Monthly Archives: February 2020

1 March, Sunday – Spiritual Detox

1 March

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Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7

The Lord God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.
The Lord God planted a garden in Eden which is in the east, and there he put the man he had fashioned. The Lord God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden.

Now the serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. It asked the woman, ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.”’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked. So they sewed fig-leaves together to make themselves loin-cloths.

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Romans 5:12-19

Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned. Sin existed in the world long before the Law was given. There was no law and so no one could be accused of the sin of ‘law-breaking’, yet death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even though their sin, unlike that of Adam, was not a matter of breaking a law.

Adam prefigured the One to come, but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. The results of the gift also outweigh the results of one man’s sin: for after one single fall came judgement with a verdict of condemnation, now after many falls comes grace with its verdict of acquittal. If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous. Again, as one man’s fall brought condemnation on everyone, so the good act of one man brings everyone life and makes them justified. As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

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Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves.’ But he replied, ‘Scripture says:

Man does not live on bread alone
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

The devil then took him to the holy city and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God’ he said ‘throw yourself down; for scripture says:

He will put you in his angels’ charge,
and they will support you on their hands
in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Scripture also says:

You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. ‘I will give you all these’ he said, ‘if you fall at my feet and worship me.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Be off, Satan! For scripture says:

You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’

Then the devil left him, and angels appeared and looked after him.

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“One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

After the past few months of merriment and feasting, it is now time for Lent – a time for abstinence, reflection, reconciliation and preparation to receive God. There are essentially three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and charity. To mark our first week of Lent, today’s theme touches on fasting.

We read a lot about people fasting in the Old Testament, usually after some sin has been committed and that person is repentant (Jonah 3:6), or when a person needs deliverance or prayers heard (Esther 4:16). There are also examples of fasting before one receives God in the form of guidance and direction (Deuteronomy 9:9). There was, of course, fasting in the New Testament; with the most well-known fast being Jesus, who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness after being baptized, where he was later tempted by the Devil.

Fasting is still relevant today for reasons very similar to our ancestors in the Bible. Admittedly, repentance is personally my main reason for fasting. But reading today’s Gospel has opened my eyes to the answer that I have perhaps been looking for – that fasting enables one to be prepared to receive God.

Let’s try to put this in a modern context: we have heard a lot about the benefits of doing a detox or cleansing diet to eliminate toxins in our bodies and restoring nutrients to our systems. Most of these diets involve some form of fasting either via a total fast for a short period of time, or avoidance of certain foods. The idea is to ‘reset’ our bodies and rejuvenate it by eliminating waste that could potentially harm us. In a similar vein, what we put into our bodies may not just affect our physical body, but also our minds and state of being. If, by fasting, we can restore our bodies to good health, why not fasting in all aspects (including refraining from negative habits) to restore balance in our minds and God in our lives? When we fast, we are meant to pray and look to God for strength. As such, though our physical body may be weakened, our will is not for we have sustenance from God.

In the Gospel reading, the first test that the Devil tried was to ask Jesus to prove that He is the Son of God by commanding the stones to be turned into bread. But Jesus responds by saying that “One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”. Likewise, Jesus was able to rebuff the Devil’s other temptations by relying on His spiritual strength. If we meditate on God’s Word while we eliminate the distractions from the outside world, we too, would gain spiritual strength to sustain us and perhaps, consciousness and clarity as to what God wants us to do.

Adam and Eve were tempted by the Devil to eat the forbidden fruit that was ‘pleasing to the eyes’ with the promise that ingesting it would make them like gods and open their eyes. Theirs was a quick fix with a sorry ending. Perhaps if they had restrained themselves from eating it, they might have had their eyes opened in a different way, according to God’s plan for them. Perhaps if they had focused on God and remembered His warning, they might have been more prepared to rebuff the Devil as Jesus had. But I suppose we will never know now.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, during this Lenten period, we pray for strength when we fast and abstain in our dedicated ways to You. For the promises that we have made to You, may our will be strong to quieten the temptations that lie in wait for us that we may fulfill those promises successfully, that in the end, we may be able to praise and give You glory.  

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for Your sustenance in the most holy Word of God, that we can strive forward. Though our bodies may be weak, but our minds and spirit are not, for we have You to keep us going.

29 February, Saturday – Spiritual Reset

29 February

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Isaiah 58:9-14

The Lord says this:

If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry,
and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness,
and your shadows become like noon.
The Lord will always guide you,
giving you relief in desert places.

He will give strength to your bones
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never run dry.

You will rebuild the ancient ruins,
build up on the old foundations.
You will be called ‘Breach-mender’,
‘Restorer of ruined houses.’

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
and doing business on the holy day,
if you call the Sabbath ‘Delightful’,
and the day sacred to the Lord ‘Honourable’,
if you honour it by abstaining from travel,
from doing business and from gossip,
then shall you find your happiness in the Lord
and I will lead you triumphant over the heights of the land.
I will feed you on the heritage of Jacob your father.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

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Luke 5:27-32

Jesus noticed a tax collector, Levi by name, sitting by the customs house, and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything he got up and followed him.

In his honour Levi held a great reception in his house, and with them at table was a large gathering of tax collectors and others. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples and said, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘It is not those who are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the virtuous, but sinners to repentance.’

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 “You will be like a spring whose waters never run dry”

How wonderful and delightful to read of the promises of Christ in today’s first reading. He has made all these great and mighty plans for us, for me, imagine that! I want to be all those things He promised, full of life, strong and resourceful. Filled with joy, happiness with endless possibilities. He has painted such a beautiful picture, that my heart yearns to live up to His promises.

I see this passage as an instruction manual — a clear step-by-step guide of how to attain this promise of His. It has also become clearer for me, what this season of Lent is all about. It is a purification process, ridding all of the darkness that consumes us, a spiritual reset button. Not that we shouldn’t repent and return to God throughout the year, but the Church has given us this period to focus on cleansing ourselves so that we can rise again with our Lord on Easter Sunday, to fully live in His glory.

This has also given me a different perspective of the season. It is not about the doom and gloom of our sinful nature that we should focus on. Yes, we need to repent and do our part, however, in today’s gospel Jesus declared it is for you and me that He became man and walked this world, it is for our salvation that He came. So yes, we are sinful and we need saving, that’s a fact! Nevertheless, He is with us, by our side, there’s nothing to fear but more importantly, we ought to cast our sight further, to that image and vision He has created us for, to claim that promise He has given… to be that spring whose waters never run dry!

(Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, how wonderful to be called to greatness, how delightful that, in you, we can be the light that rises in darkness. As we continue our Lenten observances, let us cast our sight a little further, while we mourn for our sinful ways, to see the promises you’ve made knowing we will rise again victoriously in you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for your promises and for the gift of this season, for the chance to re-examine our sinful ways, to have the opportunity to hit the reset button time and time again.

28 February, Friday – Outward sign of an inward shift

28 February

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Isaiah 58:1-9

Thus says the Lord:

Shout for all you are worth,
raise your voice like a trumpet.
Proclaim their faults to my people,
their sins to the House of Jacob.

They seek me day after day,
they long to know my ways,
like a nation that wants to act with integrity
and not ignore the law of its God.

They ask me for laws that are just,
they long for God to draw near:
‘Why should we fast if you never see it,
why do penance if you never notice?’

Look, you do business on your fast-days,
you oppress all your workmen;
look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast
and strike the poor man with your fist.

Fasting like yours today
will never make your voice heard on high.
Is that the sort of fast that pleases me,
a truly penitential day for men?

Hanging your head like a reed,
lying down on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call fasting,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me
 – it is the Lord who speaks –
to break unjust fetters and
undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and break every yoke,
to share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,

to clothe the man you see to be naked
and not turn from your own kin?
Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.

Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’

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Matthew 9:14-15

John’s disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’

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“The sort of fast that pleases me.”

Growing up as a little girl, I recall there was a constant drive to seek affirmation from my parents, especially my mother. As I reflect deeper, even up to the point when I became a mother myself, I still yearn for her approval. Of course, as an earthly mother, she is not without her struggles and issues, so this imperfect measuring up to her caused me much turmoil and pain, which manifested in the need to appear good, proper, and competent to other authorities in my life as well. It took me much soul searching during CER and after, to finally be at peace with who I am, and to realize truly who it is I ought to please.

Galatians 1:10 gave me wisdom and set me on the right path “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” With this realization came peace and ease, no longer do I need to put up appearances, constantly shifting and adjusting myself to please others; the course became clearer. The only question I need to ask myself from now on is, “What will please my Lord?”

As we perform penance during this season of Lent, what is our purpose? Fasting needs to lead to repentance and a true conversion of the spirit, for without which, it is just vain and hypocritical. We all need to pray earnestly for God’s assistance in examining ourselves; in purifying our intentions and motivations. Ultimately, whatever we choose to do as a sacrifice, is with the aim of having a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father.

As in today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us not to fast as the Pharisees do, without clear intention and purpose, just for the sake of following the laws. Purpose driven actions are imperative, and as Christians, our purpose must be Christ-centered and focussed on our Heavenly Father.

Conversely, be mindful of falling into the trap of thinking we can do without any outward signs. In our egocentricity, convincing ourselves that we do not need any acts of penance and charity, because we are saved and have attained conversion. Pride stands in our way, for if we truly love God and are sorry for our transgressions, then this conversion of the spirit will manifest into works of charity and sacrifice.

For me, a simple way of looking at it is ‘Outward Sign of An Inward Shift’. Conversion of heart, mind and spirit translates into outward signs of right actions and deeds.

In this season of Lent, let us walk closer to God with Jesus by our side, with purification of our heart every step of the way, so that we shall be light of world and salt of the earth.

(Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to purify our hearts, to examine our intentions and motivations, for we love you and want to draw closer to you during this season of Lent. We yearn for a deepening of our faith and to come face to face with our Father. In you we draw strength and power. Help us O, Lord.

Thanksgiving: Our Father, we are so grateful for your faithfulness and love. For never abandoning us despite our iniquities, we thank you Father. 

27 February, Thursday – WWJD

27 February

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses said to the people: ‘See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he would give them.’

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Luke 9:22-25

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

Then to all he said:

‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’

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“Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live…”

 Do we choose life in our daily lives? Do we choose to give life in our words and deeds? Are we a blessing to others or a curse?

It is so hard to be part of this world as a Christian. The world will always tempt and entice us with fame, glitz and glory; it’s about survival of the fittest, to win at all cost, but truly at what cost? Our soul? A high price to pay indeed. Jesus is not forcing us to follow Him blindly and certainly not threatening us with fears and damnation. The invitation is to respond to Him in love! In all that I do, in my choices every day, to renounce the way of the world no matter how difficult it may be.

Our Church emphasizes the concept of Imitatio Christi (imitation of Christ), which can be summarized in the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD), a movement in the 1990s as a personal motto for adherents of Christianity. In my daily struggles, to ask myself “WWJD?”, that will be a Christ-centered way of examining our motivations, choices and decisions; offering it all up in supplication to be led by His light.

To follow Jesus is a conscious living and giving of life and to be a blessing to everyone we encounter, for ours is a Living God and Jesus is alive and lives in us and through us. When we refuse to be drawn into the way of the world, when we choose life, we have won back our soul!

As we enter the season of Lent, let’s ask ourselves, what choices can I make today that bring life to others? WWJD?

(Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Jesus, you came to show us the way. Let us continue to fix our gaze upon you, our Lord, leaving the world behind us, choosing to love you no matter what. And even when we falter, which we will, help us to turn back to you in humility, and start again.

Thanksgiving: Our Father, thank you for allowing us this freedom to choose and be co-operators of your plan. Not because you need us but because we need it to reciprocate our love for you.

26 February, Wednesday – Authentic Conversion

26 February – Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter; it can occur as early as Feb 4 or as late as Mar 10.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the Oil of the Catechumens, though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the clergyman who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present. As he does so, he recites the words: “Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.

  • Wikipedia

Penitence is an essential part of the Christian life, for none of us can measure up to the tremendous vocation that is ours as Christians. We are in constant need of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Today we express this by taking part in an impressive corporate act of penitence and reconciliation, beseeching God for the grace to use with profit the ‘favourable time’ of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Passover feast.

the Sunday Missal

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Joel 2:12-18

‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks –
come back to me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.’
Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn,
turn to the Lord your God again,
for he is all tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in graciousness,
and ready to relent.
Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent,
will not leave a blessing as he passes,
oblation and libation
for the Lord your God?

Sound the trumpet in Zion!
Order a fast,
proclaim a solemn assembly,
call the people together,
summon the community,
assemble the elders,
gather the children,
even the infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his bedroom
and the bride her alcove.
Between vestibule and altar let the priests,
the ministers of the Lord, lament.
Let them say,
‘Spare your people, Lord!
Do not make your heritage a thing of shame,
a byword for the nations.
Why should it be said among the nations,
“Where is their God?”’

Then the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land,
took pity on his people.

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2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

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. As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.

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Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

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“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn”

As a parent of two children, I have seen my fair share of sibling disagreements. Invariably, someone would be asked to apologise, and a quick “Sorry” would be uttered. As would happen often, the one doing the ‘apologising’ would not be repentant, and I would find myself asking the child to “say it like you mean it”. Thankfully, true contrition follows and hugs are exchanged.

I find myself observing the same behaviour in the work environment too. Apologies are given to soothe over rough interactions, or for political expediency. Same attitudes and behaviours tend to continue, and the same interactions follow.

In preparing for this reflection, I was wondering why it was important to “say it like you mean it” and the answer that came to me was this — we cannot fix what we cannot name or identify.

Many examples came to me as I prayed and reflected — In confession, we name our sins in order to be absolved; when we see a doctor, illness needs to be diagnosed before treatment; a taxi journey needs to begin with a destination.

Simply put, God cannot work to effect real change in our lives if we are not truly sorry.

It is challenging for the Catholic community at this time that the Singapore Church has suspended all public masses and activities; however, this is also a wonderful opportunity for all of us to quieten and examine our inner lives. We get time to go inside ourselves and truly open our broken hearts to our God.

Have a fruitful Lenten season everyone.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may be unafraid to examine and name our failings and sins and to offer them up to you for healing.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful, Father, that no matter how broken or sinful we are, You continue to love and be there for us.

25 February, Tuesday – Daddy! Daddy!

25 February

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James 4:1-10

Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.
You are as unfaithful as adulterous wives; don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy?

Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy. Surely you don’t think scripture is wrong when it says: the spirit which he sent to live in us wants us for himself alone? But he has been even more generous to us, as scripture says: God opposes the proud but he gives generously to the humble. Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you. The nearer you go to God, the nearer he will come to you. Clean your hands, you sinners, and clear your minds, you waverers. Look at your wretched condition, and weep for it in misery; be miserable instead of laughing, gloomy instead of happy. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.

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Mark 9:30-37

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

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

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“Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me”

 A friend of mine from junior college once asked me if I would continue to be a Christian if my life was really difficult. It was his view that I was happy and prayed only because my life was smooth-sailing.

I took some time to think about it; then confidently, I said “Yes”.

That took place about ten years ago. Since that question was asked me, I had left a job which I had stopped enjoying. Overnight, I experienced such a major change to my self-image. I struggled with sadness, and ultimately, depression.

The best thing for me, though, was that this time gave me an  opportunity to spend time both by myself, with my family, but also to spend time with God. Despite all the challenges I was facing, I found comfort in spending time with Him. I had never previously had a personal ‘God’ experience, and this was the first time that I really did.

I am familiar with the Gospel of today, but until then, had never really understood it; it was only when “we let go, and let God” that we begin to grow. When we let go of the adult in us, we are free to become little children. It is when we let go, that our hands are free to know God.

Let us continue to reach out to God like the children that we are.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We ask You Father, to teach us to remain as little children in Your eyes. Help us to always reach out to You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for Your teachings. We are grateful for Your eternal and unconditional love for us.

24 February, Monday – Running on empty

24 February

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James 3:13-18

If there are any wise or learned men among you, let them show it by their good lives, with humility and wisdom in their actions. But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or a self-seeking ambition, never make any claims for yourself or cover up the truth with lies – principles of this kind are not the wisdom that comes down from above: they are only earthly, animal and devilish. Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.

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Mark 9:14-29

When Jesus, with Peter, James and John came down from the mountain and rejoined the disciples, they saw a large crowd round them and some scribes arguing with them. The moment they saw him the whole crowd were struck with amazement and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ he asked. A man answered him from the crowd, ‘Master, I have brought my son to you; there is a spirit of dumbness in him, and when it takes hold of him it throws him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and goes rigid. And I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were unable to.’ ‘You faithless generation’ he said to them in reply. ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ They brought the boy to him, and as soon as the spirit saw Jesus it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground and lay writhing there, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ ‘From childhood,’ he replied ‘and it has often thrown him into the fire and into the water, in order to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can?’ retorted Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for anyone who has faith.’

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

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

My wife has been sending me messages and articles to read via WhatsApp, encouraging me to take better care of myself; to detach from work, to eat better, to rest more. As you can probably guess by now, I do not do this well; I sleep something like 4-6 hours nightly, typically start work at about 4 in the morning and do not have a regular exercise programme.

This has begun to take a toll on me recently.  I have become tired more easily, am short-tempered and generally not so nice to be around.

I have a wise spouse. Indeed, after the times I have taken better care of myself, I find that I am happier, more productive and a more loving husband and father.

Indeed, this is the same with our faith and our service.

My wife and I were once cell group leaders for a few couples. Being new to this, we were anxious but at the same time, enthusiastic. We threw ourselves into our roles and worked hard. Yet, we felt that we were ‘fake’ and not worthy of being cell group leaders. After a couple of years, we left the group.

Some time later, we realised that while we did pray during the period of service, we did not spend real time with our Lord. We mouthed our prayers superficially but did not build on our relationship with Him; we were trying to do everything on our own, depending on our own abilities.

Indeed, in order to be able to work in His name, we must truly have a close relationship with God. We need to continually tap into His fireplace; to draw warmth and strength. We cannot, and must not, ever try to do it on our own, if we are to do great things in His name.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may remember to always build a relationship with You, Father. Help us to grow in faith and in love for You.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful for our Lord Jesus, who shows us how to spend time with You, Father. Thank You for helping us realise that we never have to do it on our own, that we can always tap into You.

23 February, Sunday – Pride, our stumbling block

23 February

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Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18

The Lord spoke to Moses; he said: ‘Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them:
‘“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.

‘“You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way you will not take a sin upon yourself. You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”’

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1 Corinthians 3:16-23

Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.

Make no mistake about it: if any one of you thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise. Why? Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.

As scripture says: The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are; or again: God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise. So there is nothing to boast about in anything human: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life and death, the present and the future, are all your servants; but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

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Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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“… he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise…”

I have been recently troubled by some issues at work, and in the course of these ‘troubles’, I got into a spat with one of my colleagues. Suffice to say that the interactions have gotten rather heated of late, and we ended up having a face-to-face confrontation.

I was feeling frustrated as I believed I was doing my best to help others, and felt the other person was being self-centred and protective over her ‘territory’.

In preparing for today’s reflection, I felt God addressing me directly.

Firstly, the Gospel today spoke about “turning the other cheek”. I felt these verses speaking to me and I sat with this for a few days. I was puzzled. There were other situations in the Bible when Jesus got angry (such as the time Jesus chased the merchants out of the Temple as detailed in Matthew 21:12-17), where He certainly didn’t turn His cheek.

Then it struck me. That to me, it was not about the act of turning one’s cheek at all. Instead, it was a question of one’s pride preventing one from doing so.

In the work scenario I mentioned above, I realised that it was never about my colleague being selfish. What triggered me was the perception that she was arrogant and that she did not give me due respect.

The second reading of today talks about wisdom, and how worldly wisdom is seen as foolishness by God. In my effort to help others, I did not realise that I was, in fact, acting on my own accord. I failed to consider the feelings of others, or even to seek out their opinions! Instead of being wise, I was demonstrating my foolishness!

I am constantly amazed by how our God speaks to me. In today’s readings, God guides and rebukes me at the same time. I feel His love and am confident that no matter how challenging the journey, and how many mistakes I make, He will watch out for me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may be able to slow down to listen to Your promptings. Help us to always be open to You.

Thanksgiving: We thank You, Father God, for always sending Your Spirit to be there with us. Thank you for blessing us always with Your love, constant guidance and protection.

22 February, Saturday – The Rock of the Church

22 Feb – Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the Apostle

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

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

  • The Weekday Missal

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1 Peter 5:1-4

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

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Matthew 16:13-19

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

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“And upon this rock I will build my Church.”

The world has been faced with a lot of unpleasant news lately. The devastating bush fires in Australia, the conflict between Iran and USA, all-time hottest temperature in Antarctica, and the one that’s hitting closest to home, the proliferation of the COVID-19 virus.

On 14 February, our Archbishop made a very tough decision — to suspend all public masses indefinitely, so that we Catholics can be responsible in playing our part to contain the spread of this virus. My WhatsApp messages were going off non-stop that Friday evening, people forwarding messages and hearsay, everyone speculating the authenticity of the message. The catholic.sg website was crashing probably from the sheer numbers of people trying to log on at the same time.

Until the news was confirmed on the various official channels – Facebook, Telegram, and the website was also finally restored. Many, including myself, were somewhat in disbelief and shock. Cancellation of masses was unheard of, at least in my time. It must not have been easy for the Church to come to this difficult but necessary decision.

I was feeling rather sad and lost that suddenly we would be unable to attend mass and receive the Eucharist. Perhaps we have been taking the privilege and ease of having Mass for granted. There are those in other countries who don’t have this same privilege as us in Singapore — to celebrate mass daily so easily and frequently. Perhaps having this privilege taken away from us is what we need to remember the sanctity and better appreciate the beauty of the mass. Is it even more fitting that the Lenten season is around the corner, a season of penance and contemplation? Absence can sometimes bring us more time, clarity and renewal.

Fr Joachim wrote a very apt and beautiful prayer which I would like to share:

“Dearest Lord,

When we lose something dear to us, give us the grace to appreciate what we had.

When we lose something important and not miss it, give us the grace to rediscover its importance and yearn for it again.

When it is something so important that we cannot have, after losing it, give us the grace to appreciate that God is never restricted by circumstances to still give what is necessary for us, for grace abounds when all else may fail.

Most of all, we may lose everything, but let us never lose our God.

Amen”

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, we pray for the strength and courage in these trying times. Help us not to be fearful or paranoid, but to cling onto your truth. Grant us the grace to continue to be your faithful servants, even without being able to physically attend mass and receive the Eucharist, but to make an act of spiritual communion every week.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father, for giving us the opportunity to see rainbows through the rain. Thank you for the graces that abound in us in the difficult times. Amen.

21 February, Friday – The Lost

21 Feb – Memorial for St. Peter Damian, bishop and doctor

Peter Damian (1007-1072) was the youngest child in a large family. When he was orphaned, he was sent to live with a brother where he was mistreated and forced to work as a swine-herd. He cared for another brother, a priest in Ravenna, Italy. He was well educated in Fienza and Parma and became a professor, but lived a life of strict austerity.

He gave up his teaching to become a Benedictine monk. His health suffered, especially when he tried to replace sleep with prayer. He founded a hermitage. He was occasionally called on by the Vatican to make peace between arguing monastic houses, clergymen, and government officials, etc. He was made Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, and he fought simony.

He tried to restore primitive discipline among priests and religious who were becoming more and more of the world. He was a prolific correspondent, and he also wrote dozens of sermons, seven biographies (including one of St. Romuald), and poetry, including some of the best Latin of the time. He tried to retire being a monk, but was routinely recalled as a papal legate.

He died on Feb 22, 1072 of fever at Ravenna while surrounded by brother monks reciting the Divine Office. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828.

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James 2:14-24,26

Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.

This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds – now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show. You believe in the one God – that is creditable enough, but the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear. Do realise, you senseless man, that faith without good deeds is useless. You surely know that Abraham our father was justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar? There you see it: faith and deeds were working together; his faith became perfect by what he did. This is what scripture really means when it says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this was counted as making him justified; and that is why he was called ‘the friend of God.’

You see now that it is by doing something good, and not only by believing, that a man is justified. A body dies when it is separated from the spirit, and in the same way faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds.

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Mark 8:34-9:1

Jesus called the people and his disciples to him and said:
‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to win the whole world and ruin his life? And indeed what can a man offer in exchange for his life? For if anyone in this adulterous and sinful generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’

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“Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it”

As we approach the end of the week, the readings provide us with a timely reminder of the purpose of our lives, why we live and who are we living for.

In the readings today, we read of “as a body without a spirit is dead, so is faith without deeds” and also how “anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it”.

We are invited to reflect upon our purpose and calling in this life. Especially facing such situations where there is panic and uncertainty, we are called to be witnesses, not to lose our lives or lose our opportunity for survival, but instead, to be a gift, to be an example to the lost.

Many have lost their purpose and are lost in terms of their direction, that self-preservation seems like the way to go. Instead, our lives are not about how long we live but how we have lived out this life.

For fear of missing out, most have been influenced by society and have failed to speak out and to take action — whether it’s speaking the truth, providing truthful information regarding the virus and its spreading, whether we have provided truthful information on our healthcare and its resources.

When there is a lack of voices and action, the people become lost, and we become controlled by our instincts instead of being able to think clearly and with empathy to respond to the situation.

Let the battle against the virus and be human versus the virus because at the moment, it seems to be that we are merely defending ourselves, leaving the minority to battle the viruses for us alone. Let us not just talk and pray behind the scenes, but truly take an active role in being a gift to the lost around us. Amen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that many more will come to know you and your love, to know that our lives are so much more, that we are able to contribute, be a gift, make a difference, to start a ripple and see how it can transform a culture. Dear Lord, help us to rely on you especially when we seem to want to rely on our own strength. We pray for wisdom and courage especially during this difficult time.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we lift up our own personal intentions of thanks for _______________________________ (feel free to vocalise your thanks)