All posts by Beryl

19 December, Wednesday – Children and Believers of Action

19 December

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Judges 13:2-7,24-25

There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman and said to her, ‘You are barren and have had no child. But from now on take great care. Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb. It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went and told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me; his presence was like the presence of the angel of God, he was so majestic. I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not reveal his name to me. But he said to me, “You will conceive and bear a son. From now on, take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day.”’

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.

Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them, and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

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“Listen!”

For every birthday I had as a child, my grandaunt did two things consistently. First thing was to cook me a bowl of mee sua (rice noodles) and the next thing was to have me pick out some ‘lucky numbers’ for her to go and buy the lottery in the hope of winning some money.

Growing up, it was her belief that in order for us to escape poverty, we needed help from others. She often talked about how her children did not bother to help her (or to be more correct, us) by providing more for us. Now, please do not get me wrong; my grandaunt was an extremely hardworking woman, and she took very good care of me. She truly loved me.

What struck me was how I take on this mindset when I am thinking of God. Often, I find myself thinking this: “Oh, if only God would provide me with a fantastic career, or if this prayer was answered, or if circumstances would turn out the way I want them.” All too often, I end up sitting back and waiting for the Lord to provide.

In both readings today, effort was required of the recipients of good news. In the first reading, Samson’s father, Manoah, received the good news from an angel of the Lord that his wife (who was barren) was to conceive. They were to eat cleanly, and not consume any strong drink. In addition, the child was not to cut his hair. Similarly, in the Gospel, Zechariah too, received good news that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a child, John the Baptist. The child was not to drink wine and consume no strong drink.

The point is, both these readings highlight the fact that we, the people of God, have a part to play in God’s plan. We are not expected to be mere passive recipients of good news. Instead, we are to play an active role. In Isaiah 48:17, we are instructed that our God is the Lord our God, and He directs us in the way we should GO. This clearly means that action is required of us.

In discerning what is required of us, this also means that we need to be consistently plugged into an active relationship with God. We need to be in consistent dialogue with our Lord, listening to His instructions for us.

May we be always open to His messages and that we may find courage and strength to act on this actions required of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may be able to hear and discern what You require of us Father. Help us to be obedient children and servants!

Thanksgiving: We praise and thank You for the role You have played in our lives, Father God. We thank You for always being there for us, even if we have been blind to You.

18 December, Tuesday – Plugging In

18 December

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –
when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David,
who will reign as true king and be wise,
practising honesty and integrity in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel dwell in confidence.
And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.

So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.”

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Matthew 1:18-24

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.

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“… it is the Lord who speaks…”

The gift I have been praying to receive for the longest time is the gift of Wisdom. I would like to be able to discern if the actions and thoughts I undertake are within God’s plan.

In my (former) corporate career, I was praying hard for career progression and was glad that my prayers were answered. I had been on a holiday when I had been inspired to pray for this. When I returned to the office after that, I was told that I would be heading one of the existing sales teams. Announcements to this effect were made and I was to assume this new role within a few weeks.

I was upset, therefore, when I heard that this promotion was to be put off, due in part to politics (the existing team members did not like me owing to some previous misunderstanding). Given such strong objections to my new appointment, my supervisor had wanted to put off my promotion till a later date.

I was frustrated and considered resigning. I lost sleep and life became unbearable.

I felt I was ‘wise’, and was able to discern the plans that the Lord had for me, and then it hit me; I had been trying to do this on my own strength. It was then that I returned to praying, lifting all to the Lord. I prayed that whatever the outcome, I would lift all I had to Him and I had faith that everything that happened would be as He desired.

What happened was that my manager ended up creating a new team for me to manage. With the lack of emotional/political baggage, this new team managed to outperform the existing sales teams. Because of this, I ended up being promoted again within seven months to head the whole department.  Imagine if I had relied on my own understanding, wrongly believing this to be the message God wanted me to hear? This would have been ironic, given that I had not lifted these concerns to Him, instead choosing to play the various scenarios in my own mind.

In today’s Gospel, we read about how Joseph had wanted to divorce Mary, and yet decided otherwise, after he was prompted by the angel Gabriel to continue with their marriage. He did not depend on his own knowledge or thoughts. Instead, he trusted in his relationship with God.

So must it be with us. Like electrical appliances, we can only tap our God-given talents when we continue to draw on His power.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Help us to continually turn to you to draw strength and knowledge, Father. We pray that we may always pay heed to the Holy Spirit that continues to whisper to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank You for blessing us with Your Holy Spirit, for sending us an Advocate to whom we can always turn to.

17 December, Monday – God Is Enough For Me

17 December

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Genesis 49:2,8-10

Jacob called his sons and said:

‘Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you:
you grip your enemies by the neck,
your father’s sons shall do you homage,
Judah is a lion cub,
you climb back, my son, from your kill;
like a lion he crouches and lies down,
or a lioness: who dare rouse him?
The sceptre shall not pass from Judah,
nor the mace from between his feet,
until he come to whom it belongs,
to whom the peoples shall render obedience.’

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Matthew 1:1-17

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.

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“…until he come to whom it belongs, to whom he peoples shall render obedience”

My wife and I were recently involved in the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) held for the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS). Specifically, I was asked to play in the music ministry, which was formed out of a group of ex-CER retreatants.

When I received the WhatsApp messages from a brother and his wife (both long-time and close friends), I did not answer immediately.  Instead, I took about two weeks to think about it.

One of the biggest concerns was that I had not played guitar for about a year and felt I was not good enough to play in such a ministry. This feeling of inadequacy was made worse after I attended the first practice session where I realised ALL the musicians were so well-trained that they actually did not need music song sheets to play along!

Over time, despite the disparity in the level of musical talent between my band members and I, we played together and had a level of understanding and communication that was surprising to me. Somehow, only God could know how well we would play and understand each other.

I was caught up in the trap of thinking I needed to be perfect in order to serve God. Instead, I should have trusted that God would take who I was and make me perfect enough.

The readings today reinforces this.

In Jesus’ geneology, we see Judah (who had slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who had been dressed as a prostitute at the time), Ruth (from the tribe of Moab, a tribe begotten when Lot was held and raped by his two daughters) and finally David (who had committed adultery with Bathsheba).

In spite of such imperfection, God had chosen this particular lineage for Jesus to be born into. If perfection was totally important in God’s redemptive work, He could easily have chosen another ‘more perfect’ family.

How powerful! God truly is enough!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may have faith in You Father, that You will make us enough. Enough to serve You and enough to serve all around us.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful, Father God, for loving us. For telling us that we, and our faith in You, is enough.

16 December, Sunday – True Happiness in the Lord

16 December 2018

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Zephaniah 3:14-18

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,
Israel, shout aloud!
Rejoice, exult with all your heart,
daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has repealed your sentence;
he has driven your enemies away.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you have no more evil to fear.

When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem:
Zion, have no fear,
do not let your hands fall limp.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you
as on a day of festival.

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Philippians 4:4-7

I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.
There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 3:10-18

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

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“I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord…”

I recently heard a lovely story.

Someone was shopping in a discount store when she spied a mother walking with her two children; an older child and a toddler.

The toddler was fussing, wanting to hold one of the glowsticks that the mother had just bought. To stop him crying, the mother removed one of the sticks and gave it to the toddler, who promptly stopped crying and was happy to just hold it.

The elder child took the glowstick and the toddler immediately began crying again. Before the mother could even chide the elder child, the boy broke the glowstick and returned it to the toddler, who was once again, happy. In a few seconds, he noticed that the glowstick had begun to emit a beautiful yellow hue. The elder brother responded, lovingly, “I had to break the glowstick so it would glow for you!”.

The toddler had been satisfied just to hold the glowstick (sans the glow!) but enjoyed something totally surpassing his original expectations with the glow! What a beautiful metaphor for our relationship with our God!

In the second reading of today, St Paul talked about being “happy in the Lord”. Very often, for me, this happiness is coloured by my own expectations. I want to be happy in the Lord, but only if things come out in the way I expect them to. In my mind, I am thinking: “Lord, please make things come out this way, or that way, and I’ll be happy”. If events do not quite pan out the way I expect, I am often disappointed.

I am like the little toddler in the story. I do not know the beauty that could come about if things were ‘broken’. Challenges that could happen; work or career difficulty, struggles with relationships, personal spiritual struggles, all serve to unleash the potential glow in me.

Let us be open to our Lord. Let us not treat Him as our personal faith-dispensing machine. Our God knows what is best for us. All we need to do is to trust and to wait for the glow to happen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, we pray that we may have the spirit of trust that whatever happens, happens to help us release our ‘glow’. Help us to have faith in You always, and not tie You to our expectations.

Thanksgiving: Thank You for blessing us always, no matter whatever happens in our lives. We praise You and we thank You for all that we experience, whether we perceive them to be good, or bad. We trust that You will continue to watch and take care of us always.

15 December, Saturday – Entering into Relationship

15 December

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Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4, 9-12

The prophet Elijah arose like a fire,
  his word flaring like a torch.
It was he who brought famine on the people,
  and who decimated them in his zeal.
By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens,
  he also, three times, brought down fire.

How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah!
  Has anyone reason to boast as you have?
Taken up in the whirlwind of fire,
  in a chariot with fiery horses;
designated in the prophecies of doom
  to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks,
to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children,
  and to restore the tribes of Jacob,
Happy shall they be who see you,
  and those who have fallen asleep in love.

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Matthew 17:10-13

As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say then that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.

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They did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.

In less than two weeks, it will be Christmas. The night of the Christmas Vigil Mass, we will then see the figure of baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the crib of the manger. This is the scene we would be none the wiser to recognise, if we were one of the wise men that fateful desert night. And that was part of God’s elaborate, intricate plan.

It is precisely this detail of our powerful God choosing to enter our world as a vulnerable and needing baby that reveals to us where His heart truly lies. He chose to appear in the flesh of the defenseless and uncelebrated. He deliberately chose vulnerability every time, as a baby and as the crucified Christ. Each time, the hearts of only a few were open to receiving Him, the eyes of only some could witness His surrendered glory.

The wise men had to strip off all presumptions of majesty in order to see the Christ-child. The young girl who first bowed her head with humble Fiat embraced vulnerability to be the holy vessel of the Immaculate Conception. She had to abandon worldly caution, social customs, and human logic. Joseph would defy his strict Jewish faith to obey the illogical command of this Mystery.

This ability to surrender and follow requires of us the willingness to enter into relationship with the Beloved. It is not possible to trust someone you do not know well – much less when the impossible is asked of your trust! To choose “Yes”, one needs to have faith that there is good ultimately in the end, no matter what evidences and reality is presented. Mary and Joseph, who brought to birth Christ to the world, were in deep communion with God, to the extent that their logical selves must have screamed, “You crazy!” in some of these moments, especially at the Annunciation. “Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love.” (Ecc. 48:12). In other translations, love is read as “friendship”.

Entering into earthly relationships is so tough. Whether they be romantic or friendships. We have to shed defences, and reveal vulnerabilities, in order to unlock the door towards new levels of intimacy, trust, and fellowship. It’s risky, terrifying, and it’s like giving someone the chance to disappoint you or break your heart. But at the same time, it is liberating to be able to choose trust. The freedom that came with spiritual surrender to God’s plan, enabled Mary and Joseph to keep saying “Yes” to how God used them, and where He led them.

I can imagine that it was only in the first “Yes”, that their intimacy and reliance on God deepened, and their relationship with Him continued to be strengthened and purified. It may have appeared ridiculous from the outside, but the interior room of their hearts was unlocked for Christ’s entrance. God was still actively moulding their journey of faith. They were actively remaining pliable and open to the Potter’s hands.

Recalling the prophet Elijah, who was considered a raving lunatic and an outcast amongst the people of Israel who had turned to worship Baal, Jesus uses the Old Testament prophecies to bring the disciples’ attention to the way John the Baptist’s ascetic life was being mocked in his time. For this same reason, the Memorial of St John of the Cross was chosen for this day’s readings. None of them could have continued on their paths and mission if not for their deep relationship with God and their abiding trust in His love and purpose. With that, they were able to choose present foolishness and ridicule, lay open their vulnerabilities, and push to birth God’s plan – an elaborate plan that could only be appreciated in retrospect.

His veiled power emanates from these hidden moments. A babe in swaddling cloths would overpower human sense. A cloth-less man in his prime hung on condemned cross would be the Saviour of the world. This divine plan of God had been set in motion since the beginning of time (John 1:1-5). It’s time we entered into this scene with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  I thank you God for the models of faith in Mary and Joseph, who inspire us to enter into a deep relationship with You.

Thanksgiving:  I pray for the courage to be vulnerable, to remain open to Your love and purposes, starting with baby steps.

14 December, Friday – Being Like Children

14 December – Memorial for St. John of the Cross, Priest, Religious, Doctor of the Church

John (1675–1726) was born in poverty. He cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. He became a lay Carmelite brother in 1563 at age 21, though he lived stricter than their Rule. He studied at Salamanca. He was ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25.

He was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced (or barefoot) reform within the Carmelite Order, and took on the name John of the Cross. He was a master of novices, and spiritual director and confessor at St. Teresa’s convent. His reforms did not sit well with some of his brothers, and he was ordered to return to Medina. He refused and was imprisoned at Toledo, Spain, and escaped after nine months.

He was vicar-general of Andalusia. His reforms revitalized the Order. He was a great contemplative and spiritual writer. On Aug 24, 1926, he was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 48:17-19

Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you,
I lead you in the way that you must go.
If only you had been alert to my commandments,
your happiness would have been like a river,
your integrity like the waves of the sea.
Your children would have been numbered like the sand,
your descendants as many as its grains.
Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me.

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Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:

“We played the pipes for you,
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t be mourners.”

‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’

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Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.

Being childlike is not the same as being childish or guilible. As I grew older, I wanted to shed more of what made me appear youthful and naïve. At one point, I put on the grown-up cloak of skepticism and cynicism. This, I suppose is why, many young adults in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties are found to have lost the faith of their childhood during this season of their lives. This tends to happen as one encounters the glamour and distractions of the ‘real world’.

It is an interesting correlation that Jesus uses in the Gospel passage: the children shouting to each other in the market place for people to dance to the tune of pipes, or mourn to the music of dirges, are likened to the people speculating from the appearances of John’s neither eating nor drinking as being possessed, to Jesus’ eating and drinking to being a drunkard and glutton (Matthew 11:16-19).

Yet elsewhere, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3-4). At first I was confused in these two analogies to children.

Perhaps the difference lies in their perception of things. Jesus is referring to the childlike simplicity and trust in the Father’s will and commandments which leads us into God’s kingdom, as the First Reading shows us, ‘I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go’ (Isaiah 48:17). On the other hand in the reading today, he points out to his listeners that the children who were distracted by the heady activity and bustle of the market place, like the attractive toys and gimmicks of the world, began to lose the clarity and perceptiveness of childlike faith to discern what is real from appearances.

How can we then know and separate the reality of God from the reality of the world? First, we have to adopt a mental littleness and lowliness, being trusting and vulnerable to the Lord – allowing Him to change our hearts and give us brand new sight. Second, by this new perception of the affairs of the world, we can begin to see beyond the popular phraseologies and fruits of secularism and relativism – to notice that ‘wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’

And again Jesus says this, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7:15-20).

May we not dwell and remain on the surface of assumed reality, but arm ourselves with the knowledge that the Evil One is a liar, slanderer, who deals in deceit and lures us by our pride. Let us put on the garment of humility, simplicity and virtue, to trust and surrender to our Heavenly Father.

In the wise words of Fulton Sheen, ‘There is a close relation between physical littleness, which is childhood, and mental littleness, which is humility. We cannot always be children, which is another way of saying we can be humble. And so in the spiritual order the law remains ever the same: if human beings are ever to discover anything big, they must always be making themselves little; if they magnify their ego to the infinite, they will discover nothing, for there is nothing bigger than the infinite; but if they reduce their ego to zero, then they will discover everything big for there is nothing smaller than the self. How, then, shall we find the reason behind the joy? Just as it is only by being little that we discover anything big, so it is only by being humble that we will find an Infinite God in the form of a little child.” (Eternal Galilean)

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  Help me Lord to love the humble way in which you choose to come into the world. Help me to become more like you, Jesus.

Thanksgiving:  Let us ponder on these words as we approach Christ’s birth. ‘Gratitude is characteristic only of the humble. The egotistic are so impressed by their own importance that they take everything given them as if it were their due. They have no room in their hearts for recollection of the underserved favors they received.’ (Fulton Sheen, On Being Human)

13 December, Thursday – Inconsistencies

13 December – Memorial for St. Lucy, Virgin, Martyr

Lucy (c. 283) was a rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. She was raised in a pious family, and vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years, she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother’s mind about the girl’s new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha, and her mother’s long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother’s.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily, who sentenced her to forced prostitution. But when the guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger. Her name is listed in the prayer “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” in the Canon of the Mass.

Legend says that her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 41:13-20

I, the Lord, your God,
I am holding you by the right hand;
I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid,
I will help you.’

Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm,
Israel, puny mite.’
I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks –
the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.

See, I turn you into a threshing-sled,
new, with doubled teeth;
you shall thresh and crush the mountains,
and turn the hills to chaff.

You shall winnow them and the wind will blow them away,
the gale will scatter them.
But you yourself will rejoice in the Lord,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none,
their tongue is parched with thirst.
I, the Lord, will answer them,
I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.

I will make rivers well up on barren heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
turn the wilderness into a lake,
and dry ground into waterspring.

In the wilderness I will put cedar trees,
acacias, myrtles, olives.
In the desert I will plant juniper,
plane tree and cypress side by side;

so that men may see and know,
may all observe and understand
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

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Matthew 11:11-15

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm. Because it was towards John that all the prophecies of the prophets and of the Law were leading; and he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen!’

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Among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist

Scripture, like Life, is full of incongruencies and inconsistencies. John the Baptist’s life started with so much promise. Here was one filled with the Holy Spirit at birth. He was supposed to be destined for great things. His birth was a miracle, and like all men born of miracle births, much was expected of him. And yet, life did not work out the way everyone thought it would, for John.

He spent his youth waiting to fulfil what he thought would be his destiny, never really sure if it was going to happen for him. His parents passed on while he was still young, so while he was lonely before, in his adult years he led a hermetic existence. When he eventually developed his ministry, it was quickly surpassed by that of Jesus. And though he was always prepared for it to happen, it must have been hard to swallow to have his career cut short like that. John’s end was just as incongruent. If there was no man, greater than John the Baptist, why did he have to suffer such an ignominious end, reduced to a punctuation at the end of a cruel dinner party prank? It’s hard to wrap our head around Scripture’s inconsistencies. This is what happens to one blessed by God?

What is consistent amongst the men and women of God though, is the tenacity with which they stayed their course. There were moments of doubt for sure and often, we hear long, plaintive discourses with a mostly silent God. We hear the wavering in their voices, the questioning, the self doubt. But they stayed their course despite their misgivings. There must have been times when alone in his prison cell, John would have wondered to himself, ‘Is this it, Lord? Is this all there is to me? Where are you Lord?’

Often, we wonder the same about ourselves. We go through such great lengths to get educated, to build a life, put together a CV of experience that reads well and yet we can’t seem to find a job. Or we put in the hours, yet the years pass and we get nowhere in our careers. Or we invest our life’s savings into a business, and the economy tanks. And we think, ‘Is this it, Lord? Is this all there is to me?’ It’s crushing to the self-esteem, and as the years roll on, debilitating to the soul, when we see how time has passed us by. John must have felt at times, like he had wasted his life waiting. Waiting for The Lord, waiting to fulfil his destiny, waiting to be released from Herod’s arrest, waiting, always waiting for deliverance. Waiting for God.

There are times when waiting, we sleep with despair, we wake with despair, we breathe despair. And still The Lord does not show His face. Still there is no redemption, no deliverance. The waiting is the hardest part because we never know when it will end. In these times, it is hard to hold on, but hold on we must. As the Hebrews held on, so too must we. As Moses held on, so too must we. As John the Baptist held on, so too must we. All things happen in God’s time, and as hard as it is to do, as much as our soul cries out in anguish, it is for us to wait on Him. All things in His time. For those blessed by God, deliverance will come – whether in this life or the next.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer:  We pray Lord, for those waiting on You to see their deliverance. Be merciful Lord, and bring comfort to those who wait faithfully for the ripeness of Your time.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the examples in Scripture, of greater men than us, who have persevered and prevailed. We give thanks for the hope they give us. All things in His time.

12 December, Wednesday – Breathe Oxygen

12 December – Memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe

Guadalupe is, strictly speaking, the name of a picture, but the name was extended to the church containing the picture and to the town which grew up around the church. It makes the shrine, it occasions the devotion, it illustrates Our Lady. It is taken as representing the Immaculate Conception, being the lone figure of a woman with the sun, moon, and star accompaniments of the great apocalyptic sign with a supporting angel under the crescent. The word is Spanish Arabic, but in Mexico it may represent certain Aztec sounds.

Its tradition is long-standing and constant, and in sources both oral and written, Indian and Spanish, the account is unwavering. The Blessed Virgin appeared on Saturday, 9 December 1531 to a 55-year-old neophyte named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down Tepeyac Hill to hear Mass in Mexico City. She sent him to Bishop Zumarraga to have a temple built where she stood. She was at the same place that evening and Sunday evening to get the bishop’s answer.

The bishop did not immediately believe the messenger, had him cross-examined and watched, and he finally told him to ask the lady who said she was the mother of the true God for a sign. The neophyte agreed readily to ask for the sign desired, and the bishop released him.

Juan was occupied all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle who was dying of fever. Indian medicine had failed and Bernardino seemed at death’s door. At daybreak on Tuesday 12 December 1531, Juan ran to nearby St. James’ convent to ask for a priest. To avoid the apparition and the untimely message to the bishop, he slipped round where the well chapel now stands. But the Blessed Virgin crossed down to meet him and said, “What road is this thou takest son?”

A tender dialogue ensued. She reassured Juan about his uncle, to whom she also briefly appeared and instantly cured. Calling herself “Holy Mary of Guadalupe”, she told Juan to return to the bishop. He asked for the sign he required. Mary told him to go to the rocks and gather roses. Juan knew it was neither the time nor the place for roses, but he went and found them. Gathering many into the lap of his tilma (a long cloak or wrapper used by Mexican Indians), he came back. The Holy Mother rearranged the roses, and told him to keep them untouched and unseen until he reached the bishop.

When Juan met with Zumarraga, Juan offered the sign to the bishop. As he unfolded his cloak, the roses, fresh and wet with dew, fell out. Juan was startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him. The life-size figure of the Virgin Mary, just as Juan had described her, was glowing on the tilma. The picture was venerated, guarded in the bishop’s chapel, and soon after, carried in procession to the preliminary shrine.

Painters have not understood the laying on of the colours. They have deposed that the “canvas” was not only unfit but unprepared, and they have marvelled at the apparent oil, water, distemper, etc. colouring in the same figure. They are left in equal admiration for the flower-like tints and the abundant gold. They and other artists find the proportions perfect for a maiden of fifteen. The figure and the attitude are of one advancing. There is flight and rest in the eager supporting angel. The chief colours are deep gold in the rays and stars, blue green in the mantle, and rose in the flowered tunic.

The clergy, secular and regular, has been remarkably faithful to the devotion towards Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops fostering it, even to the extent of making a protestation of faith in the miracle a matter of occasional obligation. Pope Benedict XIV decreed that Our Lady of Guadalupe should be the national patron, and made 12 December a holiday of obligation with an octave, and ordered a special Mass and Office.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 40:25-31

‘To whom could you liken me
and who could be my equal?’ says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look.
Who made these stars
if not he who drills them like an army,
calling each one by name?
So mighty is his power, so great his strength,
that not one fails to answer.

How can you say, Jacob,
how can you insist, Israel,
‘My destiny is hidden from the Lord,
my rights are ignored by my God’?
Did you not know?
Had you not heard?

The Lord is an everlasting God,
he created the boundaries of the earth.
He does not grow tired or weary,
his understanding is beyond fathoming.
He gives strength to the wearied,
he strengthens the powerless.
Young men may grow tired and weary,
youths may stumble,
but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength,
they put out wings like eagles.
They run and do not grow weary,
walk and never tire.

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Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

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Grow tired and weary

When you are reading Oxygen, I am assuming you are taking a break form all the busyness around you. You are probably on the train, or the bus, or lying in bed on an annual leave looking out the window, chilling in a coffee joint catching up on overdue reflections, or simply taking a ten minutes break just for God. Whichever it is, I must commend you on taking a time off just for God. Perhaps today’s reflection is not so much about what the reading and gospel is trying to remind us, or a teaching of the Church that has to be emphasized again. Perhaps, you do not want to read about what you already know. Or maybe you are hoping I will tell you a story?

Today is very much about you, giving yourself that very short moment just to think back on the busy month or week and just to slow down with a short reflection telling you that you are just as important as anyone else. Do not tire yourself and be weary of problems unsolved, there is always a solution to it. Relationships can be renewed, can be mended. Work will be done at the end of it all. Jesus did not tell us to be a sloth and not work hard or be lazy, in this real world. He did not ask us to abandon the yoke, but instead to carry His yoke. I do recommend a retreat, getting away from the bustle to rid of all tiredness and weariness.

Do not be afraid just to stop all that is weighing you down. Take them off from your schedule, take charge of your priorities. Being tired and weary gets you no where. It is mid-week in the first week of December, perhaps you can think of something outside of work this weekend? Do something that is about you, we are children of God, and our Father will always love to see us as a happy child, not a stressed up kid. Get messy in the kitchen perhaps, baking a cake or figuring out an interesting recipe you just received, do anything which does not remind you of work at all. Take your kids, nephews, and nieces out on an eating spree maybe? Which means, catching up with an old friend is not an option because; you will have to relate your office woes to your friend. It will mean a lot at the end of it all, to pick up the yoke God has readied for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer:  I am tired of many things O Lord. Build my spirit back up so that I may have the drive to move along with You, for You and not stumble.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you for Today.

11 December, Tuesday – Searching

11 December – Memorial for St. Damasus I, Pope

Damasus (306-384) was raised in a pious family. His father was a priest in Rome, and Damasus served for a time as deacon in his father’s church, St. Laurence. He was ordained a priest and became assistant to Pope Liberius. He was elected the 37th pope in a disputed election in which a minority chose the anti-pope Ursinus. The two reigned simultaneously in Rome which eventually led to violence between their supporters and Damasus’ false accusation of a crime.

His pontificate suffered from the rise of Arianism, and from several schisms including break-away groups in Antioch, Constantinople, Sardinia, and Rome. However, it was during his reign that Christianity was declared the religion of the Roman state. He enforced the 370 edict of Emperor Valentinian controlling gifts to prelates, and opposed Arianism and Apollinarianism. He supported the 374 council of Rome which decreed the valid books of the Bible, and the Grand Council of Constantinople in 381 which condemned Arianism.

He was the patron of his secretary, St. Jerome, and commissioned him to make the translation of scripture now known as the Vulgate. Damasus restored catacombs, shrines, and the tombs of martyrs, and wrote poetry and metrical inscriptions about and dedicated to martyrs. They state that he would like to be buried in the catacombs with the early martyrs, but that the presence of one of his lowly status would profane such an august place. Ten of his letters, personal and pontifical, have survived.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 40:1-11

‘Console my people, console them’
says your God.
‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of the Lord
double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness
a way for the Lord.
Make a straight highway for our God
across the desert.
Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low.
Let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice commands, ‘Cry!’
and I answered, ‘What shall I cry?’”
– ‘All flesh is grass
and its beauty like the wild flower’s.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on them.
(The grass is without doubt the people.)
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God remains for ever.’

Go up on a high mountain,
joyful messenger to Zion.
Shout with a loud voice,
joyful messenger to Jerusalem.
Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God.’

Here is the Lord coming with power,
his arm subduing all things to him.
The prize of his victory is with him,
his trophies all go before him.
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock,
gathering lambs in his arms,
holding them against his breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

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Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

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“It is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

What is it we are searching for? What is it that we truly desire? We study, work, argue, fight, politic all because we desire to — survive? So that we may lead a comfortable life? Are we then ever comfortable?

Especially as we prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas, what is it we are preparing for? Are we even searching? What are we searching for? Where are we searching?

As in the Gospel today, God desires for us to be with Him. He searches for us but He also respects us, waiting for us to open the door of our hearts, of our lives to Him. As with the parables of The Lost Coin, The Prodigal Son, The Lost Sheep, it’s not about if we are lost, but whether we desire to return, to allow ourselves to be found. Or do we continuously run further away because we can’t face ourselves for all that we’ve done? As with the parables, God rejoices when we return but, more than that, deep down within ourselves, we know that is what we have always been searching for.

To me, I believe, it is love. To know that we matter, to know that there is someone out there who cares for us, not because of what we have, not because of what we can do but because he/she simply just wants to. It is also those people who are easiest to take for granted, our parents, teachers, our loved ones, our God. They are always there for us, but always hurting the most while waiting for us to return.

In chasing after so many of our desires, we lose ourselves, our values, our dignity, our integrity, our true and initial desire. Let us slow down, to recollect what is it we actually want, what is it we actually need, who we actually are.

Let us search for our true selves, let us be open, to allow Christ into our lives this Christmas. Let us be found.

(Today’s Oxygen by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer:  Dear Lord, we pray that we may not be distracted in our search for our true desire, the purpose of our lives. We also pray that we may encounter you in a very special way this Christmas. Help us to return to you.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Lord, for always being present. For your love and mercy. For desiring our return. Thank you for accepting us for who we are.

9 December, Sunday – Hidden Glory

9 December 2018

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Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,
put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,
wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,
put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:
since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,
since the name God gives you for ever will be,
‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east:
see your sons reassembled from west and east
at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.
Though they left you on foot,
with enemies for an escort,
now God brings them back to you
like royal princes carried back in glory.
For God has decreed the flattening
of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,
the filling of the valleys to make the ground level
so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.
And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade
for Israel at the command of God;
for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory
with his mercy and integrity for escort.

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Philippians 1:4-6,8-11

Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes; and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.

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Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

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Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.

The words ‘peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness’ in our First Reading of Baruch caught my imagination today. That word ‘integrity’ is used more often these days in referring to honesty and moral principles, especially when we think of work ethics or corruption, or the mismanagement of funds in public or private arenas. We think less of the intrinsic value that ‘integrity’ points towards: the state of being whole and undivided; completeness, coherence, unity.

It is this yearning for a deep wholeness and peace that our world today lacks – peace through a ‘complete, united, whole and undivided’ love and respect for God. I realised that the yearning for a source of Divine Peace is truly universal. Otherwise, all of the world would not recognise, in solidarity, that the outbreak of terror and war has destroyed peace in the world and our families. And peace in our own hearts. Isn’t it true that the realisation of lack implies the need for that which is lacking? The same goes for the moments when we feel unloved and rejected. This feeling opens our eyes to realising our deep ache for acceptance and love.

It is a great sadness that when we do have love, we think little of it or may wish to be loved with greater thrill; when we have peace and stability, we see our mundanity as boring and routine; when we have the joys of waking up each new day, that we wish we could snooze longer and not have to wake up to face the daily grind. I find myself in this struggle, and it is indeed a hallmark of being human – the never ending ability to tend towards feeling disgruntled and ungrateful. And it is true too that those of us who do know God, have sometimes grieved Him so much. After all, our Heavenly Maker did give us this coveted ‘free will’.

At the same time, this freedom we have been given puts before us a task to ‘choose’ peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness. Peace and honour, joy, beauty and glory, love and compassion do not come without our striving. These come from our choosing to respond to our deep inmost desires for wholeness, completeness and unity with God through Jesus Christ. This is why the book of Baruch exhorts Jerusalem to ‘take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head…’

Likewise, the joy of claiming the Gospel, the good news of our salvation, is written beautifully by St Paul in the Second Reading. ‘Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present… the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes… My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more… This will help you… and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.’ (Philippians 1:4-11)

Our wait for Jesus this Advent, and indeed the everyday advent of our lives, requires of us an active participation in cleaving to the joy and zeal of our missionary faith and our filial love and devotion to God who is our Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek you first in all my ways and days. Help me to wait in active hope and joy of Your promises and blessings in the ups and downs of life.

Thanksgiving: Jesus, in this time of worldly crisis, we thank you for the memory of your reign on earth in a form that people could not recognise. We trust therefore that murky as the times are today, your Glory is hidden but not absent. Jesus, we continue to trust in you.