Monthly Archives: March 2019

1 April, Monday – Obedience

1 April 2019

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Isaiah 65:17-21

Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’ I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

 

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John 4:43-54

Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.

He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a court official there whose son was ill at Capernaum and, hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judaea, he went and asked him to come and cure his son as he was at the point of death. Jesus said, ‘So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!’ ‘Sir,’ answered the official ‘come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go home,’ said Jesus ‘your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’; and he and all his household believed.

This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.

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The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way

What is the opposite of believe?

Recently, someone shared with me a video (https://youtu.be/rY0MIEsvOes) where Steve Ray, an American Catholic convert, talked about what is the opposite of believe. I used to think it was disbelieve, but he shared that it was not so. The opposite of believe is to disobey.

In today’s Gospel, the official believed in Jesus’ word that his ‘son will live.’ Because he believed, he obeyed Jesus’ command to ‘go home.’ In the video, Steve Ray outlines how Abraham really embodies what a father of faith should be. I won’t be repeating what he said because I really believe that the video is a good watch. In summary, he emphasized how God asked Abraham to do things that didn’t make sense, that didn’t give him ‘safety’, that he had to wait for.

The closer we get to God, and the more we listen to Him in our prayers, we discover that God will ask us to do things that would not make sense. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to move out of our comfort zones, and to do things we will normally not do. Just like what he did with the Saints.

I remember watching this movie where Saint Pope John Paul II was elected the Pope. Before his election, another cardinal talked to him to accept the papacy if it was given to him. Saint Augustine said, ‘O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.’ Jonah went out of his way to run away from the Lord. I think these demonstrate that God asks us to obey him because we trust him, even if we cannot fathom his plan.

In our uncertainty, this is where we could prove that we believe in Him, that we trust His promises to us, and most importantly, we trust that He loves us so much. Perhaps, even though it’s painful, we should think of these instances as gifts. Without these gifts, how can we really tell our Lord that we believe Him?

God asks us to take a leap of faith towards Him. Are we going to obey and jump?

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, at times, you ask me to do what I think I am unable to do. It’s so difficult when you ask me to trust you. Please give me the grace to obey where you are calling me to, so I can show you my faith in you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your gifts of challenges in my life. I have nothing much to offer you but my faith and obedience in you. So I thank you for giving me what I can offer to you.

31 March, Sunday – As and When What Is Needed

31 March 2019

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Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’
The Israelites pitched their camp at Gilgal and kept the Passover there on the fourteenth day of the month, at evening in the plain of Jericho. On the morrow of the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn, that same day. From that time, from their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling. And having manna no longer, the Israelites fed from that year onwards on what the land of Canaan yielded.

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2 Corinthians 5:17-21

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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From their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling

When I was young, I remember learning to ride a bicycle and starting off riding it with training wheels. These are the two smaller wheels placed on each side of the back wheel to allow the rider to continue riding even if they couldn’t balance. Soon, I remember that one of those training wheels was removed, and I had to learn to balance on one. Eventually, the other training wheel was removed as well, and I could then bike on my own.

In our lives, God promised us the graces we need, and God also allows us to have the thorns in our sides as we need – all for our journey towards him. When we no longer need those, God then replaces those with what we will need for the next phase of our lives.

In my life, I have experienced being friends with someone who I needed right at that point of my life. One night, I was so convinced I needed to quit my job, I chanced upon a friend waiting for the same bus I was supposed to take. She wisely advised me to look at my troubles from a different viewpoint, and lift them up in prayer. I am still in the job that I was supposed to quit. But we never got closer. I think it’s because God needed her mainly to counsel me.

There was also a time when I was deeply troubled by my broken family. I know that God is now taking me through a journey of learning to trust Him, learning to make peace with my past. I used to be very impatient with God not instantly changing me for the better until I understood that time is needed for me to grow. I know, one day, maybe not soon, but when I am prepared, I will be able to embrace even my troubled past.

The graces and the thorns God gives us are to prepare us for the next stage in our lives. And when we reach where we are supposed to be at that moment, when we have grown as how we should have, God allows these graces and thorns to be replaced by what we will need at that moment. Some of us, however, cling on to what was familiar.

We should learn to let go and move forward with God, even though we go through the pain of losing our manna. After all, when Jesus sent his disciples, he commanded them to bring nothing — they were to depend on God’s providence.

I am reminded of a quote which was an answer to the riddle on what one can say that will make a sad man happy, and a happy man sad. The response was, ‘This, too, will pass.’

This, too, will pass. And God will give us what we need for that particular time.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear God, help me to let go and to let you. Help me allow you to lead me, and always give me the grace to trust you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving me just what I need for this particular point of my life. 

30 March, Saturday – Humility as a Leadership Characteristic

30 March 2019

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Hosea 5:15-6:6

The Lord says this:

They will search for me in their misery.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds;
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.’

What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What am I to do with you, Judah?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears.
This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets,
why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth,
since what I want is love, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not holocausts.

 

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Luke 18:9-14

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted

In the past month, I have heard four outstanding women deliver speeches. They were all leaders and two of them stressed on the importance of humility as a vital leadership attribute, while another mentioned it as a 21st century skill. The fourth lady resonated with me the most because though she did not mention the word “humility”, she was charismatic yet humble in her approach.

She hosted a very successful conference and on the day of the conference she greeted people, making everyone feel welcome and despite a very long day, she presented the closing speech on behalf of her superior, while she continued to smile and remain gracious.

It is possible that all these four ladies were humble, yet much like the tax collector in the gospel today, she was the only one whose actions, spoke louder than words.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we are second guessed by others for being supportive of others through our humble submission. As I am a keen supporter and cheerleader of people’s achievements and efforts, someone commented that the activities I attend are targeted at those in the lower ranks. I was taken aback, but I was reminded by the echoing voices of the women leaders who singled out humility as a leadership characterise. If we are to be one with the ‘lowly’, there, right there, is an opportunity to stir in some humility in our daily cups.

Being humble is not easy but it is not impossible. Let us make an effort to be humble but not lowly and defeated. Let us learn how to listen and see the world through someone else’s eyes for a change. Let us allow ourselves to grow out of insecurities and fear that hinder humility in us. Whatever it is that stands in the way of humility, let us give it to the Lord.

Because once we are humble, the dear Lord promises to exalt us as stated in today’s gospel.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: O Jesus! When You were a Pilgrim on earth, You said: “Learn of Me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.” O Mighty Monarch of Heaven, yes, my soul finds rest in seeing You, clothed in the form and nature of a slave, humbling Yourself to wash the feet of Your apostles. I recall Your words that teach me how to practice humility: “I have given you an example so that you may do what I have done. The disciple is not greater than the Master … If you understand this, happy are you if you put them into practice.” Lord, I do understand these words that came from Your gentle and humble heart and I want to practice them with the help of Your grace.

I beg You, my Divine Jesus, to send me a humiliation whenever I try to set myself above others. I know, O my God, that You humble the proud soul but to the one who humbles oneself, You give an eternity of glory. So I want to put myself in the last rank and to share Your humiliations so as “to have a share with You” in the kingdom of Heaven. But, You know my weakness, Lord. Every morning I make a resolution to practice humility and in the evening I recognise that I have committed again many faults of pride. At this I am tempted to become discouraged but I know that discouragement is also pride. Therefore, O my God, I want to base my hope in You alone. Since You can do everything, deign to bring to birth in my soul the virtue I desire. To obtain this grace of Your infinite mercy I will very often repeat: “O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like Yours!” – St Theresa of Avila

Thanksgiving: Heal me and bind my wounds, O Lord.

29 March, Friday – The Straight Road

29 March 2019

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Hosea 14:2-10

The Lord says this:

Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.

Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.

 

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Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.

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Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walks       

Which one of us would dare to consider ourselves just, especially when we are aware of our shortcomings? It is therefore a good time to ponder, “Who will be walking in this straight path?”

In my walk with the Lord, there is a constant need for assurance that I am on the right path. So I constantly ask Him, “…is that what you want of me? Is this for me? Is there where you would have me?”

Recently, I found out about a singles event organised by one of the minority groups in Malaysia. Though at the outset I qualified to attend, I was a bit uneasy that it was open to people of all faiths and those who were divorced. No, I was not casting a stone at anyone. Yet I was uncomfortable with the thought of mingling with men who had wives somewhere. This did not sit right in my heart. Secondly, I was not fully opened to mingling with men who were not Catholics. Again, I have nothing personal against people of other beliefs, but this was my attempt to walk in the path my Lord has chosen for me.

One day before the event, I received a reminder to sign up and that was the morning I woke up anxious about God’s intervention in this area of my life. So as I consulted Him, it was clear to me that He had greater plans for me.

Sometimes, things are never that clear but the Lord who made and owns our hearts knows what we need the most in any given situation. He knows that this heart of ours needs to love Him with all that we’ve got, no holds barred. He knows that loving His people will bring us a love and joy so unique, if we only allow ourselves to try a little harder.

No doubt, some people may seem challenging, impossible even. But I am very sure we will feel very different about them after attending Good Friday mass. Because on that day, He shows us what it is like to love and how to love – to lay down our lives, our pride, our agendas so that others may receive.

Today, let’s us pray for those who are yet to receive our love, and to follow through with another act of love towards Him by loving them with His love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer:  Lord, help us to love like you and walk in your path in all we do.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for making my heart in the image of thine heart, I allow you to mould me to love you and my neighbour.

28 March, Thursday -Excuses or Excused

28 March 2019

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Jeremiah 7:23-28

These were my orders: Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Follow right to the end the way that I mark out for you, and you will prosper. But they did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me, and turned their backs on me. From the day your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until today, day after day I have persistently sent you all my servants the prophets.

But they have not listened to me, have not paid attention; they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors. You may say all these words to them: they will not listen to you; you may call them: they will not answer. So tell them this, “Here is the nation that will not listen to the voice of the Lord its God nor take correction. Sincerity is no more, it has vanished from their mouths.”

 

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Luke 11:14-23

Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb; but when the devil had gone out the dumb man spoke, and the people were amazed. But some of them said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you. So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.

‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.’

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Those who do not gather, scatters   

At this point in my life, I feel like I am not gathering anyone and bringing them to the Lord.

I must say that I am sometimes torn between my two realities as a result of my choices. I have a full time job, which takes a minimum of 50 hours in a week. I am also pursuing a master’s degree on a part-time basis, which takes about the equal number of hours in a week.

My one world reality assures me that this is my investment time.

After I complete my studies, I will return to teaching at Sunday school and make teaching my full time vocation, so children can enjoy their education, which they spend a large part of their lives doing.

My second reality is that I am in a sense not bearing fruit, right now. So when I hear verses of ‘service’, ‘bearing fruit’, I feel like I am left behind. And for this, I ask the Lord regularly that he directs my thoughts and path. Because sometimes I see moments of His joy in me which I can share to classmates, colleagues, other students and others I meet. Sometimes, I feel the hand of the Spirit upon me, reminding me when I am dealing with others, as I hear a voice asking, “How am I am witness in this situation?” Yet at times, I feel a sense of our Lord’s confidence urging me to speak up, act and feel confident, yet keeping His love at the centre.

These are the moments that I know it is not my efforts, but His that truly urges me to His will.

Brothers and sisters, if you are in active ministry, that’s really great. I urge you to ‘gather’ the members when the urge might be stronger to stay divided and be drowned out by the tasks.

If you are not serving in ministry, I urge that you take an honest look at yourself, so that you can see it through the eyes of Christ. Other duties may be empowering, like parenting, care giving, studying, etc. Just remember to bring God where you are at right now, because without Him, we cannot do anything.

God bless you as you continue to gather, not scatter.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer:  Lord, lead us in your light.

Thanksgiving: Yes I thank you Lord for reminding that I am fully and completely yours.

27 March, Wednesday – Keep Watch

27 March 2019

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Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9

Moses said to the people:

‘Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you.

‘See, as the Lord my God has commanded me, I teach you the laws and customs that you are to observe in the land you are to enter and make your own. Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.” And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?

‘But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and to your children’s children.’

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Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.’

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But take care what you do and be on your guard

Last week, our centre hosted two visiting exorcists from the Phillipines. We anticipated an ‘overflow’ crowd but never had I seen so many flock to CSC on a Friday evening. By 7.30 pm when P&W started, we had to activate our overflow areas outside the hall. It was interesting what a friend I bumped into said to me, “You get more people coming to hear a talk about the devil, than to hear about God.” I laughed it off but couldn’t help wondering about the truth of his statement as I drove home.

After a tragic week of mourning in Christchurch and reading some of the posts supporting the country’s prime minister and her stand about never ever speaking the name of the perpetrator of that horrific attack that killed 50 innocent Muslims, I fear for our young generation. With social media so pervasive these days, our children are open to all forms of attacks from the evil one – games that feature murder and mayhem, even occult practices that call on spirits unknowingly.

The two priests spoke about how we could open up doors for the devil to attack our families even through these seemingly harmless activities. One even spoke about how he had to exorcise a boy who was addicted to a particular game that involved invoking certain spirits. In the end, the addiction led to oppression and the boy almost had to enter a mental institution. However, when he was prayed over, the priest knew that the boy had Jesus in his heart because of the tears that flowed from his eyes during the healing session. It is true, he said, that when children pray, they pray from the heart and it well pleases God because they have deep faith and are truly sincere. In the end, the boy was healed of his addiction and managed to go back to school and live a normal life.

Brothers and sisters, we must not take what we do each day lightly, especially those of us who have children or godchildren. We must put Jesus at the centre of our lives and not consign Him to just one area that we focus on when we are in distress. In our pursuit of happiness in our lives, we must realise that it is only in Jesus that we can find true happiness. If we believe fully in Him and in His Word, He will bless us with the things that will make us truly happy. Those of us who have been successful in life, by whatever measure, must realise that our riches and happiness have not come purely by our own works. God has blessed us for a reason and we must discern it in order to spread the love to others.

So take care and be on your guard, because we need to be proper stewards of our God-given wealth, so that He can reward us with even more

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, help us to realise that only by putting you in the centre of our lives will be rewarded with true happiness and true riches. That all we have now is only temporal and it is our eternal reward that we should be focusing on.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all that you have given to us and our loved ones. It is truly by your grace that we have our happiness and success and we give all glory to you.

26 March, Tuesday – Tit for Tat

26 March 2019

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Daniel 3:25,34-43

Azariah stood in the heart of the fire, and he began to pray:

Oh! Do not abandon us for ever,
for the sake of your name;
do not repudiate your covenant,
do not withdraw your favour from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your friend,
of Isaac your servant,
and of Israel your holy one,
to whom you promised descendants as countless as the stars of heaven
and as the grains of sand on the seashore.
Lord, now we are the least of all the nations,
now we are despised throughout the world, today, because of our sins.
We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince,
no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense,
no place where we can offer you the first-fruits
and win your favour.
But may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you
as holocausts of rams and bullocks,
as thousands of fattened lambs:
such let our sacrifice be to you today,
and may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly,
since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed.
And now we put our whole heart into following you,
into fearing you and seeking your face once more.
Do not disappoint us;
treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle
and very merciful.
Grant us deliverance worthy of your wonderful deeds,
let your name win glory, Lord.

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Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

  ‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

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Treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle and very merciful

I had a bit of a run-in with a vendor last week at work and came away disappointed at his attitude towards not just me, but to his situation as a young business owner. To be fair to the young chap, he did call me 30 minutes later to apologise for his attitude but the damage had been done and all I said was “It’s OK. It is just work.” Having been in his shoes before as a small business owner, I was flabbergasted that he would have used the language he did in our chat. Back in the day, however ‘bad’ a situation got with any client of mine, I still respected them as my customers and would never talk back at them.

Perhaps times have changed and the newer generation of entrepreneurs is more vocal and are prepared to stand their ground more, or even turn their back on a customer because they believe in their principles. So in calling for a ‘clear the air’ meeting within 48 hours, I took the approach of offering everyone around the table a chance to learn from this experience. I decided that the best outcome would have to stem from a gentler approach to the situation and in hearing all the grievances and challenges the young team faced in trying to deliver our project.

In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the parable of the ungrateful servant to demonstrate how God will look upon us on our day of reckoning. For it is not so much how we treat those who are good to us that matters, but those who wrong us. How Christ-like are we going to be to the neighbour who always parks in our spot, to the family member who finds a way to always use our favourite mug or even our own bathroom? How do we react to a boss who has a habit of speaking ill of us in front of our colleagues, or a ministry member who talks a lot at meetings and then does not show up when it matters. Are we compassionate, or do we pass judgement, as if we are God?

Brothers and sisters, if we go about our daily lives looking to judge others for their actions without first understanding why they seem to always be doing us wrong, then we are not destined for happiness. Because we will end up questioning others all the time, instead of embracing them and acknowledging their weaknesses and faults. The more we can get rid of this ‘tit for tat’ mentality in our lives, the more open we are to allow God’s healing graces to flow within us.

Then, as we learn to embrace others, warts and all, we will come to the realization that all of us are the same in the eyes of God. That no one deserves more or less than the other brother or sister; everyone deserves the same measure of love from God – infinite, boundless and indescribable.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, grace us with the humility of Mother Mary and the love of your son Jesus Christ so that we can in turn love as they did.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gift of love.

25 March, Monday – True Obedience

25 Mar – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

  • Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then he said:
Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God is with us.’

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Hebrews 10:4-10

Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

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

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

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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Let what you have said be done to me

How many times have we said ‘Yes’ to our parents or to our superiors and then acted against their orders, thinking either that we know better or that those who have instructed us have lost touch with reality? Many of us face that dilemma at work, especially those of us in middle management who have teams reporting to us or groups of colleagues working on a particular project, which we just want to complete without too much ‘interference’ from our superiors.

I cannot imagine the turmoil within Mother Mary when she first heard the words of the archangel Gabriel. And while she posed a fair question, I for one would have been thinking to myself, “Alright, how can I get out of this? There is no way I will be able to do this no matter what this strange figure with wings says. What are my exit strategies going to be?” Unlike Mary, we lack absolute faith in God and the humility to trust in His hand within our lives.

So how can we reconcile this tension within us to live a life that is dedicated to God yet having to deal with the various challenges that seem to surface just when we think we’ve struck a balance? It is something that I have not been able to put my finger on until a recent testimony given by a retreatant who attended CER61. He testified that after not stepping into a church since he was 12 years old, he now found solace in reciting the rosary after his conversion. He said that he had always been skeptical about having to repeatedly say the prayers but now, he found comfort in saying the rosary each day. He began to understand humility required in order to bow down and accede to God’s call each day, and as a result, he is a much calmer, more loving individual who now cares for his family.

Brothers and sisters, let us embrace the humble rosary and make a pledge to say it every day. Because it is the one thing the devil fears – this devotion to our heavenly Mother. When our hearts are focused on Mother Mary, the Lord will mould us to become humble of heart and teach us true obedience to Him so that we can live the lives that He intended for each and every one of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for giving us Mary as our loving Mother.

24 March, Sunday – Time to Mature

24 March 2019

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Exodus 3:1-8,13-15

Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said, ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’ Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ Moses answered. ‘Come no nearer,’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,’ he said, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

And the Lord said, ‘I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of their slave-drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow, the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.’

Then Moses said to God, ‘I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I Am who I Am. This’ he added ‘is what you must say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’ And God also said to Moses, ‘You are to say to the sons of Israel: “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.” This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.’

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1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12

I want to remind you, brothers, how our fathers were all guided by a cloud above them and how they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in this cloud and in this sea; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them as they went, and that rock was Christ. In spite of this, most of them failed to please God and their corpses littered the desert.

These things all happened as warnings for us, not to have the wicked lusts for forbidden things that they had. You must never complain: some of them did, and they were killed by the Destroyer.

All this happened to them as a warning, and it was written down to be a lesson for us who are living at the end of the age. The man who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall.

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Luke 13:1-9

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

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It may bear fruit next year

It has been just over a year since a few of us decided to take the plunge and step up to certain core leadership roles within our ministry. Since then, there has been attrition due to various reasons and as I look around, there are probably a quarter of us left still earnestly striving hard to make the necessary changes in a few areas so that we can continue to attract new members and retain some of those who recently joined us.

In order to move forward, I have always believed that a community needs to take a long, hard look at themselves to see where the weak links are so that they can be addressed strategically and systematically. One key area is succession planning, something which is not uncommon within parishes and even in successful organizations. This time last year, I made a commitment to myself that I needed to step up and improve on certain competencies if I was going to be taken seriously in my eventual role within my ministry. So I embarked on a few small initiatives and, looking back, I can see for myself the growth that has occurred. Like the fig tree in today’s gospel, I have undergone fertilization, pruning and a bit of nurturing through one of our leaders. While it has not been an easy journey, I believe that I have come out a lot surer and more confident in my current role. And I am under no illusion that if I were to continue, it is only going to get more difficult and arduous.

Brothers and sisters, when we say ‘Yes’ to God and decide to devote time in his vineyard, we must be prepared to endure all kinds of hardship. Hours spent in meetings may come to nought because of indecision, a well-laid plan may be turned upside down because of a last-minute decision by a priest, a piece of equipment that worked during practice or rehearsal may just decide to not function 5 minutes before a worship session. This is when a certain maturity and understanding is called for, especially from those in leadership roles. No point getting irritated or staring daggers at the ministry member(s) involved, nor panicking and throwing a tantrum. When the fires rage, cool heads are called for and most certainly prayer and intercession.

Our spiritual director recently exhorted that should the devil decide to attack the archdiocese, he would attack two pillars here in Singapore, and his primary tactic would be to sow discord and disunity among ministry leaders. Therefore we all need to make sure that we are able to stand firm by nourishing ourselves with the Word of God each and every day. Constant prayer and constant intercession are crucial if we are to continue bearing good fruit and reaching out to others in need. A steady diet of good Christian literature and daily celebrations of the Eucharist will ensure that as we mature in our spirituality, we will not allow ourselves to be toppled nor have our faith uprooted.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we ask you to continue to tend to us and to nourish us daily with your Word as we toil in your vineyard. Give us the strength to persevere and be patient as we grow in our own spirituality

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for always being patient with us and for your kindness and mercy.

23 March, Saturday – Not Forgotten

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.

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt

grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

 ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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My son, you are here with me always. Everything I have is yours

I remember my baptism, and the preparation leading up to it. I had been on the RCIA program and I remember thinking at the time if I would be able to get through the year-long program. But the year sped by quite quickly and before you knew it, we were at Lent, getting ready for our baptism at the Easter vigil. It was almost like getting ready for a wedding: a lot of preparation beforehand, our placements, the rituals, the vows, the clothes that we would wear. And on the day of baptism, there we were, the ‘co-stars’ of the night, standing in front of the whole congregation in our new white garments, beaming proudly. Then shortly after the period of Mystagogy, it was back to life as usual.

It has been many years since my baptism, and probably for most of us too, as you read this. As we watch the next batch of Elect go through their sacraments of initiation, we watch their smiles, and we reflect on our own big day years ago. Maybe we wish that we could feel the overflowing of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, as we once did. Maybe we long for that closeness or assuredness in our relationship with God, as the Elect now have. Maybe many things have transpired since our baptism, that have dried up our spiritual well, and called us to question God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps we stopped seeking, perhaps life got in the way, we got distracted. Yes, life does go on but so does God; God continues to be present in our lives, even when we have stopped being the star of the day. When all the lights have faded and the sparkle wanes, God still remains.

Before we were each called by God, we were all lost in our own ways. When we opened our hearts to Him, we were like the prodigal son returned to the Father: “I once was lost, but now am found.” And when we accepted God into our hearts, He promised us salvation, a new and everlasting life in Christ Jesus, cleansed of our sins. He promised to be with us always: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He promised us security (Isaiah 43:2), strength (Isaiah 41:10), wisdom (James 1:5), unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10), forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He gave us all He had, His only Son Christ Jesus, so that we may live (John 3:16).

Our lives might be ‘as usual’, but remember David, the shepherd boy, overlooked by his brothers, but anointed as king. It would be many more years after his anointing before David finally assumed his place as king, and in the meantime, he went back to ‘life as usual’ – as a shepherd boy. But he had to, in order to learn about life to be a better king, to be in a better position to serve God and his people when the time came. Maybe if we take a different viewpoint, we may find that perhaps the preparation doesn’t end at baptism. After baptism, the real preparation begins: preparation to hear and heed God’s calling, to do His will and to be guided by Him. Our baptism may be over, but God does not forget us. He has plans for us, and if we allow it, He will reveal those plans to us. In the meantime, let us be comforted in the knowledge that whatever our life situation is, whether we are content or troubled, we are in the season of preparation for bigger things that God has in store for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to bring more consciousness in our preparation for Easter. We also pray for our Elect, as they prepare for their baptism on Easter.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for calling us to you when you did, for taking us in even when we were sinners, for finding us when we were lost. Even now, you are still with us, your gentle encouragement comforting us, guiding us through our daily lives.