All posts by Annette Soo

Sunday, 27 December – A Family is God’s Gift to Us

27 December – The Holy Family 

Today the Church marks the feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. It is a liturgical celebration in honour of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his foster father, Saint Joseph, as a family. The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the Sunday following Christmas, unless that Sunday is January 1, in which case it is celebrated on December 30.

Scripture tells us practically nothing about the first years and the boyhood of the Child Jesus. All we know are the facts of the sojourn in Egypt, the return to Nazareth, and the incidents that occurred when the twelve-year-old boy accompanied his parents to Jerusalem. In her liturgy the Church hurries over this period of Christ’s life with equal brevity. The general breakdown of the family, however, at the end of the past century and at the beginning of our own, prompted the popes, especially the far-sighted Leo XIII, to promote the observance of this feast with the hope that it might instil into Christian families something of the faithful love and the devoted attachment that characterize the family of Nazareth. The primary purpose of the Church in instituting and promoting this feast is to present the Holy Family as the model and exemplar of all Christian families.

– CatholicCulture.org

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Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17

The Lord honours the father in his children,
and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
do not despise him in your health and strength;
f
or kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Colossians 3:12-21

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.

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Luke 2:41-52

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

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Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year……the old Christmas song goes. Yes, it’s that time of year when we gather with our families to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and to welcome in a brand new year. Parties and gatherings abound. Indeed a time where we come home, no matter where we are, to spend time with our loved ones. The family that we have is God’s gift to us. They are there to support us, to share our joys and sorrows, to celebrate our achievements and victories, to comfort us when we are down. Many of us take this gift for granted. But for some of us who live away from home, or for some reason cannot be with our families, this can be the loneliest time of year.

Today, spare a thought for those who do not have love ones around them. People who have broken away from their loved ones because of a long family feud. People whose families have just abandoned them…. Or it’s them who chose to leave. As humans, we are prone to making mistakes in our lives. And the most painful thing that can happen is when a family breaks up. Innocent members get hurt in the process. Being in a family has its fair share of love and heartaches, but being in a family is also where we begin to learn how to love and be loved.

Today, our Church celebrates the feast of Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The church gives us this Family to emulate. Let’s not romanticize the idea of this family being ‘perfect’. They are no different from us. Holy yes, but they were human too. Like us, they too had their crosses to carry. They too went through all sorts of trials and difficulties.

Yes, their son may be The Son of God, but the journey of the Holy Family was far from perfect. It is a story of life not always turning out the way you expect. It is a story of a young woman being pregnant before she was married. A young man who faced possible gossip and scandal and contemplated calling off the wedding. How when the time came for the birth of their son, there was no state of the art hospital, let alone a comfortable bed. How a mother watched with helplessness and almost unimaginable sorrow, as her son was being tortured, and ultimately died a horrific death.

And what kept this Family together when living out their virtues seemed impossible?  Their faith and trust in God; they knew profound hope. They gave themselves fully to God. They had an unwavering love and support for one another.

There is hope for us today. We live in a time where the concept of families are far from traditional. The Holy Family stands beside us, to comfort, to console, to support and pray for and with us. Those of us who are lonely, worried, afraid, broken. Those of us struggling in non-traditional relationships. The Holy Family shares our burdens. But they also uplift us by their example. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were never alone. They endured through the grace of God. They prayed. They hoped. They trusted in God’s will.

And as the Universal Church; One family in Christ. Can we also be the message of love, hope and joy to our fellow brothers and sisters who are going through a bit of a bumpy road today? Spend some time with your elderly parent whom you haven’t seen in a while. Bring some festive cheer to the family who has no roof over their heads.

Let us be an example of love that binds people together.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: May His Spirit help us to love our family more each day – as we encourage, pray and love one another with His love. Make us an instrument of love and compassion for those who need love the most today.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for blessing us with family relationships where we can learn to love and be loved. For parents, we pray that you will teach us to be patient with our children and that we might bring them up with discipline and careful instruction. For those hurt by things happening in our families, may You always be a source of healing and comfort. May You take us into your loving care. In your name I pray, Amen.

 

Saturday, 26 December – Letting Go as His Instrument

26 December – St Stephen

Stephen is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.

– Universalis

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Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

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Matthew 10:17-22

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

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The Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you

When was the last time you did or experienced something that you knew could not have come from your own effort alone? That God must have had a hand in it? For me, that would be the year-end mass we celebrated in school with the Catholic students. We just carried out our mass duties as per normal, but somehow, that turned out to be the most moving and heartfelt Eucharistic celebration of the year. That is a big deal especially when one is dealing with hyper-fidgety and inattentive teenagers who can easily disrupt the solemn atmosphere of the mass. It was a comforting end to a tough year in school, and I am really grateful for that.

Right before the events in the first reading, Stephen had given a long and rousing speech, a wonderfully concise summary of the stories of Exodus, Joseph and Moses. I do not know if Stephen was oratorically gifted, but it was evident that the Holy Spirit was at work in giving Stephen what to speak when the time came. His words cut really deeply into the hearts of his audience, as he chided them for their over-devotion to the temple, instead of to God. Unfortunately, they reacted in rage and violence, meting out a most cruel punishment on him. Although Stephen exited his ministry rather early, he did so by cementing his status as the first martyr for Christianity. He had followed Jesus till the very end, emulating Him in forgiving his killers.

During this season, the readings have centred on the characters of Mary, Elizabeth, and now Stephen. Like many others in the bible, these are people who willingly and humbly submitted themselves to the Lord for Him to do His work in them. For Mary, it involved the agony of watching her own child die. For Stephen, it meant His own expiration from the world. Their complete faith and trust in God kept them focused on Him, instead of themselves. “…the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Are you able to do the same?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace and courage to let go, so that we can let God in.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for making Himself known to us.

 

Friday, 25 December (Christmas Mass During the Day) – The Greatest Gift

25 December – Nativity of the Lord (Mass During the Day)

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Readings for the daytime Mass on Christmas Day:

Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
proclaims salvation,
and tells Zion,
‘Your God is king!’
Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices,
they shout for joy together,
for they see the Lord face to face,
as he returns to Zion.
Break into shouts of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord is consoling his people,
redeeming Jerusalem.
The Lord bares his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

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Hebrews 1:1-6 

At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command; and now that he has destroyed the defilement of sin, he has gone to take his place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty. So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

God has never said to any angel: You are my Son, today I have become your father;or: I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Again, when he brings the First-born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.

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John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.

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The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory

There is a common saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt”. This is certainly true for some people who go to Church on a regular basis and may discover that religion has become a routine. Christmas has also become a routine for most people involving exchange of gifts and huge feasts of food. However, I ask that we take time to ponder on what we are celebrating. The phrase ” The Spirit of Christmas” is often mentioned in commercials but as Christians, we need to reclaim the meaning of this spirit in an authentic and spiritual sense grounded in the richness of our faith.

One of the most beautiful thing about Christianity is that God became Man for all of us. This is not something which we should take for granted because we can entrust to God all our fears and concerns. This spirit of sacrifice and dying to one self for others is indeed a difficult one to internalise and something which we need to offer constantly in prayer and reflection upon Sacred Scripture. In these two actions, we discover that God’s love is all encompassing and seeks to reach out to us in whatever state of life we are in. God accepts us for who we are and just as we are. This spirit of Christmas is then an attitude of gratitude for the greatest gift which has come down for us; Jesus Christ himself.

The secular routines of gift exchange and eating is to be done in an atmosphere of love and appreciation to God for sending his Son to us. Prophet Isaiah shares in the First Reading how we must burst in joy for the love which God has shown us. Indeed this is something which we can do but let us adapt it to the needs of the environment we live in and discover what it means to share this great gift of Love which we have received through our words and actions with others.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a spirit of gratitude as we continue to love others with the same spirit of love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who continue to work during this Christmas Day.

Friday, 25 December (Christmas at Dawn) – What a Wonderful Gift

25 December – Nativity of the Lord (Mass at Dawn)

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Readings for the Dawn Mass, celebrated at dawn on Christmas Day:

Isaiah 62:11-12

This the Lord proclaims
to the ends of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look,
your saviour comes,
the prize of his victory with him,
his trophies before him.’
They shall be called ‘The Holy People’,
‘the Lord’s Redeemed.’
And you shall be called ‘The-sought-after’,
‘City-not-forsaken.’

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Titus 3:4-7

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

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Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

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It was for no reason except His own compassion that He saved us

“Study hard… otherwise you will never get anywhere in life.”

I got accustomed to hearing this from my grandaunt, who had brought me up since I was a baby.  The only child in a broken marriage, she was my sole care-giver and the closest person I knew.

Grandaunt was one of the Pioneer generation; someone who had worked extremely hard as a nanny, looking after no fewer than 5 children at any one time.  To her, success meant earning lots of money and being financially comfortable in life.

Because we were poor, grandaunt’s experience was that one had to work hard for everything that one got. I was cajoled to study and work hard all the time… there was always the fear that I would lose out if I did not excel academically and did not become the best in whatever I did. The meritocratic world teaches us that we only get as much as we put in.

While I struggled in school, I did move up the corporate ladder and was considered by many to have become “successful”.  There was an expectation to always perform; to always be noticed, to be in the limelight in order to continue to grow in my career.

Yet in the midst of this success, I felt that there was a certain emptiness.  I began questioning and feeling that what the world sees as being important and significant was anything but that.

Today’s readings remind us what was truly important; to be God’s children and to enter His kingdom.  However, we are also told that we can never hope to merit God’s grace through our own efforts; God simply gives us everything because He loves us.

Brothers and Sisters, let us remember that and like Mother Mary, treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Learning from the shepherds, we too should go about our lives “glorifying and praising God”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may always treasure the gift of Your Son and kingdom. Help us to always to be blessings for all around us 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of Your love. Thank you for being present in our lives and for guiding us in all that we do. 

Friday, 25 December (Christmas Midnight Mass) – Prayer

25 December – Nativity of Our Lord (Midnight Mass)

Christ has been born for us: come, let us adore him. 

– The Sunday Missal

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Readings for the Midnight Mass, celebrated during the night before Christmas Day:

Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.
For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 2:1-14

Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and travelled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’

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God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions…

Prayer is the best way to communicate with God. It is not the only way to ask God for instructions and guidance. There is also the Bible, our manual to life; but let’s face it, without prayer, we won’t know what we’re doing on this planet. Prayer helped me find my path to God. I had a lucrative job in project management immediately after I left university. A dream for many amongst us, to have so much money (at least to me it seemed like a lot) the moment you join the job market. Things could only get better from there right?

Wrong.

The amount of stress and unhappiness that followed was unbearable. There would be phone calls in the wee hours of the morning and clients calling, demanding details before I could even enter the office. Needless to say, being a fresh graduate and thrown into the deep end with next to no guidance led to me not being able to do my job efficiently; and well, let’s just say that there were a lot of unhappy people.

I was at an absolute loss as to what to do. I knew I couldn’t continue. This career path (no matter how much money I could potentially make) was not for me. So, I turned to prayer. I wouldn’t call myself deeply religious. Sure, I said my prayers at bedtime but never had I prayed as hard as during those months in my first ‘real’ job. It didn’t feel like God was the one who told me to quit but I felt that He told me to leave the money.

My decision did not go down well with my father. He’s a bit of a traditionalist. Part of the generation that believes money is the main goal in life and that you should never leave a job without already securing another one (preferably one that pays even more). There was a lot of shouting and slammin of doors at home after I left that job. Trust me when I say that he was NOT happy. The stuff he would say to me was sharper than daggers – able to pierce and shred the heart to pieces if there was no armour to protect you.

Thank God for the armour He provided me in the form of prayer. God kept me strong and, after a couple of months of intense prayer, He showed me where He wanted me to go in life. I got a job as an Education Journalist and I truly believe that this is where God wants me to be. It meant a hefty pay cut but I actually feel like I’m serving my spiritual purpose now.

I’ve had chances to help people with their causes and problems both in print and off. Being in this position has allowed me to indirectly spread God’s message to the masses. How? I can hear God speaking through some of the people I’ve interviewed and I do my best to make sure His words and works are known to others. It is almost as if I’m one of His voices in the world. Not the hand that has done the deed, but the vocal chords and tongue that sing His praise.

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, I invite you to return to God and away from what the world wants. Money means nothing when we have found Him. God will provide for us. All we have to do is pray and stay on that road towards Him and he will bless us with what ultimately matters. Peace and joy.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that we will always remember to turn to You whenever we face difficulties in this world. Let us not forget that You alone can give us what we really need and not the world and all its wealth, money and power. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks dear God for the gift of prayer and the blessings you shower on us when we turn to You with all of our struggles and needs

 

Thursday, 24 December – Responding to Love

24 December – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Vigil Mass)

The name “Christmas” was derived from Old English: “Cristes Maesse”, Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.

The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.

Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.

Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.

– Patron Saint Index

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Readings for the Vigil Mass, celebrated during the afternoon or evening before Christmas Day:

Isaiah 62:1-5

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.
The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;
no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.
Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

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Acts 13:16-17,22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia, he stood up in the synagogue, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out.

‘Then he made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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Matthew 1:1-25

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins

There is a certain plot line that is often used in romantic dramas. A male suitor comes across his one true love, and tries ways and means to win her heart. He does a lot for her, fulfilling her every wish and need. She tells him not to treat her so well, as she is not able to reciprocate his feelings. He tells her that it is alright, as he will continue to love her and treat her well in spite of her rejection of him.

Today’s first reading starts with “About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary…” God never gives up on us, although we may reject His love and turn away from Him. It may seem illogical to not want something so good, but a lot of people choose sin over God. I will look at two possible reasons for this. One is that loving others calls for effort and sacrifice of self. It often involves moving out of comfort zones and probably a great deal of inconvenience. Two is that many of us develop an unhealthy attachment to sin. Take for example, the resident office gossip who uses the juicy news as a way to get others to pay attention to him/her. Or the two married colleagues who persist in having an affair as it gives them the love that is missing in their own marriages.

What will it take for one to be like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, who beat his breast and cried out to God – “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” No one except God can lead a person to true conversion of heart. One would first need to be aware of God’s infinite, unending yet incomprehensible love. On the eve of Christmas, as we celebrate God made man, let us bravely face the struggles of responding to God’s love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that more people will focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and may God’s love continue to transform hearts and minds.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our parents, whose love reflects that of God.

 

Thursday, 24 December – The Silk Rug

24 December

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2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Luke 1:67-79

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue
and he has raised up for us a power for salvation
in the House of his servant David,
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant
the oath he swore
to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace.’

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I will preserve the offspring of your body after you, and make his sovereignty secure

Years ago, while traveling through India, I fell in love with an antique rug, made of the palest blue and yellow silk. A lot of love had clearly gone into making it, the way the silk was woven and knotted together, how the flowers were so clearly defined, the way each motif had been specially chosen for its meaning. Each line of silk knots was beautiful on its own; together though they were greater than the sum of their individual parts. When you stood back and held the rug up to the light, the weave would take on a lustrous, almost luminous glow and reflected the light back at you. It was very old and absolutely not for sale, I was informed. It was an heirloom, something to be passed down through the generations of a family of weavers. I loved that rug. I still do. I loved it because it was beautiful. I also loved it because of the whole idea of a piece of tapestry being passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, carrying on that family’s story.

Our faith is like that silk rug, passed down through generations and generations of believers. We are part of a family, the lineage of which stretches all the way back to David, and farther back still to Abraham, the father of all believers. “There were then fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, and fourteen generations from David to the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the deportation to Babylon to the birth of Christ” (Matt 1:17). And there has been since Christ and the apostles, generations and generations more of believers after.

Our lives are like lines of silk yarn, knotted together and woven to form the rich tapestry that is our Church. While David envisioned a house of cedar for God, God saw farther and had bigger plans. “I will provide a place for my people Israel and plant them that they may live there in peace. They shall no longer be harassed nor shall wicked men oppress them as before… I will raise up your son after you, the one born of you and I will make his reign secure. He shall build a house for my name and I will establish his kingship forever” (2 Samuel 7:10-12). God envisioned a nation of believers, our lives connected to each other through our faith, like a tapestry that stretches through generations. We are each beautiful in our own right, but woven together, we are greater than the sum of our individual lives. God calls each of us to play our different parts in His rich tapestry. Each of us has a specific role. We were all chosen with a purpose in mind.

As we prepare ourselves to celebrate this season of Christmas, let us take some time to reflect on how our lives are connected to one another. Let us reflect on the promise that binds us all together and makes us all believers – the promise of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins. “From age to age, his mercy extends to those who live in his presence… He held out his hand to Israel, his servant, for he remembered his mercy, even as he promised our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:50, 54-55)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray this Christmas, for all those who are still persecuted for their faith and their beliefs. We pray for the day when they can worship without fear, we pray for them to find peace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His mercy, His love and His faithfulness. We give thanks for the promise of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Wednesday, 23 December – Herald of Christ

23 December

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Malachi 3:1-4,23-24

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.

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Luke 1:57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

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And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him

I like to listen to conversion stories of new Christians. There is a factor that is common in all of the stories – a family, friend or random stranger who in some way served as the point of contact between the non-believer and Christ. The action can be as simple as passing a book about Christ to a friend, or offering to accompany him/her for RCIA or mass. God can work in marvellous ways, when we allow ourselves to be His instruments.

John the Baptist was clearly someone special, a gift from God to herald the coming of Christ. He is described as having a huge following, and for most people this kind of attention will cause them to become very full of themselves. But John was so aware of His own mission and purpose that He never stopped telling his own followers to look to Jesus instead. He is honoured as the last of the prophets of the Old Testament, and the first of the saints of the New Testament.

As Christians, our actions and behaviour are what non-believers look at in order to understand what the religion is about. Sadly though, our sins often turn others away from Christianity. I believe that if we are more conscious of our Christian mission as king, priest and prophet, we would be in a better position to evangelise others.

This Christmas, what are you doing to point others to Jesus?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace of the Spirit to guide us to embrace our calling and mission as Christians.

Thanksgiving: Let us think of one person who showed the love of Christ to us, and thank the Lord for him/her.

 

Tuesday, 22 December – Going Inside Out

22 December 

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1 Samuel 1:24-28

When Hannah had weaned the infant Samuel, she took him up with her together with a three-year old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’

There she left him, for the Lord.

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Luke 1:46-56

Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

In the Pixar animated film Inside Out, a young girl named Riley faces great emotional upheaval when her family is uprooted from her hometown and moves to a new place. Usually a happy girl, she was at a loss at dealing with these new, unfamiliar circumstances. She buried her sadness within herself, not allowing herself to show her vulnerability and pain to her parents. Fear and anger took over her emotions, and she ended up almost running away from home. It was only when she accepted the concern of her parents and acknowledged her fear and sadness, that interestingly, joy managed to fill her heart.

Both the first reading and the gospel portray women of great faith – Hannah and Mary. They both praise the Lord with heartfelt words, reflecting their profound humility. They were completely open to God, acknowledging that they are nothing, yet are loved and blessed by God. As such, they are willing to submit themselves completely to Him.

“My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” Try reading the Magnificat aloud to yourself. Do you sincerely mean what you are saying? I used the story of Inside Out in my opening paragraph, as I can relate to it in the sense that many times, I resist being vulnerable to God. I see in the Magnificat Mary’s openness with God. One cannot be the handmaid of God if there is a wall in between. There are emotions that I do not wish to encounter by openly conversing with God, but yet I know I must, to avoid the deep-seated unhappiness caused by sin. This Christmas, I pray for a breaking down of this wall, and a more trusting relationship with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the words of Mary’s Magnificat will inspire us to face God with humility and trust.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the strength that God gives us to withstand difficult times.

 

Monday, 21 December – Joy of the Visitation

21 December – St Peter Canisius

He was born in Nijmegen (now in Holland) in 1521. He studied at Cologne and joined the Society of Jesus: he was ordained priest in 1546. He was sent to Germany, where for many years he worked hard to defend and strengthen the Catholic faith both by writing and by preaching. He wrote many books, of which The Catechism is particularly noteworthy. He died at Fribourg in Switzerland on 21 November 1597.

– Universalis

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Song of Songs 2:8-14

I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.

See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’

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Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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The child in my womb leapt for joy

There is an image of the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary, portrayed in many statues. It shows two women bending forward towards each other, foreheads almost touching, hands joined. Both are with child, and their expression is one of gratitude and joyful anticipation.

It is interesting how this joy came about. The young woman got pregnant before she married, and her much older cousin was also about to have a child, unheard of for a woman her age. Both would have had to deal with a fair amount of external gossip, but in each other, they found the affirmation that comes from another who is in a similar situation. Not only that, they received tangible signs of God’s blessings and graces, and marvelled at the wonder of how the fates of their children will be closely intertwined.

How joyful are you as we approach Christmas? I have to say that presently, I feel besieged by anxiety about my work next year and the uncertainty of my future career. In the midst of such thoughts and feelings, it feels much more comfortable to slip into a state of self-absorbed melancholy. It is hard to feel joy presently, but I shall continue to reflect on Elizabeth’s words in Luke 1:45 – “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the joy of the Good News will touch our hearts this Christmas.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the spiritual graces that the Lord has blessed us with.