furnished with couches, all prepared. Make the preparations for us there,’ The disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them, and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he arrived with the Twelve. And while they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me, one of you eating with me.’ They were distressed and asked him, one after another, ‘Not I, surely?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping into the same dish with me. Yes, the Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’

And as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.’

After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all lose faith, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, however after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said, ‘Even if all lose faith, I will not.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.’ But he repeated still more earnestly, ‘If I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And they all said the same.

They came to a small estate called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I pray.’ Then he took Peter and James and John with him. And a sudden fear came over him, and great distress. And he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here, and keep awake.’ And going on a little further he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. ‘Abba (Father)!’ he said ‘Everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.’ He came back and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Had you not the strength to keep awake one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came back and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy; and they could find no answer for him. He came back a third time and said to them, ‘You can sleep on now and take your rest. It is all over. The hour has come. Now the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is close at hand already.’

Even while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came up with a number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the traitor had arranged a signal with them. ‘The one I kiss,’ he had said ‘he is the man. Take him in charge, and see he is well guarded when you lead him away.’ So when the traitor came, he went straight up to Jesus and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. The others seized him and took him in charge. Then one of the bystanders drew his sword and struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.

Then Jesus spoke. ‘Am I a brigand’ he said ‘that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I was among you teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me. But this is to fulfil the scriptures.’ And they all deserted him and ran away. A young man who followed him had nothing on but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked.

They led Jesus off to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes assembled there. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the high priest’s palace, and was sitting with the attendants warming himself at the fire.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any. Several, indeed, brought false evidence against him, but their evidence was conflicting. Some stood up and submitted this false evidence against him, ‘We heard him say, “I am going to destroy this Temple made by human hands, and in three days build another, not made by human hands.”’ But even on this point their evidence was conflicting. The high priest then stood up before the whole assembly and put this question to Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?’ But he was silent and made no answer at all. The high priest put a second question to him, ‘Are you the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus ‘and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his robes, ‘What need of witnesses have we now?’ he said. ‘You heard the blasphemy. What is your finding?’ And they all gave their verdict: he deserved to die.

Some of them started spitting at him and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists and shouting, ‘Play the prophet!’ And the attendants rained blows on him.

While Peter was down below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s servant-girls came up. She saw Peter warming himself there, stared at him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it. ‘I do not know, I do not understand, what you are talking about’ he said. And he went out into the forecourt. The servant-girl saw him and again started telling the bystanders, ‘This fellow is one of them.’ But again he denied it. A little later the bystanders themselves said to Peter, ‘You are one of them for sure! Why, you are a Galilean.’ But he started calling down curses on himself and swearing, ‘I do not know the man you speak of.’ At that moment the cock crew for the second time, and Peter recalled how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.’ And he burst into tears.

First thing in the morning, the chief priests together with the elders and scribes, in short the whole Sanhedrin, had their plan ready. They had Jesus bound and took him away and handed him over to Pilate.

Pilate questioned him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘It is you who say it’ he answered. And the chief priests brought many accusations against him. Pilate questioned him again, ‘Have you no reply at all? See how many accusations they are bringing against you!’ But, to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

At festival time Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone they asked for. Now a man called Barabbas was then in prison with the rioters who had committed murder during the uprising. When the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate the customary favour, Pilate answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?’ For he realised it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. The chief priests, however, had incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead. Then Pilate spoke again. ‘But in that case,’ he said to them ‘what am I to do with the man you call king of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Why?’ Pilate asked them ‘What harm has he done?’ But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, anxious to placate the crowd, released Barabbas for them and, having ordered Jesus to be scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led him away to the inner part of the palace, that is, the Praetorium, and called the whole cohort together. They dressed him up in purple, twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed and spat on him; and they went down on their knees to do him homage. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple and dressed him in his own clothes.

They enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the place of the skull.

They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it. Then they crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The inscription giving the charge against him read: ‘The King of the Jews.’ And they crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said, ‘Aha! So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself: come down from the cross!’ The chief priests and the scribes mocked him among themselves in the same way. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, for us to see it and believe.’ Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.

When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood by heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling on Elijah.’ Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink saying; ‘Wait and see if Elijah will come to take him down.’ But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, ‘In truth this man was a son of God.’

There were some women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary who was the mother of James the younger and Joset, and Salome. These used to follow him and look after him when he was in Galilee. And there were many other women there who had come up to Jerusalem with him.

It was now evening, and since it was Preparation Day (that is, the vigil of the sabbath), there came Joseph of Arimathaea, a prominent member of the Council, who himself lived in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God, and he boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate, astonished that he should have died so soon, summoned the centurion and enquired if he was already dead. Having been assured of this by the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph who bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joset were watching and took note of where he was laid.

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“Morning after morning, he opens my ear that I may hear”
My two year old nephew Josh, has started to read and, in the process, is discovering Jesus Christ and the Christian faith for the first time. His mother and grandmother have taught him to say grace, to pray and punctuate his prayers with ‘Amen’. Before he goes to bed, he bids goodnight to Jesus (“and Mother Mary too, okay?”). His mother has even caught him whispering his thoughts and hopes to Jesus. How cute!
To Josh’s great credit, he has embraced his introduction to the faith with enthusiasm. None of us were raised Catholic. We came to our faith as adults. Josh will be the first in our family to discover Jesus as a child, free of the cynicism and doubt that trip up most adults. He’ll discover Jesus with that childlike faith that Christ talks about in the Book of Mark. What a blessing it is, to be wide-eyed and wondrous about our faith! And what a responsibility for the adults who have been tasked to teach it to him! For instance, how do we tell the Easter story to Josh, in a way that is faithful to its message yet relatable to child’s view of the world?
For a two year old, life is fairly simple – there are good guys, and there are bad guys. And in his small circle, he identifies us as belonging to one tribe or the other. There are no grey areas (“Why did Peter say he didn’t know Jesus? Aren’t they friends?”), no existential crises (“Why did Judas throw away the money after he gave Jesus to the bad guys”). Jesus said so himself, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15). So how do we view the Passion story with child-like eyes? 
The crux of Christ’s Passion is that God loved us so much, He sent Jesus, His Son, to show us how to live as good people, and to die for us so that we could join Him in Heaven. Simple enough? Not so much!
 
“If he was a good man, why did Jesus have to die?” my nephew will inevitably ask. How does one talk about God’s divine love in a way that a two-year-old can understand? The consequences of sin are death and separation from God. But did Jesus have to endure such cruelty, and die betrayed and alone, so that we could join him in heaven? Were we really worth it? How do we explain ‘unworthiness’ to Josh?
“Why didn’t God save Jesus from the bad guys? Doesn’t God love him?!!?”, another difficult question. God gave Jesus a role to fulfill, and because he was a good and faithful man, Jesus fulfilled it. God lets us choose, but if we love God, we have to respect what He wants from us. Would a two-year-old understand the concept of sacrifice and suffering? And on that scale? Do I understand it even?
“Does that mean that if I do something wrong, all I have to do is say I’m sorry to God and I can go to heaven?!” – undoubtedly the next zinger that comes my way. And that’s exactly the mystery of it. God embraced us as His own, despite our failures. God believed that we could be redeemed, despite ourselves. Jesus believed that we were worth redeeming, that we were worth dying for, even when we behaved so poorly towards him. How do we do justice to this grace, this love? How do we tell this story so we don’t edit out the scale of Jesus’ sacrifice?
Josh’s intrepid tracks into the kingdom of God have allowed us as a family to re-examine our faith. No question is unworthy here. His mother thinks Josh “will freak out” if he finds out that Jesus was nailed to a cross. I don’t blame him, it’s hard for us even as adults. Seen through the eyes of a two-year-old, the injustice that Jesus endured so we could have a relationship with God is beyond anything we can grasp. And that’s ok, we don’t have to grasp it, or have to wrap our heads around it. That’s part of the mystery of our faith. Not everything can be known. We can accept it as something we will never understand and hold on to the things that we can grasp. We can try to be the best versions of ourselves, so that he wouldn’t have died in vain. We can celebrate the love that God had for us. We can remember that our lives are worth something. We can rejoice that Jesus overcame Death and arose again, just as we will when we join him in the everlasting.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the ability to see our faith with the eyes of a child, and to accept the things we don’t understand with humility and grace. 
 
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the children in our lives who remind us that we don’t have all the answers, even when we think that we do. 

24 March, Saturday – Understanding Comes Later

24 March

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Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

  The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy.

I recently read a book by Jacques Philippe entitled ‘In the School of the Holy Spirit’. It was an excellent book and it shared how the movements of the Holy Spirit happens. It shared how sometimes, we feel a tugging in our hearts to do something and even if we don’t know it, we do it out of obedience. Sometimes, we will not know if it made a difference, but sometimes, God will give us consolation and let us know that our obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit bore fruit.

I remember when I used to feel suspicious whenever a friend said with conviction that he felt in his heart that the Holy Spirit instructed him to do something. I thought that he might just be overspiritualizing things. After all, I’m not one for doing something when I don’t understand things. I liked to experiment, but I didn’t want to experiment with my life. Also, I would rationalize that I need to be certain that it was indeed the Holy Spirit who was moving me. I would agonize if I was really being moved by the Holy Spirit or if it was just my own will that was moving me.

There are also instances where events happen in our lives and we cannot make sense of why they have to happen. There was this school I was aiming for when I was in the Philippines. It was the top high school and it provided a scholarship with a living allowance; the other high schools did not provide living allowances. I didn’t get it and, two and a half years later, I understood that it was for the best. You see, two and a half years later, I had the opportunity to get a scholarship to Singapore. Had I been enrolled in that top high school, I would have been bonded and I would have had to pay huge sum just to be able to come here.

What I’m trying to say is that even if we don’t fully understand what the Holy Spirit is moving us to do, or the things that are happening in our present lives, we should still move forward if we really feel called to. The understanding will come later. I bet Caiaphas thought he understood what he was saying, but he really didn’t.

If we still have doubts, we should consult with a spiritual director. He will help us see things from a different perspective.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, how difficult it is to move forward when I don’t understand what you want me to do, or when I can’t make out what is happening in my life right now. Please give me the grace to move forward and to trust that everything happens for a reason.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for putting all these reminders and inspirations in my heart. Even if I can’t understand them, they direct me towards your purpose in my life.

23 March, Friday – Sharing Jesus

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.

But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently, and he told me that he would only convert to Catholicism if he could see a great sign. I thought that I’m just me, a mere mortal, and miracles are out of my capability. I asked myself if it was really the dead-end, if there was no chance of me being able to invite him to see what the Catholic Church had to offer.

Just the other day, another friend was telling me that she knew of a family who converted to Catholicism after a miraculous healing of their child. I knew it was a good story and I also knew that while every conversion is a miracle, not every conversion is made up of a spectacular miracle.

In today’s Gospel, John gave no signs. Instead, he did something very well – that is sharing about the Truth of Jesus so much so that when the people who heard him talk about Jesus saw Jesus, they knew he was the one John was talking about. So while I cannot perform a miracle, I know that my sharing of who Jesus really is will help people in their conversion.

Pope Francis wrote about the Joy of the Gospel. Some of us, at some points in our lives, live like the Gospel is a chain that binds us and makes Catholics unhappy. The reality is, the Gospel can really be demanding and we are not always happy to obey. This paints a very different reality because instead of a chain, the Gospel is a bitter pill that helps us live well. Our lack of joy in our lives does not make us good witnesses to the Gospel. It does not really tell the Truth of who Jesus is. I know that if I want to tell the Truth about Jesus, I should do it with a smile.

Let me end this reflection by sharing something another friend told me. She shared that one of her office colleagues wanted to join the RCIA. She was surprised because it seemed to come out of the blue. When she asked her colleague why she decided to do so, the colleague replied that she noticed that all the Catholics in their office seemed to be exuding joy and peace. They didn’t even do any preaching. They just smiled and stayed happy despite the office stress.

What does your life say about Jesus? What does it say about our Catholic Faith? When people around us finally find Jesus, will they say that we said what is true about him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, I do not always know how to introduce you to other people except through how I live my life. Someone said that my life might be the only bible other people will read. Help me live my life in a way that introduces you to them well.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, for the many things in my life that make me smile. I know that while this joy is also for me, it is also to witness the love you have for everyone.