All posts by Daniel Tay

Friday, 28 Jun – What do you want to be when you grow up?

28 June – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles (Vigil Mass)

Peter (c.1–64) was a professional fisherman. He was the brother of St. Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Given the name Simon, he was renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. He later became a bishop and was the first pope. He was also a miracle worker.

Paul (c.3–c.65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted the Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest another group of faithful, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting him, causing his conversion to Christianity.

He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling, preaching, and teaching. His letters to the churches he help found form a large percentage of the New Testament. He knew and worked with many of the earliest saints and Fathers of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

–       Patron Saint Index
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Acts 3:1-10

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in. When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’ He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God. Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.
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Galatians 1:11-20

The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.

Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord, and I swear before God that what I have written is the literal truth.
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John 21:15-19 

Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’

In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’
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“I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go”

When I was about eight years old, I wanted to grow up to be a police officer.  I thought it was exciting to wear a badge, to wield a gun and chase down bad guys.  Eventually, those dreams faded as I started to realize how dangerous a vocation it was. Growing up in New York City during the mid-1980s, drugs and crime were big problems.  I remember watching the news and seeing police officers being killed in the line of duty.  Back then, it was common to see advertisements offering cash rewards to anyone providing tips that led to the capture and conviction of cop killers. So as much as I romanticized over the idea of being in law enforcement, the grim reality of the dangers that came with wearing the badge quashed those early desires.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter whether he loves Him three times. Peter responds to the affirmative three times. Jesus then proceeds to foreshadow Peter’s death through crucifixion and tells him to “Follow me.”  Jesus’ message to Peter is very clear – go out and spread the gospel though you might be put in harm’s way. When your time comes, know that it will be for the glory of God.

That must have been a frightening, yet life changing moment for Peter. He’s given the opportunity to atone for his denial of Christ and entrusted with the sacred responsibility of leading the early Christian church. This was a moment of spiritual maturity for Peter. His life was about to be transformed from that of an ordinary fisherman to a righteous, godly defender of the faith. Despite the inevitability of a cruel and painful death, Peter obediently serves Christ.

The Christian road is not one of carefree strolls and easy hikes.  It is a long and arduous trip, full of unexpected twists and turns. The early Christians faced constant persecution but their spiritual transformation bears witness to the gifts of salvation. The crippled beggar hopes for gold and silver, but is given healing and mercy instead- his transformation leads others to believe and praise God. Saul’s zealous persecution of the Church is turned upside down when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus- his transformation would forever change the Christian faith.

As we grow as Christians, we should expect that we too will see persecution, either subtle or overt. We should expect difficulties and hardships.  When we do, be reminded that “… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  (Romans 5: 3-5)  Through this, we (an imperfect and ordinary people) can transform into righteous and godly defenders of the Christian faith, bearing witness to His perfect glory.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)
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Prayer:  Lord Jesus, we pray that you continue to guide us as we grow in our Christian lives. We depend on your grace to lead us through the long and bumpy roads.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the many men and women of law enforcement who put on uniforms and faithfully serve and protect our communities.

Thursday, 27 Jun – Membership Has Its Privileges

27 June – Memorial for St. Cyril of Alexandria, bishop and Doctor of the Church

Cyril (376–444) was the nephew of Theophilus the Patriarch. He was a monk and a priest who became Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt in 412, and later the Patriarch of Alexandria. He suppressed the Novatians. He worked at the Council of Ephesus. He fought against Nestorius who taught the heresy that there were two persons in Christ.

He was a catechetical writer, and wrote a book opposing Julian the Apostate. He is a Greek Father of the Church, and is a Doctor of the Church.

– Patron Saint Index
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Genesis 16:1-12,15-16

Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no child, but she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘Listen, now! Since the Lord has kept me from having children, go to my slave-girl. Perhaps I shall get children through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai had said.

Thus after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan for ten years Sarai took Hagar her Egyptian slave-girl and gave her to Abram as his wife. He went to Hagar and she conceived. And once she knew she had conceived, her mistress counted for nothing in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May this insult to me come home to you! It was I who put my slave-girl into your arms but now she knows that she has conceived, I count for nothing in her eyes. Let the Lord judge between me and you.’ ‘Very well,’ Abram said to Sarai ‘your slave-girl is at your disposal. Treat her as you think fit.’ Sarai accordingly treated her so badly that she ran away from her.

The angel of the Lord met her near a spring in the wilderness, the spring that is on the road to Shur. He said, ‘Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I am running away from my mistress Sarai’ she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will make your descendants too numerous to be counted.’ Then the angel of the Lord said to her:

‘Now you have conceived, and you will bear a son,
and you shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard your cries of distress.
A wild-ass of a man he will be,
against every man, and every man against him,
setting himself to defy all his brother.

Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave to the son that Hagar bore the name Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
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Matthew 7:21-29

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!

‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes.
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”

In Hong Kong, there is thriving demand for private club memberships, with waitlists spanning for years if not decades for certain clubs. Applicants need to be endorsed by other existing members and entrance fees are required.  Acceptance into one of these clubs is supposed to provide its members a sense of status, exclusivity and accomplishment.  I’ll be the first to admit that I also covet after these symbols of social status. But as I grow in my Christian life, I’m starting to wonder whether these types of worldly affiliations really confer the right kind of privileges.

When it comes to the most coveted club of all, the Kingdom of Heaven, can we really expect to get in based on who we know, what we do, how much we earn or even which church we go to?  Isn’t it true that because we believe in Christ, therefore we belong?  As Jesus’ nears the end of his Sermon on the Mount, his answer is no.  Many will apply and few will be accepted.  Faith alone does not grant access.  Satan believes in Christ, but he certainly won’t enter.  So what if we do good deeds?  Jesus goes on to warn that even if you performed good works, on judgment day you could still be turned away.  The key point is “…but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Only if we act on God’s will and not of our own volition do we have the opportunity for salvation. Salvation can neither be earned, nor negotiated.  It’s neither assured, nor guaranteed. As was written in the Book of Matthew… When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:25-26)

Like Hagar, let us obediently accept God’s will despite the harsh treatment of mankind.  Let us be reminded that salvation is a precious gift to the truly unworthy.  For the only club that we’ll ever need acceptance to is the house of our Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)
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Prayer:  Our beloved Jesus Christ, we pray that you continue to help us to discern your will for our daily lives. Give us the strength and courage to follow your word.

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we give thanks for your sacrifice for our sins, which through it we can have a chance at salvation.

Wednesday, 26 Jun – The Usual Suspects

26 June 
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Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

It happened that the word of the Lord was spoken to Abram in a vision, ‘Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’

‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘what do you intend to give me? I go childless…’ Then Abram said, ‘See, you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir.’ And then this word of the Lord was spoken to him, ‘He shall not be your heir; your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood.’ Then taking him outside he said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.

‘I am the Lord’ he said to him ‘who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to make you heir to this land.’ ‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘how am I to know that I shall inherit it?’ He said to him, ‘Get me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these, cut them in half and put half on one side and half facing it on the other; but the birds he did not cut in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcases but Abram drove them off.

Now as the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep, and terror seized him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, there appeared a smoking furnace and a firebrand that went between the halves. That day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram in these terms:

‘To your descendants I give this land,
from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River,
the river Euphrates.’
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Matthew 7:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.’
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“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves”

The first time I ever watched Kevin Spacey in a movie was in the 1995 suspense thriller The Usual Suspects. Spacey plays the role of Verbal Kint, a physically crippled, small time con artist who survives a gang related massacre. This sets the stage for the rest of the movie, with Verbal narrating the events leading up to this violent incident. Throughout the movie, the audience is led to believe that a ruthless, shadowy villain by the name of Keyser Söze was behind this crime while Verbal feebly watches as things unfold. However – during the last five minutes of the movie, it’s revealed that Verbal fabricated the story to cover up his evil deeds and was in fact Keyser Söze.

Jesus directly warns his disciples of those who appear to be in sheep’s clothe but are wolves in disguise. Their intentions are not to live harmoniously with the rest of the flock and follow our beloved shepherd, but to separate the weak and unsuspecting and devour the vulnerable. For as Paul wrote – “for such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11: 13-15)

How do we recognize and guard against these antagonists of our faith? Jesus commands that we must first know who they are by examining their actions as “…every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” Our ability to discern good fruit from bad fruit would only be enhanced through the study of the Bible, prayer and fellowship. In time, those evil-doers will be revealed by their methods (2 Peter 2: 1-22) and doctrine (Galatians 1: 6-10).

The final line in the Usual Suspects is narrated by Spacey where he states “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, he’s gone”. Let us not be tricked by the devil and his false prophets. Let us arm ourselves with the word of the Lord, shielded by His grace and joined with other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For as with Abraham, the fruits of our faith in Him are eternal and everlasting life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)
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Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the wisdom to recognize and subdue the wolves in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the power of your teachings and the grace of your new covenant – through the death and resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ.

 

Tuesday, 25 Jun – Perseverance

25 June
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Genesis 13:2,5-18

Abram was a very rich man, with livestock, silver and gold. Lot, who was travelling with Abram, had flocks and cattle of his own, and tents too. The land was not sufficient to accommodate them both at once, for they had too many possessions to be able to live together. Dispute broke out between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot’s. (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were then living in the land.) Accordingly Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no dispute between me and you, nor between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.’

Looking round, Lot saw all the Jordan plain, irrigated everywhere – this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – like the garden of the Lord or the land of Egypt, as far as Zoar. So Lot chose all the Jordan plain for himself and moved off eastwards. Thus they parted company: Abram settled in the land of Canaan; Lot settled among the towns of the plain, pitching his tents on the outskirts of Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were vicious men, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted company with him, ‘Look all round from where you are towards the north and the south, towards the east and the west. All the land within sight I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants like the dust on the ground: when men succeed in counting the specks of dust on the ground, then they will be able to count your descendants! Come, travel through the length and breadth of the land, for I mean to give it to you.’

So Abram went with his tents to settle at the Oak of Mamre, at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.
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Matthew 7:6,12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.

‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.

‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’
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It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

When I was a teenager, I often heard of God’s healing powers at Catholic charismatic activities. I coveted the ability to hear in order to make my life easier, since I faced difficulties daily in my silent world. I always thought that if I could hear, I could do countless things, but I always ended up feeling disappointed afterwards.

Why? I was too focused on my heart’s attachment and demanded God to comply with my selfish voracious purpose. Therefore, I was unhappy. But I remained hopeful and continued to seek God in every way. Today, I am very grateful to God for refusing my request because He showed me that He already healed me, not my physical hearing ability but He enabled my heart to listen to Him. Through my perseverance, I came to know Him personally and experienced His Love.

By His illustration of narrow gate, our Lord Jesus seemed to imply that we ought to find the way to happiness and peace with God because our human perspectives are very different from God’s.

As I reflect, I came to understand that God made me deaf with the intentions of salvation of my soul and my fellow friends whom others cannot reach out to. For Lord Jesus told us that if we want to become His disciples, we ought to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Him. If we do not have sufferings in our trials, then we will not able to understand the sufferings of our Lord and others. It is an inevitable paradox that in our humble state we will notice God’s love in the midst of our sufferings and find peace in our hearts.

I wish to share with you something I read from Facebook:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve, but God made me weak that I might learn to obey

I asked for health that I might do great things, I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy, I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked God for power when I was young that I might have the praise of men, I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life, I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

Now at the end of my life, I realize I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I really hoped for.

Despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered, I am among all people most richly blessed.

To the post, I added this comment:

“I had asked for healing for my ears that I might live normal life, but I was given even bigger cross that I knew how to reach out to the poor whom the others could not reach.”

If God does not remove all the worldly attachments from my heart, I do not think that I will be able to choose the narrow path and follow Lord Jesus wholeheartedly.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Michael Goo)
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Prayer: Heavenly Father, take away all our attachments from our hearts and set us free so that we can see Your Mercy and Love. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we praise you for sending Your Only Beloved Son Lord Jesus to redeem us and we thank you for our crosses.

Monday, 24 Jun – The Sharp End of the Stick

24 June – Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

John the Baptist (d.30) was the cousin of Jesus Christ. His father, Zachary, was a priest of the order of Abia whose job in the Temple was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. As Zachary was ministering in the Temple, an angel brought him news that Elizabeth would bear a child filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth. Zachary doubted and was struck dumb until John’s birth.

John began his ministry as prophet around age 27, wearing a leather belt and a tunic of camel hair, living off locusts and wild honey, and preaching a message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. He converted many, and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. After baptizing Christ, he told his disciples to follow Jesus.

Imprisoned by King Herod, John the Baptist died a victim of the vengeance of a jealous woman; he was beheaded, and his head brought to her on a platter. St. Jerome says Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occasionally stabbing the tongue with her dagger because of what John had said in life.

– Patron Saint Index
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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, “You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified”;
while I was thinking, “I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing”;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he whom formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

“It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
i will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
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Acts 13:22-26 

Paul said: ‘God deposed Saul and 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.”

‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you.’
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Luke 1:57-66,80

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.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
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Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

I had a fairly sheltered childhood growing up. Crime was really bad in our neighborhood so I was kept at home a lot. I think being the eldest didn’t help either because my parents were trying to figure out how much and how far to discipline for the first time, so the natural tendency was always to do too much. When it came to my siblings, they eased up a whole lot and as a result, my brother and sister were allowed a great deal more personal freedom than I was. To a teenager, this was gross double standards! So I spent the better part of my teenage years being angry and resentful of my folks. To escape, I threw myself into my work. No one worked harder than I did. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I’m glad that they were so strict with me. I’m glad there were double standards. I’m glad that they set me apart and pushed me. I turned all of that angst into discipline, drive, focus and determination. I think that has made all the difference in my adult years.

John the Baptist too had a strict childhood. It is likely that his upbringing was influenced by the ascetic Essenes who lived in communities in the desert of Judea, by the Dead Sea. These communities devoted themselves to prayer and meditation on Scripture. We are not told how big a part his parents played in setting him on this path but we can only imagine that they were instrumental. John is descended from a long line of priests on both his father’s and his mother’s side. John’s mother Elizabeth was a descendant of the first priest Aaron, while John’s father Zechariah was a priest who served in the temple rotation.

So as a child, John would have been made aware of the priesthood’s commitments and their focus on ritual purity and liturgical fidelity. And as he grew up, his isolation (forced or otherwise) in the desert away from the usual distractions of Jewish youth would have helped him to focus all his drive, determination and discipline solely on God’s plan – “This son of yours will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Listen: he shall never drink wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Through him, many of the people of Israel will turn to the Lord their God. He himself will open the way to the Lord with the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; he will reconcile fathers and children, and lead the disobedient to wisdom and righteousness in order to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17).

I look back now, and I am grateful that my parents set me apart and singled me out for discipline. Though I was angry then at what I felt were gross double standards, I am what I am today because of the sacrifices they made. It takes a lot to endure the anger and resentment of your children as you try to enforce discipline. You never know which way they will swing. Either they will thank you or they will forever resent you, and it’s a gamble that I think all parents take. Well, I’m glad my folks were hard on me. I found my purpose because a long time ago, two people decided that they would ignore a raging teenager’s lamenting and put her singularly on the path that would set her free. I will always be grateful for that.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
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Prayer: We pray for all parents of teenagers who have to deal with the delicate matter of enforcing discipline.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks to my parents for my strict upbringing. I give thanks that I got the sharpest end of the stick.

Sunday, 23 Jun – Random Improbable

23 June – Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist : Vigil Mass

John the Baptist (d.30) was the cousin of Jesus Christ. His father, Zachary, was a priest of the order of Abia whose job in the Temple was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. As Zachary was ministering in the Temple, an angel brought him news that Elizabeth would bear a child filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth. Zachary doubted and was struck dumb until John’s birth.

John began his ministry as prophet around age 27, wearing a leather belt and a tunic of camel hair, living off locusts and wild honey, and preaching a message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. He converted many, and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. After baptizing Christ, he told his disciples to follow Jesus.

Imprisoned by King Herod, John the Baptist died a victim of the vengeance of a jealous woman; he was beheaded, and his head brought to her on a platter. St. Jerome says Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occasionally stabbing the tongue with her dagger because of what John had said in life.

– Patron Saint Index
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Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.’
I said, “Ah, Lord; look, I do not know how to speak: I am a child!”
But the Lord replied, “Do not say, ‘I am a child.’
Go now to those to whom I send you
and, say whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to protect you – 
it is the Lord who speaks!”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me:
‘There! I am putting my words into your mouth.
Look, today I am setting you 
over nations and over kingdoms,
to tear up and to knock down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
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1 Peter 1:8-12

You did not see Jesus Christ, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

It was this salvation that the prophets were looking and searching so hard for; their prophecies were about the grace which was to come to you. The Spirit of Christ which was in them foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would come after them, and they tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all this was to be expected. It was revealed to them that the news they brought of all the things which have now been announced to you, by those who preached to you the Good News through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, was for you and not for themselves. Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.
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Luke 1:5-17

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.’
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Before I formed you in the womb I knew you

Lately, I’ve begun to mull over the prospect of being a mother. I’m 38 this year. The window for me to have a child is closing fast. I see my friends having babies, relishing motherhood and I wonder if there is something here that I have missed. While I’ve never felt that maternal urge, the option has always been there and truth be told, I’ve taken it for granted. When you’re young, you feel immortal. Life’s possibilities stretch out before you. But as you grow older, the cavalier way with which you approached your twenties does not cut it. The cost of a bad decision is higher the older you get. So while before I had convinced myself that I never wanted children, the prospect of actually losing that optionality has forced me to rethink all my existing notions – does God want me to be a mother? Might I actually be a good mother? Can I learn to love and provide for a child unselfishly? Should I adopt? If God blessed me with a child that was born a little bit special would I love him enough to look past it and see the joy, gladness and rejoicing that he can bring?

In today’s gospel reading, Zechariah’s first response is one of incredulity – they were both old and Elizabeth was barren, so what Gabriel was suggesting was so random, it was hard for him to believe! Elizabeth’s response conversely is open, reverent, in awe of God – “What is the Lord doing for me! This is his time for mercy and for taking away my public disgrace” (Luke 1:25). The circumstances of John’s birth and conception are unconventional enough but to add to the confusion, Zechariah is struck dumb. A lesser woman would have been fazed by it all, but Elizabeth bears all patiently, with a childlike faith. The words of Jeremiah in today’s first reading remind us that while life might seem like it’s a series of random and improbable events, there is no randomness to God’s plans – “even before I formed you in the womb, I have known you; even before you were born I had set you apart..” (Jeremiah 1:5). There is a path set out for each of us, and God carefully executes on it in His time. For John, that path would open the way to the Lord and prepare a people to meet their Savior.

As we ponder our life’s decisions – those we have made and those that we are contemplating – it’s good to remember that God has determined the road on which we must walk. There are no random events with the Lord. There are also no improbable events with the Lord. We can take detours and go the long way round but eventually all roads lead us to the way He has mapped out for us. Some of us might approach big life decisions with fear. That fear can be paralyzing. We need to see that the Lord has ‘got us’, there is nothing to be afraid. Our fear is only because of the constraints that we put on ourselves through our own preconceived notions. If like Elizabeth, we can keep an open mind and consider all possibilities open to us, might we not live richer, broader, more fulfilling lives?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
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Prayer: We pray for all those who are at crossroads in life, who are about to embark on life-changing decisions. We pray that they approach their decisions with an open mind, an open heart and childlike faith in Him.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the children that God has blessed us with and the joy that they have given us.

Sunday, 23 Jun – Who Is Jesus?

23 June 

The One Whom We Have Pierced

In today’s celebration, with all our differences, we become one as we gaze in prayer on the Christ we have pierced and who gave his life for our sake.

– The Sunday Missal
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Zechariah 12:10-11,13:1 

It is the Lord who speaks: ‘Over the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer. They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child. When that day comes, there will be great mourning in Judah, like the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, for sin and impurity.’
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Galatians 3:26-29

You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.
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Luke 9:18-24

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.

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

Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.’
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Who do you say that I am?

There is a story of Saint Teresa of Avila. She sometimes could not avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Lord Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat My friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder You have so few friends.” But since Christ had so few friends, she felt they should be good ones. That was why she decided to reform her Carmelite order.

Many Christians testify that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. But who is Jesus to us personally? When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is “The Christ of God”, were diffident and simply parroted St. Peter? Otherwise, why did they not speak out? They could have all confessed in one accord, couldn’t they?

This applies to us too. In times of experiencing fear, anger, happiness, sorrow, doubt, do we praise and thank God? Do we testify to others about God? In a homily I heard, Archbishop William Goh said that St. Thomas gave a perfect confession when he said, “My Lord and my God” as he touched theholes on Lord Jesus’ hands and side. Yet Lord Jesus responded, “You believe because you see Me. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe Me.”

What about us? How difficult it is for us to grasp such the meaning in this modern world because we have not seen Lord Jesus? Actually we always receive His Body through Eucharist in every Mass. Indeed it takes faith to believe in order to understand His Word, and mind to understand in order to believe as St. Augustine said.

It is not difficult to find opportunities to get to know Jesus personally. For example, take our OXYGEN team of writers. Because of our commitment, we need to find time and a quiet place that allows us to pray and reflect on the scriptures and the Gospel. We just need a little time each day to recollect ourselves, practice self-mortification, and make resolutions with God. Never underestimate the work of Holy Spirit in your moment of silence.

Some have rejected Jesus because they are afraid of change, such as the need to forgive those who have hurt us the most. Yet Lord Jesus asked us to let go and forgive them from the bottom of our hearts. If we truly accept Lord Jesus into our hearts, we ought to prepare our hearts for dynamic transformations as in Lord’s transfiguration, we will transfigure into Christ alike.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Michael Goo)
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Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to know You better every moment of our lives because the better we get to know You, the more ardent we will love You. Give us strength, Lord to change our hearts into Your Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart of Mother Mary alike. Mother Mary Immaculate, help us and pray for us.

Thanksgiving: We thank and laud God for the gift of love which comes from Him.

Tuesday, 19 Mar – A Good Man

19 Mar – Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Joseph is a descendant of the house of David. A layman and a carpenter, he was the earthly spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and foster and adoptive father of Jesus Christ. He was a visionary who was visited by angels, and is noted for his willingness to immediately get up and do what God told him.

Prayer to St. Joseph
Blessed Joseph, husband of Mary, be with us this day.
You protected and cherished the Virgin;
loving the Child Jesus as your Son,
you rescued Him from the danger of death.
Defend the Church, the household of God,
purchased by the blood of Christ.

Guardian of the Holy Family,
be with us in our trials.
May your prayers obtain for us
the strength to flee from error
and wrestle with the powers of corruption
so that in life we may grow in holiness
and in death rejoice in the crown of victory.
Amen.

– Patron Saint
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2 Samuel 7: 4-5, 12-14, 16

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: “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. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) 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. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’
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Romans 4: 13, 16-18, 22

The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith. That is why what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us. As scripture says: I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.

Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him.’
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Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24

Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called 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.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do.
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“…he was an upright man” (Matthew 1: 19)

What makes a good man? Most women have a checklist they tick off when looking for their life partner. For some, the material things in life are paramount; they need someone to keep them in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. For others, companionship is enough, it’s more important that he is able to make them laugh and to carry on a conversation. Yet others seek a trophy man, someone who satisfies the expectations of their friends and families. But is that really what makes a ‘good man’? Scripture gives us some ideas.

A ‘good man’ stands by his wife. In Joseph’s days, it was the practice to marry when one was very young. The Jews in Joseph’s time were a ‘patriarchal’ society. Women belonged to men, whether their fathers, their brothers, their sons or their husbands. So when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he could have denounced her, and she would very likely have been stoned for adultery. But we know that even before the Angel’s intervention, Joseph “was an upright man” (Matt 1:19). He thought not of himself, but of Mary, and “in no way did he want to discredit her” (Matt 1:19). After the Angel intervenes to inform Joseph of his role in God’s plan, Joseph readily accepts it and stands faithfully by Mary’s side. It was a small town, and the gossip about Mary’s growing belly would have been unbearable, yet Joseph stood faithfully by her.

A ‘good man’ puts God and his family before his career. Abraham is the father of all believers, because “he did not doubt nor did he distrust the promise of God, and by being strong in faith, he gave glory to God” (Romans 4: 20). The ‘faithful’ are all travelers, finding their way to the Promised Land. God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house for the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation…” (Genesis12: 1-2) and Abraham dutifully obeyed. The Angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you…” (Matt 2:13) and Joseph unquestioningly uproots his whole life and travels to Egypt. It takes great faith and courage to break away from the comfort of all you know. Joseph, the ‘good man’, leaves it all to God and forsaking all he knows, goes to an unknown land so his family can be safe.

A ‘good man’ toils and works quietly. We learn that Joseph is a ‘carpenter’ (Matt 13:55). It was his vocation, how he supported his family – “if anyone is not willing to work, neither should that one eat… In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord we command these people to work and earn their living” (2 Thessalonians 3: 10-12). Work is a virtue in Scripture, and the virtuous man, ‘the good man’ works to provide for his loved ones. Joseph is also mostly silent in Scripture. When Jesus goes missing in the Temple, it is Mary who admonishes him, not Joseph. Joseph is Scripture’s model of ‘the good man’ – a man of few words, a man of action, of quiet strength and great faith. A man who loved God and his family, who protected them, cared for them, and fulfilled his responsibilities to them. His words were few but he spoke volumes with his life. For all fathers, husbands, sons and brothers, let us take a moment today to ponder upon the quiet strength of Joseph, and let him be our inspiration as we strive to be ‘good men’.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
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Prayer: We pray for all fathers, brothers, sons and husbands. We pray that God watches over them, as they toil daily to provide for those that God has entrusted to them.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for our fathers, our husbands, our sons and our brothers, who provide for us, who patiently put up with us and protect us.

Wednesday, 2 January – The Goodness of God

02 Jan – Memorial for Ss Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops & Doctors of the Church

Basil the Great (329-379) was a noble by birth. His parents and four of his nine siblings were canonized, including St. Gregory of Nyssa. He was the grandson of St. Marcina the Elder. As a youth, he was noted for organizing famine relief, and for working in the kitchens himself, quite unusual for a young noble.

He studied in Constantinople and Athens with his friend St. Gregory Nazianzen. He ran a school of oratory and law in Caesarea. He was so successful and sought after as a speaker that he was tempted by pride. Fearful that it would overtake his piety, he sold all that he had, gave away the money, and became a priest and monk.

He founded monasteries and dew up rules for monks living in the desert. He is considered as key to the founding of eastern monasticism as Benedict was to the west. He was the bishop and archbishop of Caesarea. He conducted Mass and preached to the crowds twice daily. He fought Arianism, is a Greek Doctor of the Church, and a Father of the Church.

Gregory of Nazianzen (330-390) was the son of St. Gregory of Nazianzen the Elder and St. Nonna, brother of St. Caesar Nazianzen, and St. Gorgonius. He spent an itinerant youth in search of learning. He was a friend and fellow student with St. Basil the Great, and a monk at Basil’s desert monastery.

He was a reluctant priest, feeling himself unworthy, and fearing that the responsibility would test his faith. He assisted his bishop father to prevent an Arian schism in the diocese. He opposed Arianiam and brought its heretical followers back to the fold. He became Bishop of Caesarea in 370 which put him in conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. the disputes led his friend Basil the Great, then archbishop, to reassign him to a small, out of the way posting at the edge of the archbishopric.

Following the death of Valens, he was appointed Bishop of Constantinople from 381-390. He hated the city, despised the violence and slander involved in these disputes, and feared being drawn into politics and corruption. But he worked to bring the Arians back to the faith. For his trouble, he was slandered, insulted, beaten up, and a rival “bishop” tried to take over his diocese.

He was a noted preacher on the Trinity. When it seemed that the faith had been restored in the city, Gregory retired to live the rest of his days as a hermit. He wrote theological discourses and poetry, some of it religious, some of it autobiographical. He was a Father of the Church, and a Doctor of the Church.

– Patron Saint Index
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1 John 2:22-28

The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ –
he is the liar,
he is Antichrist;
and he is denying the Father as well as the Son,
because no one who has the Father can deny the Son,
and to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father as well.
Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning:
as long as what you were taught in the beginning is alive in you,
you will live in the Son
and in the Father;
and what is promised to you by his own promise
is eternal life.
This is all that I am writing to you about the people who are trying to lead you astray.
But you have not lost the anointing that he gave you,
and you do not need anyone to teach you;
the anointing he gave teaches you everything;
you are anointed with truth, not with a lie,
and as it has taught you, so you must stay in him.
Live in Christ, then, my children,
so that if he appears, we may have full confidence,
and not turn from him in shame
at his coming.
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John 1:19-28

This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’

Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
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I am not the Christ

One of the reasons why I find it difficult sometimes to see myself as a witness of Christ is because there are times when I feel “disqualified” from doing so. In my mind, a witness of Christ is like a shining beacon of light. He or she stands true to the examples of St John, the Baptist, and the Saints and when I examine my faults in their light, the stark difference discourages me sometimes from bearing witness to the goodness of Christ.

St. John’s words however echoes in my mind, and speaks sharply to my self-reliance. I am reminded that it is not through perfection that I am called to evangelise. Rather, it is in spite of my human imperfections and weaknesses, that I am called to become an instrument of grace. The key to evangelisation, I think, first involves a realisation of the goodness of God, followed by an inner conviction of our own fallen nature and how much we truly need Christ and his grace in our lives. We cannot become witnesses of something which we have not experienced or seen. I am reminded therefore, that as a Christian, although I am not Christ himself, I am  nevertheless called to bear witness to the goodness and faithfulness of Him who is.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)
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Prayer: As we enter into the second day of the New Year Lord, help us to be aware of your presence and goodness in our lives throughout the year ahead. Let us encounter you daily so that we may become true witnesses of Christ.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for the witnesses whom we have encoutered in our lives and who inspired us to become witnesses for you.

Tuesday, 1 January – Growing Pains

01 Jan – Octave Day of Christmas; Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on Jan 1, the Octave Day of Christmas (i.e. 8th day after Christmas). It is a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus. The title “Mother of God” is a western derivation from the Greek term ‘theotokos’, the God-bearer.

The term ‘theotokos’ was adopted at the Council of Ephesus as a way to assert the divinity of Christ, from which it follows that what is declared of Christ is declared of God. So, if Mary is the mother of Jesus, she is the Mother of God. Therefore, the title ‘Mother of God’ and the ‘Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God’, which celebrates her under this title, are at once Mariological and Christological.

– Wikipedia
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Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”
This is how they are to call down my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’
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Galatians 4:4-7

When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.
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Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem 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.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.
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“As for Mary, she treasured all these messages and continually pondered over them” (Luke 2:19)

One of my favorite stories from Scripture is the one about the ‘Onions of Egypt’. Wandering the desert as free men, the Hebrews began to reminisce about their time in captivity. Memories have a way of clouding our brain. We tend to think of them as the ‘good old days’, when often the ‘old days’ were a real slog. “We remember the fish we ate without cost in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and garlic. Now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at, nothing but manna” (Numbers 11:5-6). It is enough for some to simply be ‘comfortable’ with what they know. Trying to process something new and uncertain, can be too daunting a task. Fast forward to Paul and the Galatians, we see how things tend to repeat themselves. After their conversion, Paul found some of the believers reverting back to their old ways. “… how can you turn back to weak and impoverished created things? Do you want to be enslaved again? Will you again observe this and that day, and the new moon, and this period and that year…?” (Galatians 4:9-10). Doesn’t that sound familiar?

In our first years of conversion, life can be new and uncertain. We proclaim, “I believe! I am saved!!” and then we look around and wonder, “Oh boy, what’s next?”. And we’re stumped! When we meet challenges, our newly formed faith isn’t always up to the task and we stumble. We waver. Sometimes we fall. No one is ‘born’ fully formed, with their faith mature and battle-ready from day one. Like the Hebrews and the Galatians, we too have to endure our growing pains. Mary shows us how.

Mary was a reflective person – “… She treasured all these messages and continually pondered over them” (Luke 2: 19). Mary was also an obedient person. We know that at her Annunciation, she was troubled by the words of the angel Gabriel, yet she still yielded to God’s plans for her – “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said” (Luke 1: 38). And Mary and Joseph were conscientious parents, faithfully observing the traditions that would give Jesus his first groundings in the Law – “on the eighth day, the circumcision of the baby had to be performed” (Luke 2: 21).

Mary shows us the path of discipleship. We too will grow deeper in our faith by reading His word and committing it to our hearts. We grow deeper in our faith when we meditate prayerfully on God’s presence in our lives. Yes, growing pains are difficult and never pleasant, but struggle and failure make us strong. So when we suffer the setbacks that are an inevitable part of our life’s journey, let us not be discouraged and revert back to the comfort of our old practices. With the Blessed Virgin Mary as our inspiration, let us faithfully and obediently yield ourselves up to God and like Mary, accept the roles that He has determined for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
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Prayer: When things go poorly and unexpectedly for us, we pray for God’s help to set aside our doubts and quiet our fears. We pray He fortifies our fledgling faith. We pray He gives us the same faith, trust and obedience that Mary showed as she soldiered through the challenges she faced.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, that resides within us and guides us to seek and do His will.