Monthly Archives: February 2019

1 March, Friday – Husbands And Wives

1 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17
A kindly turn of speech multiplies a man’s friends,
  and a courteous way of speaking invites many a friendly reply.
Let your acquaintances be many,
  but your advisers one in a thousand.
If you want to make a friend, take him on trial,
  and be in no hurry to trust him;
for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him
  but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
Another kind of friend will fall out with you
  and to your dismay make the quarrel public,
and a third kind of friend will share your table,
  but not stand by you in your day of trouble:
when you are doing well he will be your second self,
  ordering your servants about;
but if ever you are brought low he will turn against you
  and will hide himself from you.
Keep well clear of your enemies,
  and be wary of your friends.
A faithful friend is a sure shelter,
  whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.
A faithful friend is something beyond price,
  there is no measuring his worth.
A faithful friend is the elixir of life,
  and those who fear the Lord will find one.
Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends,
  for as a man is, so is his friend.

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Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’

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So they are no longer two but one flesh.

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on my own, is to sit and watch old married couples interact with each other. Whether at airports, in cafes, at the grocery store or in crowded restaurants, the miracle of an enduring marriage is something I think about a lot. What lives must they have led, to get to this point where they’re at peace with themselves and content just to be in each other’s company? What struggles and arguments must they have endured to know and love each other so much now? You can always tell the ones who are uneasily yoked – someone is usually rolling their eyes or making some backhanded remark. Granted, it is not easy to live with the same person for so many years. Why then, do some marriages grow strong with age, while others wither and die out?

It takes divine grace to go the distance, to build something that endures. Our first reading talks about how one is to discern one’s friends. Those same qualities apply to our life partner as well. Are they compassionate and trustworthy? Do they have our backs? Can they be found when we’re laid low? These are not the things that we consider in the first blush of romance. Rather, more weight is given to whether they ‘make us happy’, as if happiness were something to be traded and acquired.

I was very nearly married once, before I met my current husband. We were so young. He was someone who ticked all the ‘right boxes’, someone who on paper fulfilled the ‘requirements’ I thought would make for a happy life – the right pedigree, the right education, the right career path. No thought was given to whether or not we might be good companions for the long haul. We never made it to the altar. He and I faltered at the first hurdle, planning the wedding, and were exposed for the frauds that we were. You’re not ready to be married until you’re ready to sacrifice. And neither he nor I were prepared to yield even one inch for the other.

The enduring marriage is a miracle of God. It is a triumph of patience and sacrifice, a testament to love that puts the other ahead of itself. “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”– no longer the wants of their individual selves, but rather the shared hopes and dreams of both together. At the heart of it, the enduring marriage is a three-pronged relationship – husband, wife and God, all bound together by those beautiful wedding vows. “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate”. God bless all of our long-suffering husbands and wives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are about to take their marriage vows. We pray that God helps them to discern carefully, to understand the gravity of the decision they are about to make.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our husbands and our wives; for their patience, their humour, their love and the sacrifice they make daily, when they put us before themselves. We give thanks that we met them. We give thanks for the brightness that they bring to our lives.

28 February, Thursday – On Cucumbers

28 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10

Do not give your heart to your money,
  or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy
  to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’
  for the Lord will certainly be avenged on you.
Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’
  for the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness
  that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great,
  he will forgive me my many sins’;
for with him are both mercy and wrath,
  and his rage bears heavy on sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord,
  do not put it off day after day;
for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out,
  and at the time of vengeance you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains,
  they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

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Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples:
  ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

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Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.

Not many people know this but Saint Martha – patron saint of all who toil in the kitchen – was my confirmation saint. There is a lot to learn about God in the culinary arts. For instance — pickled cucumbers. Most of us take them for granted. Why bother with making them when Vlasic retails them for $3.99/jar? But if you did that, you would miss out on one of the great joys of eating. I learned how to salt and pickle fresh cucumbers from my mother. She would cut out the soft, delicate hearts, treat the firm outer flesh to an exfoliating salt scrub, then leave the cucumbers to ‘leak’ their excess moisture, before storing them in a bath of salt, vinegar and sugar. Pickled cucumbers were a mainstay in our house, adorning pan-fried pork cutlets, garnishing minced beef noodles, elevating fatty hunks of roast. I snacked on them by the handfuls. But it is only as an adult, through the filter of Scripture, that I have come to appreciate the lowly, pickled cucumber as more than instant gastronomic gratification.

In the Old Testament, the ‘Covenant of Salt’ (Num 18:19) was the covenant that God made with the tribe of Moses’ brother, Aaron, when He set them apart as priests of the Holy Sanctuary. The Hebrews at the time were an unenlightened, ungrateful people, incapable of approaching the Holy Sanctuary without being struck down by death and pestilence. Aaron’s family was the go-between, a line of priests set apart for serving God. Salt was used to consecrate all of the offerings in the Sanctuary. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he did away with all that and allowed us believers to return to God, to be His consecrated people. By God’s grace, we have been ‘salted’ and granted citizenship in His new kingdom. For our part, we are told to ‘keep salt in yourselves’ (Mark 9:50), to maintain a leanness of spirit, to not clutter ourselves with the distractions of wealth, power and fruitless desires (Sir 5:1-8). God wants us to remember why we have been consecrated.

There is much Scriptural wisdom in the culinary arts. Fresh off its vine, the cucumber might look glorious for a few days, but would end up rotting worthlessly at the bottom of our refrigerator drawer, if we did not bother to salt and pickle it. By losing some of its unwanted water weight, the pickled cucumber is transformed into something purer, leaner, crisper – and a great deal more enduring. The same can be said for us. We could all benefit from a little spiritual ‘salting’, an exfoliation of all the unnecessary distractions that drag us down. That which emerges is very likely to be leaner, purer and more spiritually pleasing to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s grace when we endure the struggles that serve to ‘salt’ our souls, so that we might be pleasing in His eyes.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His infinite grace and mercy, that while we were unenlightened, ungrateful sinners, God sent His Son to die for our sins and grant us citizenship in His everlasting kingdom.

27 February, Wednesday – Do Re Mi

27 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 4:12-22

Wisdom brings up her own sons,
and cares for those who seek her.
Whoever loves her loves life,
those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness.
Whoever holds her close will inherit honour,
and wherever he walks the Lord will bless him.
Those who serve her minister to the Holy One,
and the Lord loves those who love her.
Whoever obeys her judges aright,
and whoever pays attention to her dwells secure.
If he trusts himself to her he will inherit her,
and his descendants will remain in possession of her;
for though she takes him at first through winding ways,
bringing fear and faintness on him,
plaguing him with her discipline until she can trust him,
and testing him with her ordeals,
in the end she will lead him back to the straight road
and reveal her secrets to him.
If he wanders away she will abandon him,
and hand him over to his fate.

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Mark 9:38-40

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’

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Anyone who is not against us is for us.

I was recently asked if I could help by singing at a wedding mass, just a week before the actual wedding.  When I asked the bride why the last-minute arrangements, she said that the original choir she picked had some reservations about a few of the songs she had chosen. She said they were not confident that they could pull off two or three of them. In a nutshell, she ended up with 4 singers (myself the only male) and a pipe organist from the choir. I guessed that she wasn’t too fussed about the music and also learnt that the groom and his family were Protestants. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought to myself as I pulled up to the cathedral for the rehearsal two evenings before the wedding.

In the end, it all turned out well. The mass, celebrated by Msgr Vaz, was meaningful and his homily hit home. I sang ‘Ave Maria’ (it was my vocal exam song anyway) and we ended up not doing ‘Hallelujah’. At the end of the mass, as we chatted with the organist, we shared about how some of the songs were actually not usually done at weddings and why the original choir may have been a bit ‘hesitant’ as the only liturgical hymn was ‘We Remember’, which we did for communion.

As I drove home, I reflected on how we tend to get ourselves into a conundrum when choosing songs for Masses. For me, as long as the hymns fit the general theme of the gospel of the day, it shouldn’t matter whether they are liturgical or not. I know there are some choirmasters who would never pick a Don Moen song (for example) or something from Hillsong United. But at the end of the day, if they are songs that glorify God, then I don’t see how they can be inappropriate. Because if we are all worshipping with one heart and one voice, surely God will not nitpick.

I wonder if that is why some of our Christian brethren tend to think of us Catholics as ‘old fashioned’ and ‘traditional’. While I am absolutely for the rituals of the mass and all the strict traditions (which other religion can say that it celebrates the same sacraments in every country on each and every single day?), I hope that when it comes to our worshipping in song, we can be a bit more ‘relaxed’ so that we can truly sing from our hearts. After nearly 8 years in a music ministry that does P&W and constantly seeks to refresh our repertoire of songs, I have begun to understand the deeper intention of connecting through worship. That no matter how much one tries to hone his or her vocal technique, it is from within our hearts that true worship begins. As I continue on my learning journey in classical vocals and also begin another in leading worship, I wonder what doors He will open for me to step through and explore.

Brothers and sisters, the next time we attend a wedding at another church, take a glance over at the choir or worship leaders and see if they are singing from their hearts. You will certainly be able to tell very easily if indeed true joy is present in the singing.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we ask you to always open up our hearts as we worship you at masses and in the privacy of our homes. Fill us with joy to sing out your praises.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gift of song and for the gift of our talented brothers and sisters who practice each week and sing at our places of worship.

26 February, Tuesday – Getting in shape

26 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11

My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart, be steadfast,
and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Cling to him and do not leave him,
so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you, accept it,
and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient,
since gold is tested in the fire,
and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust him and he will uphold you,
follow a straight path and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
do not turn aside in case you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and you will not be baulked of your reward.
You who fear the Lord hope for good things,
for everlasting happiness and mercy.
Look at the generations of old and see:
who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?
Or who ever feared him steadfastly and was left forsaken?
Or who ever called out to him, and was ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful,
he forgives sins, and saves in days of distress.

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Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.

They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

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“…prepare yourself for an ordeal”

This is going to be a milestone year for me at work. I would have started my tenth year in the organization this month and yet, we continue to grow and to achieve great things. We will be celebrating the year with various milestone events and I am preparing and planning ahead with my team to secure all the necessary key stakeholders for the various milestone events (seven in all). While it is no walk in the park, I believe that we are in a good position, having already secured budgets as well as senior management approval on the overall plan for the year.

I too know that this is the year where I will be expected to step up in ministry. This is where there is a degree of uncertainty that I am not generally used to, especially since I have been put in charge of one or two areas in our ministry. I guess this is what the more seasoned leaders will say, “Leave it to God.” And, unlike the corporate world where we determine KPIs in advance and get the whip out when things are not going to plan, we deal with a lot of ad hoc issues each week and talk about pretty much the same things in our monthly Core meetings. There is certainly a need for a lot more compassion and patience when it comes to ministry work.

And I am not 100% sure I am cut out for this leadership role. Not because I do not have the perseverance nor the determination to see things through. I just wonder whether I possess the right heart for this season in ministry. I am typically a go-getter – I will get something done to the best of my ability by rallying those around me and achieve what is needed within a set timeframe. However, when it comes to dealing with ministry members who are volunteering their time and effort, I just don’t have that same ‘drive’. I have had to bite my tongue a few times and to be more understanding when things have fallen apart or not worked according to the eleventh-hour arrangements that have been made.

So I have found myself wondering if I am that round peg in a square hole. One part of me wants to bring my ‘work’ self and drive excellence. Another part of me wants to just let God mould me and shape me as a significant contributor to this life-giving ministry that I have devoted 8 years to. Let Him take the lead and guide me along, because I know that backing away is not an option. I have found myself wondering if I am in the right shape to do the work that He is calling me to perform. Ordinarily, I would do a self-analysis of my skills and competencies but in this instance, I am not so sure that is what is required.

Brothers and sisters, while we strive hard at work to achieve our KPIs, volunteering in ministry may require a whole different mindset. The ‘fitness levels’ required are different and call for exercise in a different kind of gym. And while some of us may think ourselves ‘fit for purpose’, the work God calls us to do requires a fitness that only comes through regular prayer so that our hearts are able to expand beyond our normal human capacity. Are you truly prepared for the ordeals that will come your way as you toil in His vineyard?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father help us. We are mere mortals and lack the fitness required to perform what you ask. Give us the grace to rely on your strength and your infinite love for all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for blessing us always with more than we deserve.

25 February, Monday – In Desolation

25 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10

All wisdom is from the Lord,
and it is his own for ever.
The sand of the sea and the raindrops,
and the days of eternity, who can assess them?
The height of the sky and the breadth of the earth,
and the depth of the abyss, who can probe them?
Before all other things wisdom was created,
shrewd understanding is everlasting.
For whom has the root of wisdom ever been uncovered?
Her resourceful ways, who knows them?
One only is wise, terrible indeed,
seated on his throne, the Lord.
He himself has created her, looked on her and assessed her,
and poured her out on all his works
to be with all mankind as his gift,
and he conveyed her to those who love him.

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Mark 9:14-29

When Jesus, with Peter, James and John came down from the mountain and rejoined the disciples, they saw a large crowd round them and some scribes arguing with them. The moment they saw him the whole crowd were struck with amazement and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ he asked. A man answered him from the crowd, ‘Master, I have brought my son to you; there is a spirit of dumbness in him, and when it takes hold of him it throws him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and goes rigid. And I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were unable to.’ ‘You faithless generation’ he said to them in reply. ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’

They brought the boy to him, and as soon as the spirit saw Jesus it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground and lay writhing there, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ ‘From childhood,’ he replied ‘and it has often thrown him into the fire and into the water, in order to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can?’ retorted Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for anyone who has faith.’ Immediately the father of the boy cried out, ‘I do have faith. Help the little faith I have!’

And when Jesus saw how many people were pressing round him, he rebuked the unclean spirit. ‘Deaf and dumb spirit,’ he said ‘I command you: come out of him and never enter him again.’ Then throwing the boy into violent convulsions it came out shouting, and the boy lay there so like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him up, and he was able to stand. When he had gone indoors his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ ‘This is the kind’ he answered ‘that can only be driven out by prayer.’

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“This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer”

Despair, desperation and desolation — words that begin with the 3 first letters in my name. I have had occasion to deal with them over the past few months and while they aren’t pleasant states to be in, I believe that everyone will encounter them during their lives here on earth. When someone is in desolation, nothing you can say or do will cheer up that person. It is a season in their life that they are going through and they themselves have to work out their own timeline as to when or how quickly they are going to emerge from their private cocoon.

It is private; because in public, they might seem normal and alright. Someone in desolation is unlikely to adopt a ‘woe is me’ or ‘the world is against me’ sort of attitude in public. No one can understand their suffering because to those around them, there is probably nothing wrong with their life. They have a career (or not), a loving family (or not), a nice house (or not) and a decent bank account (or not). So what could be so wrong that nothing seems to provide any source of gratitude or solace to those in desolation?

I believe that people in desolation are living in a desert (there you go, those 3 letters again), where they wander searching for sustenance – an oasis or a well – so that they can quench their thirst for whatever it is they seek. It could be something as simple as an affirmation from a particular person at work (which may never come, especially if that person is several rungs above them), a windfall, or perhaps a reconciliation with a lost relative. It may never happen in their lifetime, it may require an intervention from someone else, or it may require divine intervention – the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.

If the person suffering is wandering around aimlessly, then he/she may be destined to do so for the whole of their earthly life. But if the person recognizes the dilemma they are in and takes active steps in seeking out a solution, there is a chance that they will emerge from this season of their life stronger and better-equipped to negotiate life’s challenges in future.

I am no trained counselor nor the most reliable of compasses in the grand journey of life. All I know is that people in desolation simply need us to be there and to listen. Most of all, they do not need us to judge nor react to any negative emotions because it is not personal. They just need to go deal with the sandstorms, the changing desert-scapes and the unrelenting heat knowing that we will be there to hold their hand and to be gentle with them when they need to put their heads down and rest for the night. Because each day is a new journey for them and until they see the glimmer of an oasis or the light reflecting off what could be water from a well, they wander about in hope.

Brothers and sisters, if you know of someone who needs that hope, reach out and offer it just by saying, “I am here and I will pray for you.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we are like the woman at the well, seeking answers for our predicaments. Give us the grace to recognize others who seek this well, who are despairing and need to feel hope in their lives. Give us the courage and heart to reach out in spite of our own challenges.

Thanksgiving:  We thank you for all the blessings, however small, you send our way.

24 February, Sunday – It Takes Two

24 February 2019

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1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,11-13,22-23

Saul set off and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by three thousand men chosen from Israel to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph.

In the dark David and Abishai made their way towards the force, where they found Saul lying asleep inside the camp, his spear stuck in the ground beside his head, with Abner and the troops lying round him.

Then Abishai said to David, ‘Today God has put your enemy in your power; so now let me pin him to the ground with his own spear. Just one stroke! I will not need to strike him twice.’ David answered Abishai, ‘Do not kill him, for who can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt? The Lord forbid that I should raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed! But now take the spear beside his head and the pitcher of water and let us go away.’ David took the spear and the pitcher of water from beside Saul’s head, and they made off. No one saw, no one knew, no one woke up; they were all asleep, for a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.

David crossed to the other side and halted on the top of the mountain a long way off; there was a wide space between them. He called out, ‘Here is the king’s spear. Let one of the soldiers come across and take it. The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord put you in my power, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.’

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1 Corinthians 15:45-49

The first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit. The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven. As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven. And we, who have been modelled on the earthly man, will be modelled on the heavenly man.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.

In the face of injustice and sheer ineptitude, how does one remain compassionate when people are paid a decent wage to perform in a job? I was struggling last year with a situation that, thankfully, resolved itself just before the Christmas break. That made the turn of the new year and my planning for my division retreat that much easier and less fraught with uncertainty. I am convinced that God’s hand was at work when I received the much-awaited resignation letter in the middle of December.

Hypothetically, let’s take the same circumstances (frustration and all) into ministry, where everyone is a volunteer. Is it possible for us to also ‘wish away’ those who don’t pull their weight and just appear when things are resolved and everything is hunky-dory? I had that conversation recently with a colleague and he shook his head and agreed that when it comes to labouring in God’s vineyard, we cannot apply the same ‘corporate lens’ to situations and people. So what happens then? Do we just let things fester and deteriorate? What about those of us who are eager and willing to change things and to improve on simple processes that would make things smoother, less fraught with tension, and a lot more ‘idiot-proof’ so that we can all focus on the bigger picture – worshipping God and providing those around us with a conducive environment to pray and receive God’s blessings?

Inevitably, many well-meaning, ‘gung ho’ ministry members fall by the wayside when they don’t see the fruits of their efforts after a certain timeframe. I made a quick calculation (with some assumptions) and worked out that what usually takes an organization (500 to 600-strong) a year to implement takes a parish council or religious organization between 3 to 10 years, given a very lean administrative office of 10 to 15 paid staff (mind you, they are likely to be lowly-paid and not even competently trained in the areas they are handling such as HR, IT or Finance – the ‘square pegs in round holes’ conundrum).

I think it would be fair to surmise that should we, as ministry members, ever be appraised by our leaders, we would be found seriously wanting in hitting our KPIs (not that we ever had any to begin with). It is precisely because we give of our time, effort and talent that our leaders have no choice but to be compassionate when equipment starts to fail, when programmes take who knows how long to implement, when after a year of meetings/discussions/gatherings, the proverbial needle hasn’t moved much because the person tasked to lead change in one area hardly even turns up.

Brothers and sisters, if you are involved in church ministry, take care that you be compassionate not only to those around you, but to yourself as well. While it is good to set expectations, don’t let them overwhelm and dictate how you look at those who are perhaps wounded themselves and seek ministry as a sanctuary from their everyday work in the office. Because at work, we are answerable to a superior, but in ministry, the only one we answer to is God. And when it comes to dealing with God, we know that it is never a one-way street.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, you know us through and through, and our deepest motives for working in your vineyard. Give us the grace to recognize that sometimes, we may falter as we serve you but let us not chide ourselves or feel inadequate because you have something greater for us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gifts and talents so that we can serve you mightily and without fear of being judged.

23 February, Saturday – Faith in spite of Fear

23 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:1-7

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

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by one word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

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Mark 9:2-13

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

What is the weight of faith without being challenged or tested in the midst of fear and hardship? Life is certainly fraught with difficulties, trials, and sufferings. The weight of our faith can only be ‘measured’ by how much trust we place in the Lord – in spite of all that runs contrary.

But alas! Faith is a gift that is both given freely, but must first be sought out by the receiver. We who receive the gift of faith must first desire to seek and find and cherish. This is the essence of today’s scripture readings. In Hebrews we are reminded of the many Fathers of Faith who not only had faith, but held steadfast to their trust and reliance on God in the face of evidence that questioned whether God exists or was faithful to the promises He makes. With faith, we believe there is always more than meets the eye, that God is ultimately in control and He sees, knows, acknowledges, and blesses.

My husband has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia, just at the cusp of our family relocating to another country for a new job. We were literally grounded. It has been a harrowing time for us and our families – and I cannot imagine how we would have managed in this whirlpool without our faith in God. The scripture readings today hit very close to my heart – like a mirror held up, asking, “How much faith do you have in the Lord?”

Sometimes, it seems that faith feels like a double-edged sword. In times of certain hardships, my faith had kept me afloat and steered my direction towards God. Those were times I had managed to grab on to Jesus’ staff with both hands and said, “Lord, guide me.”

Yet in other times, my reality is absolute chaos. Like now, when cancer strikes the family. We were without a roof over our heads, with our household belongings sailing as ship cargo, my little baby and I bouncing between grandparents’ homes, while my husband was bed-bound in hospital for weeks. In those moments, I wondered aloud many times, “Where are you, Lord? Is this a crazy joke?!” My world crumbled and I felt my circumstances were throwing us under the bus repeatedly, I could not seem to reconcile our painful reality with a good God. We were scared, suffering, and dealing with the grief of our lives being ripped apart from normalcy.

Still, we tried our level best and plodded on with a spark of faith which felt so tiny like the mere glow of a firefly in a dark, deep cave. The rough days and the hard moments come in choppy waves. At the same time, with one foot in front of the other, in spite of the fear and darkness, God led us into the light.

Indeed, like the scriptures today, our faith allowed us to trust in the “existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”. By God’s grace and merciful healing, my husband has been responding well to chemotherapy and it is amazing to realise how this period has not only brought my husband and I in deeper union in our marriage. It has also bestowed untold depths and texture to my husband’s faith life and relationship with Jesus. With God, everything is possible! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Abba Father, I pray for healing for my husband and all who are suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. I pray you bind up their wounds and bind up their hearts and homes that are shaken with fear and sorrow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the gift of faith that you first bestowed upon us which allowed us to hope for realities that at present seemed dim.

22 February, Friday – Unqualified yet Called

22 February 2019

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle

The feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Rome, Italy has been celebrated from the early days of the Christian era on Jan 18, in commemoration of the day when St. Peter held his first service in Rome. The feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch commemorating his foundation of the See of Antioch, has also been long celebrated at Rome, on Feb 22. At each place, a chair (cathedra) which the Apostle had used while presiding at Mass was venerated.

  • Patron Saint Index

This feast has been kept in Rome since the fourth century, as a symbol of the unity of the Church.

  • The Weekday Missal

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1 Peter 5: 1-4

Now I have something to tell you elders: I am an elder myself, and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, and with you I have a share in the glory that is to be revealed. Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow. When the chief shepherd appears, you will be given the crown of unfading glory.

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Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

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Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you… not simply as a duty but gladly

As we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St Peter today, we remember how St Peter was chosen to be the shepherd of Jesus’ flock. Hailing from humble beginnings, Simon Peter was a simple fisherman when he was called to follow Jesus in His ministry. Peter certainly had his strengths – he loved Jesus and was loyal, enthusiastic and outspoken. At the same time, the gospels also relate many episodes of Peter’s failings and faithlessness.

While most apostles remained largely silent in the gospels, Peter was always ready to jump in to make a statement, regardless of whether the occasion called for it. Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. He also tried to stop Jesus from talking about his upcoming death, earning a rebuke from Jesus. Peter asked Jesus to command him to walk on water, but Peter’s fear and lack of faith led him to sink and cry for help. Peter proclaimed that he would not desert Jesus even if the others did, only to deny Jesus publicly three times out of fear for his own life. By these accounts, Peter’s behaviour was far from rock-like, not at all dependable as a Christian leader should be. Yet, St Peter is regarded as the model of Christian behaviour. What gives?

I find the contradictions in St Peter’s life highly relatable as I reflect on my faith journey – the many times I resolved to follow Christ more closely after a God encounter, only to relapse shortly after. Leaning on our own abilities, we are limited by our human weaknesses. The process of spiritual conversion is not complete after our baptism but rather, an ongoing journey of growth. In spite of the missteps in St Peter’s journey, he stayed true to his calling and eventually grew into a steadfast servant leader, the first Pope of the Catholic Church. As we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St Peter, let us also remember our calling.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: Dear Father, you have called us in spite of our flaws, fears and fallen moments. Grant us the grace to be open to Your calling, and put our gifts to serve You.  

Thanksgiving: Thank you for calling us into a personal relationship with You. May we grow closer to You, trusting that You will shape us to be more like You.

21 February, Thursday – Promise to God

21 February 2019

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Genesis 9:1-13

God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Be the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven, of everything that crawls on the ground and all the fish of the sea; they are handed over to you. Every living and crawling thing shall provide food for you, no less than the foliage of plants. I give you everything, with this exception: you must not eat flesh with life, that is to say blood, in it. I will demand an account of your life-blood. I will demand an account from every beast and from man. I will demand an account of every man’s life from his fellow men.

‘He who sheds man’s blood
shall have his blood shed by man,
for in the image of God
man was made.
‘As for you, be fruitful, multiply, teem over the earth and be lord of it.’

God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth.’

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Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

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I will establish my covenant with you

When I was in my early teens, I made a promise to God. I was down with a high fever which refused to break, and while she never told me so, I could see the worry etched on my mother’s face. I remember feeling really feverish, standing in the middle of the bathroom with cool, damp towels swathed around me, trying to get the temperature down. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid.

But it was in this feverish state that I first spoke to God. I remember saying to God, “God if You are really there, please help reduce this fever, and I will believe in You and convert” (I was non-Christian at the time). God did actually hear me. After that encounter, I lay down to sleep and my fever broke in the middle of the night.

It took me several years though before I fulfilled my promise to God. I remembered it always though, but I was afraid and maybe I was making excuses to delay fulfilling it.

Imagine if God was human like us, in terms of keeping promises. But He isn’t. He is God Almighty, and He is true to His word. In today’s first reading, God reminds us that He takes the arrangement seriously — reference to the covenant between God and man is repeated at least four times in the reading between verses 8-15, and if you read on, it appears another two more times in verses 16-17. It is as though God is saying, you’re not entering into an agreement with any old Joe, this is me, your God and Father! God is not saying this to remind Himself. He is saying this to ingrain into us that He has made a covenant with us, and it is to last a lifetime. When we get married, for example, we are only required to repeat our vows once during the ceremony, and not six times. After a few years of marriage, we probably would have forgotten what those vows might be, even though they are meant to last us till the day we die. But our Father reminds us of the contents of His promise to us, and in case we, in our human ways, were to forget this promise, He even sends us a beautiful reminder in the form of a rainbow.

Yes, of course, we can argue in scientific terms about the formation of a rainbow, but science cannot extinguish the essence behind the rainbow, or the spiritual message that it contains. Our hearts light up a little each time we behold a rainbow; perhaps we can light up a little more as well knowing that God is also saying “I remember My word with you”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, help us to take our vows and promises seriously, especially those that we make with You. It is only in keeping our word that we will build our integrity. 

Thanksgiving – Thank you Father, for the blessing of the rainbow as a sign of Your everlasting covenant with us.

20 February, Wednesday – Talk is Cheap

20 February 2019

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Genesis 8:6-13,20-22

At the end of forty days Noah opened the porthole he had made in the ark and he sent out the raven. This went off, and flew back and forth until the waters dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove, to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth. The dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, again he sent out the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there it was with a new olive-branch in its beak. So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days he sent out the dove, and now it returned to him no more.

  It was in the six hundred and first year of Noah’s life, in the first month and on the first of the month, that the water dried up from the earth. Noah lifted back the hatch of the ark and looked out. The surface of the ground was dry!

  Noah built an altar for the Lord, and choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelt the appeasing fragrance and said to himself, ‘Never again will I curse the earth because of man, because his heart contrives evil from his infancy. Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.

‘As long as earth lasts,
sowing and reaping,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall cease no more.’

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Mark 8:22-26

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida, and some people brought to him a blind man whom they begged him to touch. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Then putting spittle on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ The man, who was beginning to see, replied, ‘I can see people; they look like trees to me, but they are walking about.’ Then he laid his hands on the man’s eyes again and he saw clearly; he was cured, and he could see everything plainly and distinctly. And Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

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A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.

I feel that God has decoded a mystery to me in the scripture readings today – that there is more than one component to having faith in God. The words of the Responsorial Psalm stuck with me – ‘A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.’ These words describe a very strong and intentional action on my part which is far greater than the lip service of simply giving thanks. Yes, our God is not a calculative ‘quid pro quo’ God. At the same time, we are called to fully contemplate the weight of our thanksgiving. How grateful am I, really, when I sometimes just absentmindedly exclaim ‘Thanks be to God!’ in messages with friends when I hear or share good news that happened in our lives?

Having faith in God is an ongoing process that goes beyond merely professing and confessing believe in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I often hear of comparisons of the Catholic Church’s practice of infant baptism versus a protestant understanding of water baptism as an adult, that the former is done unthinkingly (“the baby cannot choose”), whilst the latter is one made consentingly (“I know why I am being baptised”). I would suggest that baptism is an ongoing an iterative process that requires persistence of profession of our faith in God; constant surrender on to the will of God; and, the desire to make very real sacrifices in our daily lives to God. This means that, the initial baptism of water is only the first layer of faith. A baptism of fire (and perhaps, several) is always par for the course of being and becoming Christian.

The gospel of Jesus healing the blind man twice today is echoed by the Old Testament Genesis passage of Noah releasing not one, but two birds; and for each bird, not once but twice. Why is this so? Jesus performed many miracles and healed many people in the bible with just once word, one touch, one gesture. Why is this account of Jesus laying hands on the blind mind twice necessary for us? One way we can understand this is to query the depth of the blind man’s faith – that requires a further deepening. There is another way to decipher this account. The first instance of healing was a healing of a physical nature – the blind man could now see, although he could only see imperceptibly humans looking like trees. The second instance of healing cured the man spiritually. He could finally ‘see everything plainly and distinctly’. It was then Jesus sent him home and instructed him not to go back into the village.

What a strange order!

Indeed, God knows us better than we even know ourselves. Jesus healing of blindness included an ongoing medication for the blind man – stay away from your old influences, sacrifice your old associations or pleasures, break from the pattern of your old habits and evils. This is the potion of ‘thanksgiving sacrifice’ in which we are called to ‘make’ to God. We make a decision henceforth because of our faith in Christ. Thus our faith is an active, performative, sacrificial one. And not one of shallow, perfunctory lip service made effortlessly and unthinkingly!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage, the conviction, and the determination to make our individual ‘thanksgiving sacrifices’ to God.

Thanksgiving: Today or tomorrow, I will make my act of service as a love sacrifice to God by going beyond my comfort zone to be loving and kind to someone who has hurt me.