Monthly Archives: November 2019

1 December, Sunday – Being Aware

1 Dec – 1st Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the Temple of the God of Jacob
  that he may teach us his ways
  so that we may walk in his paths;
  since the Law will go out from Zion,
  and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Romans 13:11-14

You know ‘the time’ has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

  ‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

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For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark.

Let’s try to picture this. You start noticing that your neighbour has been getting up early, carrying a lot of building tools, and carrying logs over at some place. You hear a lot of hammering and sawing over from where he usually goes to and he usually comes back late at night. Soon, you see a huge boat. People start talking out of curiosity but no one bothered to ask Noah what he has been doing. You know some things out of the ordinary are happening but since it has not been bothering your life, you just continue with your daily routine. When the ark was finished you see Noah and his family gathering animals, and not just the usual animals you see around your village. They are animals that came from the forest, and those that fly and almost all the animals you know.

And you and the other villagers still choose to simply continue on with your lives because you never thought that what Noah had been doing could ever affect you.

When I read this passage, I thought how is it that people could just continue with what they have been doing when something big was happening just under their noses. Weren’t they curious? Didn’t they ask Noah or anyone from his family? If they did and if they found out, could they have become like Nineveh – where after repenting, God decided not to destroy the city?

In our lives, I believe that God has been giving us signs and signals on what is happening. Are we aware of what God has been allowing to happen to our lives in order to direct us or to shape us? Sometimes, there is already a big boat just beside us and we still refuse to stop and ponder what God has been showing in our lives.

So perhaps, during this Advent, we can spend some time in the Adoration Room with Jesus. Maybe in our lives, we have not seen, or we have refused to acknowledge, some of his promptings or signs that he has placed in our lives. Just like how the blind man asked Jesus, let us as him to ‘let (us) see again.’

Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our busyness. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our hurts. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our own way of thinking. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by the ‘happiness’ around us. Let us see again so that we can be aware of where we are being led.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, let me see again. During this time of waiting, let me see what you want me to see.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for the boats that you have placed in my life so that I could see where you would want me to be led to.

30 November, Saturday – Panorama

Nov 30 – Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

I recently returned from a lengthy work trip that took me to some far flung places; places that I would have never visited on my own dime. It was a challenging assignment, with many highs and its fair share of lows. It had been quite a few years since I had gone on such a long posting and the time away made me realise how my world in Singapore was insiduously closing in on itself as the days flew by.

We are inherently resistant to change and become comfortable with routines, oftentimes regardless of how well they serve us. Sometimes, it takes a jolt to the system to ignite a reframing of our current state of life. I took on a new portfolio, met foreign partners, and experienced a living environment that was slower-paced than the one in Singapore. I felt refreshed and took time to reflect on my life and relationships. New thoughts and insights came to me effortlessly, as if the world was speaking to me directly.

As the year draws to a close, there is a frenzy of activity to complete projects, prepare the kids for their final exams, and to prepare for 2020. I’m sure the apostles were also perennially working to fulfil God’s mission. As tempting as it can be to be in full ‘doing’ mode, I wonder if we are better served by blocking out periods of time for new experiences, reflection, and rest. It is in these times that God can reach through to us, speaking to us individually in the ways we are most inclined to hear.

Brothers and sisters, our lives are works of art in a continual state of evolution. Let us appreciate the painter’s mastery both up close, and from afar.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer:  Dear Lord, may we never be too consumed with life to not hear your voice. May we actively listen to your will for our lives.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for the wonders of our planet and for the opportunities you bless us with. We will always be grateful for your majesty and grace.

29 November, Friday – Learning to live

29 November

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Daniel 7:2-14

I, Daniel, have been seeing visions in the night. I saw that the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea; four great beasts emerged from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings; and as I looked its wings were torn off, and it was lifted from the ground and set standing on its feet like a man; and it was given a human heart. The second beast I saw was different, like a bear, raised up on one of its sides, with three ribs in its mouth, between its teeth. “Up!” came the command “Eat quantities of flesh!” After this I looked, and saw another beast, like a leopard, and with four bird’s wings on its flanks; it had four heads, and power was given to it. Next I saw another vision in the visions of the night: I saw a fourth beast, fearful, terrifying, very strong; it had great iron teeth, and it ate, crushed and trampled underfoot what remained. It was different from the previous beasts and had ten horns.

While I was looking at these horns, I saw another horn sprouting among them, a little one; three of the original horns were pulled out by the roots to make way for it; and in this horn I saw eyes like human eyes, and a mouth that was full of boasts. As I watched:

Thrones were set in place
and one of great age took his seat.
His robe was white as snow,
the hair of his head as pure as wool.
His throne was a blaze of flames,
its wheels were a burning fire.
A stream of fire poured out,
issuing from his presence.
A thousand thousand waited on him,
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
A court was held
and the books were opened.

The great things the horn was saying were still ringing in my ears, and as I watched, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and committed to the flames. The other beasts were deprived of their power, but received a lease of life for a season and a time.

I gazed into the visions of the night.
And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven,
one like a son of man.
He came to the one of great age
and was led into his presence.
On him was conferred sovereignty,
glory and kingship,
and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.
His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty
which shall never pass away,
nor will his empire ever be destroyed.

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Luke 21:29-33

Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Think of the fig tree and indeed every tree. As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

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Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

I have always thought about what legacy which I would want to leave after I have passed on. There was this saying in one of Mitch Albom’s books that goes “Only when learn how to die, then we learn how to live.” I find this statement very true because only when we accept our mortality do we then realise that perhaps all the work should be directed towards glorifying God. There is a need to identify what it means to be a Christian and how our actions and words can reflect our identity as a Christian.

Indeed, this is something that we could reflect upon as we come to the end of the Church’s liturgical year. As we reflect upon what we have accomplished in the past year , perhaps we could give thanks to God for our lives. Indeed, sometimes we take many things for granted which others may be envious. God has given us many talents that we possess. We will need to make the effort to discern what plan God has for us in our lives and to work towards seeing how we can align God’s will for us with our talents and the needs of the community where we live in.

Only through this process can we discover how to become a more congruent person. This may require us to die to our former selves and instead live a life based on Christian virtues and values. Let us be confident to handle the challenges that come our way knowing that God is with us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit into our lives to help us find out what you want from us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the people who continue to impart the faith.

28 November, Thursday – Strong faith

28 November

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Daniel 6:12-28

The presidents and satraps came along in a body and found Daniel praying and pleading with God. They then came to the king and said, ‘Have you not just signed an edict forbidding any man for the next thirty days to pray to anyone, god or man, other than to yourself O king, on pain of being thrown into the lions’ den?’ ‘The decision stands,’ the king replied ‘as befits the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ Then they said to the king, ‘O king, this man Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, disregards both you and the edict which you have signed: he is at his prayers three times each day.’ When the king heard these words he was deeply distressed, and determined to save Daniel; he racked his brains until sunset to find some way out. But the men came back in a body to the king and said, ‘O king, remember that in conformity with the law of the Medes and the Persians, no edict or decree can be altered when once issued by the king.’

The king then ordered Daniel to be fetched and thrown into the lion pit. The king said to Daniel, ‘Your God himself, whom you have served so faithfully, will have to save you.’ A stone was then brought and laid over the mouth of the pit; and the king sealed it with his own signet and with that of his noblemen, so that there could be no going back on the original decision about Daniel. The king returned to his palace, spent the night in fasting and refused to receive any of his concubines. Sleep eluded him, and at the first sign of dawn he was up, and hurried off to the lion pit. As he approached the pit he shouted in anguished tones, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God! Has your God, whom you serve so faithfully, been able to save you from the lions?’ Daniel replied, ‘O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel who sealed the lions’ jaws, they did me no harm, since in his sight I am blameless, and I have never done you any wrong either, O king.’ The king was overjoyed, and ordered Daniel to be released from the pit. Daniel was released from the pit, and found to be quite unhurt, because he had trusted in his God. The king sent for the men who had accused Daniel and had them thrown into the lion pit, they, their wives and their children: and they had not reached the floor of the pit before the lions had seized them and crushed their bones to pieces.

King Darius then wrote to men of all nations, peoples and languages throughout the world, ‘May peace be always with you! I decree: in every kingdom of my empire let all tremble with fear before the God of Daniel:

‘He is the living God, he endures for ever,
his sovereignty will never be destroyed
and his kingship never end.
He saves, sets free, and works signs and wonders
in the heavens and on earth;
he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.’

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Luke 21:20-28

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realise that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. For this is the time of vengeance when all that scripture says must be fulfilled. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!

‘For great misery will descend on the land and wrath on this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over.

‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’

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When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’

We live in times where many say might be the end times. There are concerns that climate change may change the way we live in the world. There are also others who may think that the various conflicts in the world suggest that there might be no hope left in this world. The readings of today remind us that we should hold our trust in God.

Daniel held strongly to the faith in the First Reading. He never wavered from his obligation towards being faithful to God. Though he was persecuted, he held strongly to his faith. This is something that we can follow. Our faith is challenged in various places and in various ways yet God always ask that we remain close to Him.

It is our faith which will allow us to go through the challenges that we face with confidence and courage. This means that instead of using our own strength, we offer to God all our struggles and let Him work through us. As we go about our lives, let us remember that God loves us and will always hold us close to Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please allow us to deepen our faith in you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who love us.

27 November, Wednesday – No Need to be Afraid

27 November

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Daniel 5:1-6,13-14,16-17,23-28

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for his noblemen; a thousand of them attended, and he drank wine in company with this thousand. As he sipped his wine, Belshazzar gave orders for the gold and silver vessels to be brought which his father Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the sanctuary in Jerusalem, so that the king, his noblemen, his wives and his singing women could drink out of them. The gold and silver vessels looted from the sanctuary of the Temple of God in Jerusalem were brought in, and the king, his noblemen, his wives and his singing women drank out of them. They drank their wine and praised their gods of gold and silver, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared, and began to write on the plaster of the palace wall, directly behind the lamp-stand; and the king could see the hand as it wrote. The king turned pale with alarm: his thigh-joints went slack and his knees began to knock.

Daniel was brought into the king’s presence; the king said to Daniel, ‘Are you the Daniel who was one of the Judaean exiles brought by my father the king from Judah? I am told that the spirit of God Most Holy lives in you, and that you are known for your perception, intelligence and marvellous wisdom. As I am told that you are able to give interpretations and to unravel difficult problems, if you can read the writing and tell me what it means, you shall be dressed in purple, and have a chain of gold put round your neck, and be third in rank in the kingdom.’

Then Daniel spoke up in the presence of the king. ‘Keep your gifts for yourself,’ he said ‘and give your rewards to others. I will read the writing to the king without them, and tell him what it means. You have defied the Lord of heaven, you have had the vessels from his Temple brought to you, and you, your noblemen, your wives and your singing women have drunk your wine out of them. You have praised gods of gold and silver, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone, which cannot either see, hear or understand; but you have given no glory to the God who holds your breath and all your fortunes in his hands. That is why he has sent the hand which, by itself, has written these words. The writing reads: Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin. The meaning of the words is this: Mene: God has measured your sovereignty and put an end to it; Tekel: you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; Parsin: your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.’

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Luke 21:12-19

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom

We recently came to a decision to split our cell group into two smaller sub-groups, in the hope that it would encourage deeper sharings as well as make organising the fellowships a bit less daunting and more manageable. Naturally, the leaders had a discussion among ourselves before consulting the ministry heads, who offered various suggestions on how it could be done.

The day came when the four of us had agreed to meet to discuss how we would manage the process of informing our fellow brothers and then agreeing on which route to go in terms of how we would split the 14 of us. And because it happened to be a day when most of the members were around, we ended up ‘drawing lots’ and ending up with both groupings within the span of 10 minutes.

That night, I slept fitfully. Something gnawed at me and two days later, I decided to message the other three leaders to inform them that I was not comfortable with the way we had proceeded to hurriedly do what was necessary just because 9 or 10 of us happened to be around. I felt that for such an important decision to be carried out, we had been too focussed on the outcome without really discerning the right process. So I offered to meet with the other members who had been absent during our ballot to get a better sense of how they were feeling about being part of our group and the way forward.

Two weeks later, we all convened again and, to the exasperation of some of the other members, I explained why I felt that we had to reconsider the way we had arrived at the sub groupings. After almost an hour of sharing, where I urged other members to open up and share their thoughts, we ended up settling for the previous decision. However, in speaking out and convening the meeting (at the inconvenience of some), I felt that we had done the right thing, regardless of what the outcome would have been.

Brothers and sisters, I thank God for my discipleship group of 14 spiritually alive and aware brothers. It is rare that frank, open and, at times, heated discussion results in something beneficially for everyone. In daring to speak about my feelings openly (I used to shun confrontation), I had nothing to lose because I was relying on the Spirit to lead us to whatever outcome was going to occur. And thankfully, all my other brothers eventually realised that and we achieved what we intended. I ask for your prayers for Albert, Alfie, Ben, Charles, Clement, Eugene, Gabriel, Gavin, Jason, Lionel, Nick, Philip and Sylvester. That as we embak on our new faith journeys, we are empowered to speak out our true feelings for one another.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer We pray for the gift of Wisdom; that You may always guide us in every thought, word and deed.

Thanksgiving Thank You for never judging us and for being our faithful Father.

26 November, Tuesday – Nothing can destroy or hurt us if we remain true to You

26 November

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Daniel 2:31-45

Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, ‘You have had a vision, O king; this is what you saw: a statue, a great statue of extreme brightness, stood before you, terrible to see. The head of this statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet part iron, part earthenware. While you were gazing, a stone broke away, untouched by any hand, and struck the statue, struck its feet of iron and earthenware and shattered them. And then, iron and earthenware, bronze, silver, gold all broke into small pieces as fine as chaff on the threshing-floor in summer. The wind blew them away, leaving not a trace behind. And the stone that had struck the statue grew into a great mountain, filling the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will explain to the king what it means.

‘You, O king, king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given sovereignty, power, strength and glory – the sons of men, the beasts of the field, the birds of heaven, wherever they live, he has entrusted to your rule, making you king of them all – you are the golden head. And after you another kingdom will rise, not so great as you, and then a third, of bronze, which will rule the whole world. There will be a fourth kingdom, hard as iron, as iron that shatters and crushes all. Like iron that breaks everything to pieces, it will crush and break all the earlier kingdoms. The feet you saw, part earthenware, part iron, are a kingdom which will be split in two, but which will retain something of the strength of iron, just as you saw the iron and the clay of the earthenware mixed together. The feet were part iron, part earthenware: the kingdom will be partly strong and partly weak. And just as you saw the iron and the clay of the earthenware mixed together, so the two will be mixed together in the seed of man; but they will not hold together any more than iron will blend with earthenware. In the time of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms, and itself last for ever – just as you saw the stone untouched by hand break from the mountain and shatter iron, bronze, earthenware, silver and gold. The great God has shown the king what is to take place. The dream is true, the interpretation exact.’

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Luke 21:5-11

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’

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“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

 As we look at what’s happening in the world today, we realise that many of the happenings spoken by Jesus in today’s gospel have been taking place over the centuries, such as horrific wars and natural catastrophes. In the northern hemisphere, November is autumn. The daylight starts growing shorter. Here it Singapore, we experience the much needed rainy season. At this dark time of year, the readings focus on the darker side of human experience. They speak of destruction, loss, conflict and deception.

We look at endings sometimes with joyful welcome, sometimes with trepidation and fear. Now that we are coming to the end of the Liturgical Year (Advent begins next Sunday) our gospels will be focusing on the end times. Jesus begins by foretelling the end of the temple in Jerusalem (destroyed in 70 A.D.) The beautiful structures took 50 years to build. They were much loved and awed by everyone. No one would have imagined that these could be destroyed. Even the finest buildings only last so long.

We too should not be too attached to structures or situations in our lives that do not last.

As I reflect on today’s readings, on a personal level, I am reminded of the passing of things in my life over the past 5 years. These were painful endings. But today’s readings remind us that we should not hold onto these painful events and let them destroy us. Seasons come and seasons go. And a new one arrives. We cannot bypass the natural progression of seasons, “ …for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”  Situations in life or things have to die before God can bring forth something new in our lives.

As I ponder more, I realise that God was there for me through these crises. Even when I didn’t feel His presence. There were also endings that God saw me through that brought me freedom and opened up new opportunities in life.

Instead, we are to rely on Jesus, who is greater than the Temple. When all else disappears, he endures, and with him, we too will live on in him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, help us to remember that the future lies in your hands and nothing can destroy or hurt us if we remain true to you as Lord of our lives.

Thanksgiving:  The readings from today until Advent are full of warnings about the end times. But we are not to be terrified, because God’s providence will see us through whatever evils may beset our world. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

25 November, Monday – We only have each other to rely on

25 November

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Daniel 1:1-6,8-20

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched on Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hands, with some of the furnishings of the Temple of God. He took them away to the land of Shinar, and stored the sacred vessels in the treasury of his own gods.

The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to select from the Israelites a certain number of boys of either royal or noble descent; they had to be without any physical defect, of good appearance, trained in every kind of wisdom, well-informed, quick at learning, suitable for service in the palace of the king. Ashpenaz himself was to teach them the language and literature of the Chaldaeans. The king assigned them a daily allowance of food and wine from his own royal table. They were to receive an education lasting for three years, after which they were expected to be fit for the king’s society. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were Judaeans. Daniel, who was most anxious not to defile himself with the food and wine from the royal table, begged the chief eunuch to spare him this defilement; and by the grace of God Daniel met goodwill and sympathy on the part of the chief eunuch. But he warned Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king: he has assigned you food and drink, and if he sees you looking thinner in the face than the other boys of your age, my head will be in danger with the king because of you.’ At this Daniel turned to the guard whom the chief eunuch had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He said, ‘Please allow your servants a ten days’ trial, during which we are given only vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our looks with those of the boys who eat the king’s food; go by what you see, and treat your servants accordingly.’ The man agreed to do what they asked and put them on ten days’ trial. When the ten days were over they looked and were in better health than any of the boys who had eaten their allowance from the royal table; so the guard withdrew their allowance of food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. And God favoured these four boys with knowledge and intelligence in everything connected with literature, and in wisdom; while Daniel had the gift of interpreting every kind of vision and dream. When the period stipulated by the king for the boys’ training was over, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king conversed with them, and among all the boys found none to equal

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. So they became members of the king’s court, and on whatever point of wisdom or information he might question them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

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Luke 21:1-4

As Jesus looked up, he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; then he happened to notice a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.’

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…but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.

Recently, I read in our local newspaper about an elderly 83-year-old man, who lives in a one room rental flat. While busking, Mr. Lee would meet elderly needy folks and will open up his humble home – to 3 men over a period of a decade. He looked after his housemates, giving them a roof over their heads, took care of their needs. He fed them, clothed them and bathed them on the little savings he had of his own. Over a period of 4 years, two of his housemates passed away right in his home. For each housemate, he arranged the funeral, mourned and paid his respects to them. Mr Lee was not related to either of the men. “We are all in the same boat as each other – we have only each other to rely on,” said Mr Lee. He received an award that honours caregivers for their strength, resilience, and unwavering dedication in caring for their loved ones amid challenges. Yet in all humility and love, Mr Lee said, “I’d take care of them even if I didn’t get an award. This is just my way of caring for others.” Not only that, when the news of his deeds reached the media, offers of donations and help poured in. Yet, he politely declined every one of them, asking instead that donors help those less fortunate than he is.

This story is so humbling. A man with so little, yet not only was he willing to share with others, he went further by looking after his fellow brothers as though they were his own kin. This man, in his poverty, has given much more than any rich man.

This story reminds me of today’s gospel reading — when Jesus noticed the poor widow’s contribution of two small copper coins. Compared to the rich people’s contribution, her gift was small. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” One person who offered assistance to Mr. Lee commented, “He gives so much with the little he has. I have so much but I give so little. It’s really inspiring.” Many comments came in after people heard of his story – “There is just no comparison with people who have more, but have done very much less and are not even aware that they have not done enough.” He is truly the modern day ‘widow’.

I feel so ashamed with myself and my own ‘poverty’. I am by no means a rich person, but I am not poor as well. I have my own hang ups – in that I always worry about my financial future (that’s another story for another time). My ‘poverty’ is that I fail to give like the widow. Yes, I have given to those who need, but I have given out of my abundance, just like the rich people in today’s gospel.

True generosity is not so much giving what I can easily spare as giving what I can’t easily do without.

Pope Francis said: “Faced with the needs of others, we are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the necessary time, not only what remains extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or our own group.”

Today, Jesus invites us to ask ourselves how God, who knows our hearts, looks at us and our efforts. The amount of what we do is not that important for God, for what matters is our generosity — what lies in our hearts.

Today, I ask God for an open heart, ready to give all as this poor widow of the Gospel.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: God, I am aware of how little I have to offer. However, may this not stop me from improving the situation of those who have even less. Give me a large and generous heart like that of the poor widow. To give not from my extras, but to share the little that I have. Lord, help us to be generous and share the many gifts you have bestowed on us. Help us to help those who cannot help themselves, teach us how to give and not count the cost.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for showing me through this widow and the actions of this old man Mr Lee of what it is to be truly generous. Thank you Jesus, for times the generosity of others has helped me. Help me observe what is going on around me, to recognise and to appreciate even small actions of love and care given to me by others. Thank you, above all, for your unconditional love for me.

24 November, Sunday- He came to serve rather than be served

24 November

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2 Samuel 5:1-3

All the tribes of Israel then came to David at Hebron. ‘Look’ they said ‘we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, “You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.”’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.

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Colossians 1:12-20

We give thanks to the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.
Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.

He is the image of the unseen God
and the first-born of all creation,
for in him were created
all things in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and everything invisible,
Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers –
all things were created through him and for him.
Before anything was created, he existed,
and he holds all things in unity.
Now the Church is his body,
he is its head.

As he is the Beginning,
he was first to be born from the dead,
so that he should be first in every way;
because God wanted all perfection
to be found in him
and all things to be reconciled through him and for him,
everything in heaven and everything on earth,
when he made peace
by his death on the cross.

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Luke 23:35-43

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

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This is the King of the Jews.

As I reflected on today’s gospel, I imagined myself as one of the 2 criminals hanging on the cross there with Jesus, one on his left and the other on his right. Which one of the two criminals would I be? Would I be like the leaders who stood by watching Jesus, not believing that He is indeed the King of the Jews? If I were honest, I’d probably be the one who said “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  If I were that criminal, not having met nor encountered Jesus, I would probably be a bit sceptical, and also a bit anxious and afraid about my impending death. I may not go to the extent of expressing contempt, but I would surely be challenging him to prove himself and his ‘powers’ to save me from this painful death. In contrast, the other criminal was full of remorse for everything he had done in his lifetime. He recognized that Jesus is indeed the Lord and Saviour. His heart repentant, he humbly asked Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom. He didn’t demand this, he asked.

Unlike the 2 criminals, we don’t have to guess or wonder about Jesus’ power and royalty. We are blessed to have experienced the hand of God and Jesus in our lives, in big or small ways. Can we walk in faith that no matter what circumstances we face today, whatever challenges, pain and suffering, we can be assured that Jesus, the crucified King’s only aim is to help and protect the weak, and restore dignity to the poor and the helpless?

Today’s first two readings focus on kingdoms and power. In 2 Samuel, the tribes of Israel anoint David as king, following the will of the Lord who put him in charge of the Israelites even when Saul was still king. The Lord had, at the time, given David two charges, the second of which was to be “commander of Israel.” The first, however, was to “shepherd my people Israel” — to care for them, to love them, and to serve them. Power serves — it is not served. Jesus did not come to earth to declare a material kingdom of power and might, but came to serve us and save us. He came to serve rather than be served, and that service extends throughout time.

Just over the Deepavali weekend, social media was abuzz with news of a certain resident arguing and verbally abusing a security guard at his condominium. He was purportedly unhappy with a rule by the condominium’s management, which imposed a S$10 fee for visitors who park their cars there after 11pm. Being a guest of our country, he really upset many Singaporeans (and me) with the way he treated the innocent security guard, who was merely doing his job. He showed a disdain for those who live in public housing and had no respect for a fellow human being, deemed below his social status, I suppose. Like all fellow Singaporeans, I waited till the holiday weekend was over to see how this story would pan out. Would he lose his residency, his job and all credibility? His life must have been a living hell that Deepavali weekend – the backlash of his actions. Did he feel that his status in life gave him the power and ‘authority’ to treat others without respect? To demand service, without first serving?

As upset as I am over this incident, I am reminded that Jesus forgives those who wrong him — as he says, “…they do not know what they are doing.”

Can we step back, recognize what we are doing or not doing, and make a concerted effort to change? At the same time, can we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for your Kingship. For being a perfect example of what love, compassion and service means. May our lives be a true reflection of what it is to be Christian. Thank you for being Lord of our lives.

23 November, Saturday – Spiritual Wellness

Nov 23 – Memorial for St. Clement I, pope, martyr; Memorial for St. Columban, abbot

Clement (d. 101) was the fourth pope, and an apostolic Father. The Basilica of St. Clement in Rome is one of the earliest parish churches in the city, and is probably built on the site of Clement’s home. He is the author of the “Epistle to the Corinthians”. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Origen and St. Jerome identify him as working with St. Paul the Apostle.

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Columban (543–615) was well-born, handsome, and educated. He was torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decided to withdraw from the world. His family opposed the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He became a monk at Lough Erne. He studied Scripture extensively, and wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He became a monk at Bangor under abbot St. Comgall.

At middle age, Columban felt a calling to missionary life. With 12 companions, he travelled to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, had fallen far from the faith, but were ready for missionaries, and they had some success. They were warmly greeted at the court of Gontram, and king of Burgundy invited the band to stay. They chose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columban as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group drew disciples to join them, and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columban, to find solitude for prayer, often lived for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks overcrowded the old fortress, King Gontram gave them the old castle of Luxeuil to found a new house in 590. Soon after, a third house was founded at Fontaines. Columban served as master of them all, and wrote a Rule for them; it incorporated many Celtic practices, was approved by the Council of Macon in 627, but was superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arose early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops objected to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602, he was summoned to appear before them for judgement; instead of appearing, he sent a letter advising them to hold more synods, and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he used to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continued to years, with Columban appealing to multiple popes for help, but was only settled when Columban abandoned the Celtic calendar when he moved to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columban spoke out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court which was in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunehault stirred up the bishops and nobility against the abbot; Thierry ordered him to conform to the local ways, and shut up. Columban refused, and was briefly imprisoned at Besancon, but he escaped and returned to Luxeuil. Thierry and Brunehault sent an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship set sail, a storm drove them back to shore; the captain took it as a sign, and set the monks free.

They made their way to King Clothaire at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theodebert of Austrasia in 611. He travelled to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, Suevi, Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelisation work there was unsuccessful, and the group passed on to Arbon, then Bregenz, and then Lake Constance. St. Gall, who knew the local language best, took the lead in this region; may were converted to the faith, and the group founded a new monastery as their home and base.

However, a year later, political upheaval caused Columban to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treated him well, and he preached and wrote against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, the Lombard king gave him a tract of land call Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilt a half-ruined church of St. Peter, and around it he founded an abbey that was to be the source for evangelisation throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columban always enjoyed being in the forests and caves, and as he walked through the woods, birds and squirrels would ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life came word that his old enemies were dead, and his brothers wanted him to come back north, but he declined. Knowing that his time was almost done, he retired to a cave for solitude, and died as he had predicted. His influence continued for centuries as those he converted handed on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelised untold numbers more, and his brother monks founded over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

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1 Maccabees 6:1-13

King Antiochus was making his way across the upper provinces; he had heard that in Persia there was a city called Elymais, renowned for its riches, its silver and gold, and its very wealthy temple containing golden armour, breastplates and weapons, left there by Alexander son of Philip, the king of Macedon, the first to reign over the Greeks. He therefore went and attempted to take the city and pillage it, but without success, since the citizens learnt of his intention, and offered him a stiff resistance, whereupon he turned about and retreated, disconsolate, in the direction of Babylon. But while he was still in Persia news reached him that the armies that had invaded the land of Judah had been defeated, and that Lysias in particular had advanced in massive strength, only to be forced to turn and flee before the Jews; these had been strengthened by the acquisition of arms, supplies and abundant spoils from the armies they had cut to pieces; they had overthrown the abomination he had erected over the altar in Jerusalem, and had encircled the sanctuary with high walls as in the past, and had fortified Bethzur, one of his cities. When the king heard this news he was amazed and profoundly shaken; he threw himself on his bed and fell into a lethargy from acute disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. And there he remained for many days, subject to deep and recurrent fits of melancholy, until he understood that he was dying. Then summoning all his Friends, he said to them, ‘Sleep evades my eyes, and my heart is cowed by anxiety. I have been asking myself how I could have come to such a pitch of distress, so great a flood as that which now engulfs me – I who was so generous and well-loved in my heyday. But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land.’

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Luke 20:27-40

Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

Some scribes then spoke up. ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.

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“I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem…”

King Antiochus in today’s first reading, only remembered the many iniquities he committed against the Jewish community when he fell gravely ill. If only he had realized his mistakes earlier and made reparations quickly, He would not have angered God and fallen ill as a result.

In today’s context, when we fall ill physically or mentally, we consider it wrong to think of such illnesses as punishment from God. In Nigeria, this thinking has caused a stigma amongst people who are suffering from mental illness; they are being chained up and abused in so-called rehabilitative centres for many years. What we should focus on is not whether physical and mental illness is God’s punishment, but on whether we have acquired any spiritual illness.

In 2014, Pope Francis provided a list of 15 spiritual illnesses when he was addressing the Curia in his Christmas address*. They include overworking, over-planning one’s life, forgetting about the Lord and drifting away from the Church, gossiping, apathy or indifference as well as showing off one’s power or authority. We should be more acutely aware of these illnesses as they affect our relationship with God even after we die, whereas physical and mental illnesses will cease to exist once death comes knocking on our door. Perhaps, since our spiritual well-being has a very close and intimate relationship with other aspects of our well-being, like our physical and mental health, if our spiritual life is in disrepair, this would eventually affect our entire well-being.

In joyful hope during Advent, let us take care of our spiritual well-being whilst anticipating the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Today’s Oxygen by Brenda Khoo)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please pray for us to be spiritually well, so that we can always serve you joyfully and faithfully. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for being gracious and forgiving, and thank you for reminding us that we need to be spiritually healthy so that we can serve you. Amen.

 * You can find the entire list of the 15 spiritual illnesses in Pope Francis’s Curia in his Christmas address in 2014 at https://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=58117.

22 November, Friday – Forgive with a brotherly love

Nov 22 – Memorial for St. Cecilia, virgin, martyr

Cecilia (d. 117) was a cultivated young patrician woman whose ancestors loomed large in Rome’s history. She vowed her virginity to God, but her parents married her to Valerian of Trastevere. She told her new husband that she was accompanied by an angel, but in order to see it, he must be purified. He agreed to the purification and was baptized. Returning from the ceremony, he found her in prayer accompanied by a praying angel. The angel placed a crown on each of their heads, and offered Valerian a favour; the new convert asked that his brother be baptized.

The two brothers developed a ministry of giving proper burial to martyred Christians. In their turn they were arrested and martyred for their faith. Cecilia buried them at their villa on the Appian Way, and was arrested for the action. She was ordered to sacrifice to false gods, and when she refused, she was martyred in her turn.

She was suffocated for a while and when that didn’t kill her, she was beheaded. Her grave was discovered in 817, and her body removed to the Church of St. Cecilia in Rome. The tomb was opened in 1599 and her body was found to be incorrupt.

The Acta of Cecilia includes the following: “While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse.” It was this phrase that led to her association with music, singers, musicians, etc.

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1 Maccabees 4:36-37,52-59

Judas and his brothers said, ‘Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So they marshalled the whole army, and went up to Mount Zion.

On the twenty-fifth of the ninth month, Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they rose at dawn and offered a lawful sacrifice on the new altar of holocausts which they had made. The altar was dedicated, to the sound of zithers, harps and cymbals, at the same time of year and on the same day on which the pagans had originally profaned it. The whole people fell prostrate in adoration, praising to the skies him who had made them so successful. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering holocausts, communion sacrifices and thanksgivings. They ornamented the front of the Temple with crowns and bosses of gold, repaired the gates and the storerooms and fitted them with doors. There was no end to the rejoicing among the people, and the reproach of the pagans was lifted from them. Judas, with his brothers and the whole assembly of Israel, made it a law that the days of the dedication of the altar should be celebrated yearly at the proper season, for eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of the month Chislev, with rejoicing and gladness.

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Luke 19:45-48

Jesus went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling. ‘According to scripture,’ he said ‘my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’

He taught in the Temple every day. The chief priests and the scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, tried to do away with him, but they did not see how they could carry this out because the people as a whole hung on his words.

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“… my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.”

I was reading a social media post about how people are having their possessions stolen in the Catholic churches in Singapore. My first thought was, “Why? Why do people have to steal others’ belongings even in God’s house?” We have welfare services for the poor, from selling cheap goods at thrift shops to cooking free food to providing housing and free counselling, legal and medical services, so hasn’t the Church done enough for its people?

Thinking deeper on this issue, we need to be mindful of the fact that there are people in church who enjoy taking advantage of others’ focus on God for their own gain or benefit. While we must never condone their actions, we should still love and forgive the person. This does not mean that we let these people continue their wrongdoings, rather we should not shun, humiliate nor criticize them, but gently reproach them with brotherly love, and direct them to resources if they find themselves lacking in material needs. Hopefully, this will allow them to see God in us and have a true conversion from sin.

(Today’s Oxygen by Brenda Khoo)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please pray for us to have the magnanimity of heart to forgive those who have stolen our possessions in Your church, and to approach them with brotherly love and not anger or fear. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for sharing Your peace amongst us to forgive those who have hurt us by stealing our personal belongings in Your Church, and for allowing us to be Your face, grace and love to those who are knowingly or unknowingly in need of You. Amen.