All posts by Aloysius Ting

Saturday, 23 Mar – Christian Life

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

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

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

– Patron Saint Index
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Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’
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John 11:45-56

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

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

The ability for the human mind to find reasons to justify their behaviour is amazing. Indeed, the words of Caiaphas in today’s passage sometimes reminds me of the manner in which some people in management speak especially when they come to decisions which involve personnel movement and firing. Yet such actions miss the mark of achieving a particular state of affairs which will enable them to enjoy God’s peace within them.

God wants to rescue us from the folly of the sins which we have been involved in because He loves us. His love is unconditional and cannot be compromised. This is something which we must all remember. The prophet Ezekiel shares with us the joy of God’s promise of love for us. It is almost a certainty as long as we are willing to co-operate with God. The ball is now in our court and we need to remember that our actions will determine the consequences both presently and the afterlife.

Killing somebody may result in the annihilation of one’s physical life but it does not mean the end of one’s ideas. Jesus came to begin a new way of life and this is certainly something we need to remember especially since we are called Christians. It is easy to fall back into the way of sin but we need to be conscious of what we need to do and discover that it takes time for us to truly grasp what it means to become a child of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, let us stay in touch with you throughout our lives

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who have taken the vow and promise of obedience.

Friday, 22 Mar – Continued Praise Of God

22 Mar
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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.
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John 10:31-42

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

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

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

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

The readings of today take a noticeably darker tone as we begin to hear about anguish and despair faced by different people but with full confidence in the love of God who will ensure that they will be kept on the right path if they see it through. This is certainly something which we need to keep in mind especially in today’s world where we face a high level of persecution from all around us.

Sometime persecution does not need to take place in the form of a threat to one’s life for one’s beliefs but rather it can take the place of a slow but constant attack on the beliefs which one is supposed to adhere to. The attack is perhaps a bit more insidious than an outright attack on our faith but it is certainly something we need to be just as wary of. We can respond to such attacks by continually doing good works. Yet even in doing God’s works we may be exposed to some form of persecution but at least the works which we do are examples of the love which God has shown us.

The world cannot be satisfied with what we have to offer because they have not realise that true happiness comes not from worldly things but from the love of God. Our actions and words must therefore follow that path and we pray for God’s will to act through our gestures and leave his message of love within them.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, protect us from all harm of persecution.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who suffer silently.

Thursday, 21 Mar – Faithful Obedience

21 Mar
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Genesis 17:3-9

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you: you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings. I will establish my Covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity, and I will be your God.’
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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’

The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:

‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’

The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’

At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.
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But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word

There have been occasions where I get a higher level of service from a shop and this is because the person attending to me believes in the product he is selling. They readily acknowledge the weaknesses of their products but do not hesitate to play up its advantages. The readings of today remind us of the importance of having a strong belief in our Christian faith.

How do we know what God wants from us? We can know what God wants from us through three approaches namely the intellect, emotions and service. We need to have a sufficient understanding of what God wants from us through reading and we can deepen our faith as we serve others because we discover the areas in our life in which God wants us to trust him. All these will allow us to deepen our encounter with God by gaining a persona relationship with God.

Jesus knew God the Father because he continually prayed to God. In prayer, we enter into a period of conversation and deepening of an awareness of what it means for us to become children of God. Prayer strengthens our belief in God and allows us to adhere closely to His word. Let us take time to pause and consider how we can go about ensuring that we spend time talking to God and enjoying his presence.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, grant us time to speak to you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who pray to God unceasingly.

Wednesday, 20 Mar – A Chip Off The Old Block

20 Mar
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Daniel 3:14-20.24-25.28

King Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is it true that you do not serve my gods, and that you refuse to worship the golden statue I have erected? When you hear the sound of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, or any other instrument, are you prepared to prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made? If you refuse to worship it, you must be thrown straight away into the burning fiery furnace; and where is the god who could save you from my power?’ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your question hardly requires an answer: if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, O king, he will save us; and even if he does not, then you must know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected.’ These words infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was very different now as he looked at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He gave orders for the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual, and commanded certain stalwarts from his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar sprang to his feet in amazement. He said to his advisers, ‘Did we not have these three men thrown bound into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ ‘But,’ he went on ‘I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm. And the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: he has sent his angel to rescue the servants who, putting their trust in him, defied the order of the king, and preferred to forfeit their bodies rather than serve or worship any god but their own.’
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John 8:31-42

To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said:

‘If you make my word your home
you will indeed be my disciples,
you will learn the truth
and the truth will make you free.’

They answered, ‘We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
everyone who commits sin is a slave.
Now the slave’s place in the house is not assured,
but the son’s place is assured.
So if the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed.
I know that you are descended from Abraham;
but in spite of that you want to kill me
because nothing I say has penetrated into you.
What I, for my part, speak of
is what I have seen with my Father;
but you, you put into action
the lessons learnt from your father.’

They repeated, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them:

‘If you were Abraham’s children,
you would do as Abraham did.
As it is, you want to kill me
when I tell you the truth
as I have learnt it from God;
that is not what Abraham did.
What you are doing is what your father does.’

‘We were not born of prostitution,’ they went on ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus answered:

‘If God were your father, you would love me,
since I have come here from God;
yes, I have come from him;
not that I came because I chose,
no, I was sent, and by him.’
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What you are doing is what your father does

Lineage from a particular family in certain countries ensures that one will always be exposed to the in-fighting and back-biting of the world of politics. One can expect to be associated with the stereotypes and expectations of one’s predecessors and the constant association with the elder. The readings of today show us two different types of expectations with different consequences for all.

Daniel and companions in the first reading refused to acknowledge the role of the king as a deity because they worshipped God and knew that He was the one true God. They knew the origins of their faith and we willing to attribute their behaviour to this reason. Their faith was rewarded with them keeping their lives. This is not the case in the Gospel where the Jews refused to believe in Christ despite claiming to be descended from Abraham.

The Jews prided on their lineage from Abraham but they forgot that a historical promise can only come true if we behave within the expectations of that promise. Jesus was amazed at their obstinacy and reluctance to accept his message of love. The decision to choose our faith lies with us and we need to decide what it is we desire and choose to follow. The path is before us and we already know how to walk it, all that is left is for us to see it through.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, grant us strength to continue the love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who continue to proclaim the Word of God to those around us.

Monday, 18 Mar – Flawed Standards

18 Mar – Memorial for St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

Cyril (315-386) was raised a Christian in Jerusalem. He was well-educated, especially in religion. He was ordained a priest by St. Maximus, and was a great instructor of catechumens. His instructions are still source documents for the Church’s early teachings. He became Bishop of Jerusalem in 348. He was exiled three times by the Arians, usually on some trumped up charge like selling church furniture, but actually on theological grounds. He attended the Council of Seleucia in 359, and the Council of Constantinople in 381. He is a Greek Father of the Church, and a Doctor of the Church.
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Daniel 13:1-9.15-17.19-30.33-62

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man. Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people.’ These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. The two elders, who used to watch her every day as she came in to take her walk, gradually began to desire her. They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue. So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden. There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place. She said to the servants, ‘Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.’

Hardly were the servants gone than the two elders were there after her. ‘Look,’ they said ‘the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us! Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away.’ Susanna sighed. ‘I am trapped,’ she said ‘whatever I do. If I agree, that means my death; if I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’ Then she cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her, and one of them ran to open the garden door. The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what was happening; once the elders had told their story the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.

Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, in their vindictiveness determined to have her put to death. They addressed the company: ‘Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.’ She was sent for, and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations. All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her. The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on the woman’s head. Tearfully she turned her eyes to heaven, her heart confident in God. The elders then spoke. ‘While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two servants. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants. A young man who had been hiding went over to her and they lay down together. From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them. Though we saw them together we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels. We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was. She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.’

Since they were elders of the people, and judges, the assembly took their word: Susanna was condemned to death. She cried out as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’

The Lord heard her cry and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, ‘I am innocent of this woman’s death!’ At which all the people turned to him and asked, ‘What do you mean by these words?’ Standing in the middle of the crowd he replied, ‘Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.’

All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, ‘Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.’ Daniel said, ‘Keep the men well apart from each other for I want to question them.’ When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. ‘You have grown old in wickedness,’ he said ‘and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men, when the Lord has said, “You must not put the innocent and the just to death.” Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what tree you saw them lying under?’ He replied, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received your sentence from him and will slash you in half.’ He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, ‘Spawn of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray! This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel and they were too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness! Now then, tell me what tree you surprised them under?’ He replied, ‘Under a holm oak.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.’

Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the saviour of those who trust in him. And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths. As prescribed in the Law of Moses, they sentenced them to the same punishment as they had intended to inflict on their neighbour. They put them to death; the life of an innocent woman was spared that day.
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John 8:12-20

Jesus said to the people:

‘I am the light of the world;
anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark;
he will have the light of life.’
At this the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.’

Jesus replied:

‘It is true that I am testifying on my own behalf,
but my testimony is still valid,
because I know
where I came from and where I am going;
but you do not know
where I come from or where I am going.
You judge by human standards;
I judge no one,
but if I judge, my judgement will be sound,
because I am not alone:
the one who sent me is with me;
and in your Law it is written
that the testimony of two witnesses is valid.
I may be testifying on my own behalf,
but the Father who sent me is my witness too.’

They asked him, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus answered:

‘You do not know me,
nor do you know my Father;
if you did know me,
you would know my Father as well.’

He spoke these words in the Treasury, while teaching in the Temple. No one arrested him, because his time had not yet come.
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You judge by human standards

It is amazing to hear how various individuals judge a person by virtue of their physical appearance and their educational qualifications instead of the person as a whole. I believe the nature of the world in which we live in demands and expects us to conform to a certain standard if we want to be accepted by our peers. The readings of today remind us that the standard we have to adhere to is the standard which God has held us up against.

Some may then ask how do we know what God’s standards are? The easiest approach is through the intellect where we read the written material which is readily available. The praying of Sacred Scripture, reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of the Fathers in the Church and even attending talks are all avenues in which we can increase the intellectual aspect. However, I find that this is insufficient as we also need to raise the affective domain which is the encounter in which we have with God.

This can be done through spending quiet time with God. This particular method is not meant to prescriptive but more of a suggestion because there are occasions in scripture where the calling of important people (Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and Elijah) in the history of salvation were done in silence and solitude. As we come closer to the celebration of the paschal mystery, let us take time to pause and pray for us to develop an encounter with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, we pray for the ability to set time to spend it with you

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who chose to take the vow of silence.

Sunday, 17 Mar – Joyful Repentance

17 Mar

The Lord Who Has Wiped Out Our Past Sinfulness

The utter completeness of Christ’s forgiveness is almost incredible. When he says to us ‘Neither do I condemn you’, the past is dead, snuffed out like a wick, forgotten. Laughter and song fil our hearts. It seems like a dream.

– The Sunday Missal
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Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who made a way through the sea,
a path in the great waters;
who put chariots and horse in the field
and a powerful army
which lay there never to rise again,
snuffed out, put out like a wick:

No need to recall the past,
no need to think about what was done before.
See, I am doing a new deed,
even now it comes to light; can you not see it?
Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness,
paths in the wilds.

The wild beasts will honour me,
jackals and ostriches,
because I am putting water in the wilderness
(rivers in the wild)
to give my chosen people drink.
The people I have formed for myself
will sing my praises.
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Philippians 3:8-14

I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.
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John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then be bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’
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All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come

One of the reasons why some of us live in despair and gloom is because we keep the hurts that we have been inflicted by others despite the event being long over. This certainly does not bode well for us as Christians as we are called to be people of joy radiating the love of God to all who are around us. This is the message of today’s readings; that we are called to forget our sinfulness as God has accepted us for who we are.

The Pharisees in the Gospel reading are sometimes like us; always ready to accuse another person and not willing to put the person in the centre of the situation. The Pharisees viewed the situation as a matter of the transgression of the law and they did not see the woman as a fellow Jew who had the same rights and needs as them. Jesus saw in that woman a child of God who was scared and in need of healing within the soul. This explains why His words “Neither do I condemn you” are the most touching words that a woman in her position can possibly hear and receive.

These words can only be heard once we take the step to acknowledge our sins and accept the way that God has set out for us. Once we have received this forgiveness from God, we will begin to rejoice and sing the praises of God continually and echo the Psalmist in the responsorial Psalm “what marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
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Prayer: Lord, let us have the courage to acknowledge our shortcomings

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who are struggling with addictions.

Saturday, 16 Mar – A Shield Before Me Is God

16 Mar
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Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Lord revealed it to me; I was warned. O Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming. I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may be quickly forgotten!’

But you, the Lord of Hosts, who pronounce a just sentence,
who probe the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
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John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’
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For to you I have entrusted my cause!

The first reading and gospel reading today are like two sides of the same coin. They are two ends of the same rope that tie up the story – the image of a trusting lamb led to slaughter (Jer 11:19) and the chief priests and Pharisees who were plotting to to arrest Jesus (Jn 7:45). The Responsorial Psalm today echoes in cries, “save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, lest I become like the lion’s prey, to be torn to pieces” (Ps 7:2-3).

We cannot imagine ourselves in such a despairing situation, but there are surely some amongst us who have faced such experiences before. What does one do in the face of such devious schemes? The world says, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. When we are hemmed in by fear, we strike out first at those we perceive to be our agressors – better their injury than mine. These all make logical sense.

Yet the Bible tells us consistently that this is not the way of the Lord. Psalm 4:4-5 tells us, “Be angry but do not sin; when you are on your bed, search your hearts and be silent. Offer up the sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord.” Impossible it seems. But the Psalm and first reading today says too, “O searcher of heart and soul, O just God.” We search our hearts because it is there that He meets us and sustains us in our moments of desolation, when we have lost all of the world’s comfort. It is where He leads us beside still waters and refreshes our soul.

God knows the ins and outs of our every though. When the lamb is led to the slaughter, God knows its cries of fear. Whatever the crowd, the priests, and the Pharisees were plotting, God knew their schemes. The lamb is the prefiguring of Jesus Christ who was handed over to be crucified by Pontius Pilate. God the Father knew His son’s anguished tears in the garden of Gethsamane: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). Though today’s gospel ends that the crowds dispersed, we know the end of the story – just that the hour had not yet come. Jesus was finally crucified on the cross, the lamb was slain on the altar.

Yet the end of his life on earth is not ‘The End’. As the Lenten season leads us to Good Friday, we may not see the sense in this madness, the unfairness in the innocent lamb’s destiny for the slaughterhouse. In our hearts we too are crying out for logic in some of life’s unfairness. The bitter pill and chalice we may have to swallow or drink from, seems most cruel at this point in the journey. Jesus suffered too from the same kind of fear. For all the power he had over sickness, death, and disease, he knew he had to surrender it all to the Father’s will. Jesus had free will too, we must remember he was fully man. But his triumph over the weakness of flesh reminds us that we have a choice. He chose the chalice of suffering because he knew there was greater good to be wrought from it. “Yet not my will but yours be done” (Mt 26:39)

Jesus took refuge in the shield that ultimately protected him from eternal death – God. Nothing makes sense at that point – that the innocent should suffer for evil – but the prophet Jeremiah declares this confidently, “to you I have entrusted my cause!” The greatest strength in Jesus was not to hit back at his agressors to escape death and prove his kingship. His true strength resided in the full surrender of his will to God’s great plan and purpose. It was his complete mastery of his self: to choose present lowliness, meekness, privation, and poverty, that raised him higher than all the angels of heaven.

To follow Christ, we will have to choose the path to our own Good Fridays in self-surrender. To walk this way, we will have to wrestle with our strongest wills, to constantly acknowledge and relinquish our weaknesses. And we pray too for those who hurt us because Jesus has taught us so. Our surest comfort lies in God who is our refuge and shield, our staff to guide us. It is the indescribable joy of Easter Sunday that we anticipate – the ressurection beyond our wildest imagination. God exists outside of our expectations and understanding, and so we will never ever be disappointed when we place our trust in Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Prayer: Heavenly Father, we place our trust in you and know that all things work together for good according to your purpose.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for all the times you have covered me with your protection, especially the moments I am ignorant of.

 

Friday, 15 Mar – The Hidden Counsels Of God

15 Mar
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Wisdom 2:1.12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.
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John 7:1-2.10.25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.

As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.

Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.
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The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

“Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all the Lord delivers him,” we sing in the responsorial psalm today. This somehow contradicts what we hold true in the world. That good people should have good rewards, while bad people should suffer for their wrongs. When good people suffer instead, and the bad appear to be getting away, we regard this as senseless! Why then does Psalm 34 say this? Jesus’ life is proof that the just and upright man may not enjoy righteousness in this earthly life, but ultimately God will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus Christ’s life and teachings were subversive in those days, and still remain so in our time. One of the strangest things Jesus tells his disciples was this: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mt 19:30). The oddity and contradiction might have been lost on some, but we can recall his sermon on the mount, where he teaches us the seven Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). All seven were persuasions of the extraordinary – that the weak and lowly would finally surpass the seeming mighty and powerful. “Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth”, “Blessed are the merciful; for they will be shown mercy”, “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted”, to list a few.

In the first reading, the Book of Wisdom of Solomon foretold that the wicked would hate Jesus and plot to trap him – “with insult and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” (Wis 2:19-20)

Knowing all that lay ahead of him, Jesus cried out in the temple to the Jews in today’s gospel reading, “Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me… is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me” (Jn 7:28-29). However his hour had not yet come, we are told, and we anticipate his suffering on the cross. From his humbled birth in the manger and his ordinary life as a carpenter’s son; to the miracles he performed and the persecutions that followed; to his betrayal by those he trusted and his humiliation along the fourteen Stations of the Cross. We do not see respite in the sufferings of Jesus, God who lowered Himself as man. Where then is his justice – “the innocent souls’ reward”? (Wis 2:22)

The reward for Jesus Christ was His resurrection from the Cross. Not to be gotten on earth but in God’s heavenly Kingdom! In this life, we often say that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. Yet as Christians, we must desire our heavenly destination so fervently, that it utterly alters the manner and course of our journey. This is not easy and we will falter from time to time. Yet let us acknowledge our weaknesses and persevere on together.

Are you enduring some kind of trials and tribulations now, because you desire to be Christ-like to those who blame and attack you? Are you challenged to forgive first, those who trespass against you just as your Heavenly Father has forgiven your trespasses? Are you meek and lowly now, because you desire peace and reconciliation in a situation of anger and unforgiveness? You are not alone. For in your broken-heartedness, you are united with Christ in his anguish. This is the hidden counsel of our wise and merciful Father. Though darkness has its hour, your tears on earth will not last forever.

In the wise and beautiful words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“Shall we place our joys in time or in eternity, for we cannot have them both.
Shall we laugh on earth, or laugh in heaven, for we cannot laugh in both.
Shall we mourn before we die or after we die, for we cannot mourn in both.
We cannot have our reward both in heaven and on earth…

If we save our life in this world, we lose it in the next; if we lose our life in this world, we save it in the next…

With which, then, shall we begin – the fast or the feast?
Our Lord begins with the fast and ends with the feast;
the world begins with the feast and ends with want.”

(Taken from “The Cross and the Beatitudes: Lessons on Love and Forgiveness” by Fulton J. Sheen)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Prayer: My Jesus, stay close to me in my broken-heartedness, in you I seek my refuge and strength.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father for my sorrows on earth, becomes my way to sanctification. For though I may mourn now, I shall weep with joy when I am with You!

 

Thursday, 14 May – The Emptiness Of Human Praise

14 Mar
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Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, “Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth”? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
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John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘Were I to testify on my own behalf,
my testimony would not be valid;
but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf,
and I know that his testimony is valid.
You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.
Besides, the Father who sent me
bears witness to me himself.
You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.

‘You study the scriptures,
believing that in them you have eternal life;
now these same scriptures testify to me,
and yet you refuse to come to me for life!
As for human approval, this means nothing to me.
Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.
How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?
Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father:
you place your hopes on Moses,
and Moses will be your accuser.
If you really believed him
you would believe me too,
since it was I that he was writing about;
but if you refuse to believe what he wrote,
how can you believe what I say?’
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I know that you do not have the love of God in you

We stand amongst the crowd today with Jesus. Some of us are with Jesus, some of us know others who are in the crowd he addresses. He is defending himself against the accusations and persecutions of his birthright and authority. He doesn’t seem to be successful although he speaks the truth with authority. I imagine that if I were one of the those condemning him, I would have been more furious with his circular arguments!

Yet one detects the absolute calmness in Jesus’ voice. He did not get angry, he did not shout. He did not condemn the unbelievers, nor call them thickheads. When in fact he had every right to! He is who he says he is – the Son of God. His patience and compassion towards them is revealed in these humble words:

“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true… Moreover the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf… You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” (Jn 5:31-40)

Todays’ Gospel passage reveals that when we stand on the side of truth, we do not need to scurry about frantically to prove ourselves! Jesus knew that he could not establish his credibility against the angry mob, who were denying his person and the testimony of what they had heard and witnessed. Instead he remained gentle but steadfast.
There must be moments when we were so riled up with anger that we cannot hear through to truths or love in a message. Sometimes staying angry is easier than choosing to realize we could be wrong and thus seek means to restitution. As observers, we can easily judge the mob for their pride and irrational behaviour. But sometimes we are them too.

Their reluctance to receive the truth is summed up by Jesus. “I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you” (Jn 5:41-42). Their hearts were hardended. Their eyes were looking but not seeing, their minds were questioning but not understanding. Yet Jesus had compassion for them, choosing to remain patient and gentle.

He is an example of complete self-possession, because he knew who he was – the beloved Son of God. His apparent passivity and meekness here contradicts the crowd’s expectation of true rightouesness. It probably drove them madder because they had failed to engage him in their fury. Had they paused to reflect, they would have discerned that his very demeanor was one of true dignity and righteousness – not self-righteousness – because he did not delight in man’s approval, but God’s.

When everything inside him wanted to react in outrage and demand justice for their accusations, Jesus chose instead to absorb that anger and hate, and transform it into gentleness and peace. By refusing to give back hatred in kind, Jesus was actively stopping the cycle of violence. He chose not to conduct it, not to be a channel for it. We can also choose to transmute anger into love too. It didn’t make sense to the mob then, and it won’t make sense to anyone who does not have love for God in their hearts. But it is what the Father delights over, in you. Because like Jesus, you have chosen the way of the Lord. Pray for the grace to have compassion and love for those who reject you.

Some of us are exhausted trying hard to win the praise and approval of men. Though we are going along the right path – God’s way – we cannot help but glance furtively to the crowd around us to seek their affirmation. You will surely be detoured by those voices who will not accept and tolerate your seemingly odd behaviour.
If you are growing deeper in love with Christ, and so have shed your old ways of the world, do not fear nor get off the narrow path. Remember this account of Jesus against the crowds, stand firm and hope on the Lord. Be faithful to God for He will remember you and deliver you. Only His favor and praise will give you eternal life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Prayer: Dear God, help us not to live for the world’s acceptance, but to cling firmly onto our saviour Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God for your mercy and strength that sustains me on this narrow path.

Wednesday, 13 Mar – I Will Never Forget You

13 Mar
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Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the Lord:

At the favourable time I will answer you,
on the day of salvation I will help you.
(I have formed you and have appointed you
as covenant of the people.)
I will restore the land
and assign you the estates that lie waste.
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out’,
to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’

On every roadway they will graze,
and each bare height shall be their pasture.
They will never hunger or thirst,
scorching wind and sun shall never plague them;
for he who pities them will lead them
and guide them to springs of water.
I will make a highway of all the mountains,
and the high roads shall be banked up.

Some are on their way from afar,
others from the north and the west,
others from the land of Sinim.
Shout for joy, you heavens; exult, you earth!
You mountains, break into happy cries!
For the Lord consoles his people
and takes pity on those who are afflicted.

For Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.
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John 5:17-30

Jesus said to the Jews, ‘My Father goes on working, and so do I.’ But that only made them even more intent on killing him, because, not content with breaking the sabbath, he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God’s equal.

To this accusation Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
the Son can do nothing by himself;
he can do only what he sees the Father doing:
and whatever the Father does the Son does too.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything he does himself,
and he will show him even greater things than these,
works that will astonish you.
Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses;
for the Father judges no one;
he has entrusted all judgement to the Son,
so that all may honour the Son
as they honour the Father.
Whoever refuses honour to the Son
refuses honour to the Father who sent him.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever listens to my words,
and believes in the one who sent me,
has eternal life;
without being brought to judgement
he has passed from death to life.
I tell you most solemnly,
the hour will come – in fact it is here already –
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and all who hear it will live.
For the Father, who is the source of life,
has made the Son the source of life;
and, because he is the Son of Man,
has appointed him supreme judge.
Do not be surprised at this,
for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves
at the sound of his voice:
those who did good will rise again to life;
and those who did evil, to condemnation.
I can do nothing by myself;
I can only judge as I am told to judge,
and my judging is just,
because my aim is to do not my own will,
but the will of him who sent me.’
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My Father is at work until now, so I am at work

God never rests. The world never stops turning. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reveals to us that God is always at work throughout history, throughout the universe – He is the alpha and omega. He is.

In recent months I have experienced a vast desert exile. This Lenten season and the weeks preceding it, had broken me. I was barefeet, tattered-clothed, and starved of some answers which God has lovingly withheld from me. He had warned me of the desert-days to come, by reminding me of the forty days of exile that Jesus was sent into despite being annointed by the Holy Spirit at his own baptism. Though it gave me comfort, it was measly, and it did not last very long. As the days and weeks wore on, I had no inkling of how long this desert-journey of mine would take.
I wondered often why He had forsaken me. I felt absolutely forgotten.

Then a few weeks ago on my morning walk to work, I gazed up absentmindedly at the concave ceiling of the steel shelter above me. Tucked up in the nook between the curved shelter and steel beam was my little secret plant. I discovered my scecret plant late last year – it was bare with only two baby leaves. It grew on a broken plate of steel that had peeled off from the shelter. Very peculiar! How did it get up there? My only conjecture was that the seed got there by a bird.

Months later, now this sapling was still growing in the most neglected corner, high above the ground, under a shelter with no direct sunlight. Nourished by bird droppings, warmed by the heat trapped by the steel shelter, and watered by tiny drops of rain from two little corroded pin-holes overhead – my secret plant sprouted more leaves quietly, in a place where no one noticed and no one expected. I had forgotten about it. But God hadn’t! His ounce-like provisions for my secret plant through the confluence of insginificant details sustained it daily and surely. That morning when my gaze rested on it, I was reminded that God will never forget me. I stopped in my tracks and gave up a whisper of thanksgiving with renewed inner knowing that He will sustain and guide me through this desert. Almost immediately, a small brown butterfly fluttered haphazardly across my path and I could not help but smile privately.

If you are wondering lately where God is in your life, be assured that He reaches out to you through your private secret language. He is at work everywhere and in every creature great and small. It could be something unplanned, something fragile and little, some random blessing from a stranger, something imperceptible to the cleverest of minds and keenest of eyes around you. But this is where our great God reveals Himself – He meets you in these private moments, for your inner knowing. He is gracious and merciful, and like Psalm 145 sings assures us today: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”

Can a mother forget her infant or be without tenderness for the child in her womb? Our Heavenly Father reminds you today that “even should she forget, I will never forget you.” He will reveal your path through the fog, step-by-step with each well-placed cobblestone. Stay close to Him in prayer and thanksgiving. Trust in Him wholeheartedly, and you will find your rest and peace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Prayer: God grant me new eyes, new ears, a new heart today, so that I may awaken my soul to know you as you truly are – my gracious and merciful Father.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for always revealing your love to me in manifold and little ways.