All posts by Debbie

20 March, Wednesday – Fairness in God’s Kingdom

20 March 2019

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Jeremiah 18:18-20

‘Come on,’ they said, ‘let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.’

Listen to me, O Lord,
hear what my adversaries are saying.
Should evil be returned for good?
For they are digging a pit for me.
Remember how I stood in your presence
to plead on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.

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Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

  When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Should evil be returned for good?

Last Friday, the world was shaken yet again by the news of another senseless shooting at a place of worship. This time it was at two mosques (Linwood Mosque and Al Noor Mosque) in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll is a number that will never truly reflect the sheer number of lives thus forever altered by this act of violence and terrorism.

In the midst of this great pain and suffering, loss and grieving, we cannot help but ask – where is the sense and fairness in all of this? Why do the innocent suffer or die while the wicked live or get away scot-free? We expect a certain logic and universal law to life but we are often met with unfairness in our daily dealings and news like these.

It is in these times that Jesus’ words in the gospel give us a sliver of hope: “anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, an anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It recalls the verse in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

We know that the Muslim worshippers had set apart their Friday to honor and praise God. They had taken time to slow down to pray. Time away from work, away from other obligations to make an offering of attention to God. Yet, in this, they ended up victims to a very deluded killer. Their martyred souls are certainly closer to their Maker for the very fact that they lost their lives in the very house of God. I believe that God receives the souls of these victims – of which a child as young as three is amongst them.

While we are tempted to hate and anger and revenge, I am humbled and moved by the outpouring of compassion, forgiveness, and tenderness that is shown between people of all stripes and faiths in the aftermath of this tragedy. People from various backgrounds offering to keep vigil and guard the mosques while their Muslim brethren pray. Muslims reaching out to people of other faiths and offering their hospitality in return. We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond.

God sent Jesus to overturn our expectations of what we can expect in our lives. We can expect loss, sorrow, pain, unimaginable suffering. But Jesus reminds us that when we drink our cups with faithfulness to God and love for our fellow men – we are living by the topsy-turvy law of God who will repay us not in this life, but with Eternity and communion with Him in His Kingdom. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for eternal rest for the souls of all who have perished in this tragedy and for their loved ones who must now live with sorrow and fight to choose forgiveness still.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for bringing good out of this very terrible times. Thank you for always sending your Spirit of hope to us who walk in the dark.

19 March, Tuesday – ‘Silent’ Fatherhood

19 March 2019

Solemnity of St Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St Joseph – Nothing is known of St Joseph except what is said of him in the Gospels. He was a carpenter; he accepted the will of God; and he supported Mary and brought up Jesus. From the human character of his son we can see that he was a good and responsible father. Although he is not officially a patron saint of anything in particular (though he is a patron of the Church as a whole), he is widely venerated as a patron of artisans who honourably do good work with the gifts God has given them, and of workers in general.

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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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Luke 2:41-51a

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

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

  ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.

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See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you. 

Silence and quietness is often seen as an unfavourable character trait. Introverts are often misunderstood as having few opinions, little personality, or just plain ‘hard to get a sense of them’. We often think of Mary being a quiet, docile handmaid of the Lord. But if I were to pick the quietest, most passive and silent biblical person, it would be Joseph, husband of Mary, earthly father to Jesus.

Everything that we know about Joseph is through description. We are only told things about Joseph, but never hear a word in scripture from the man himself. How bewildering that God would write the life of a man in to His story, without writing a word to be spoken by him. We know he and Mary were betrothed; that she bore child out of wedlock that was not his flesh and blood; that he received his mission in a dream and obeyed; that he probably stood up for and defended Mary and their union from the naysayers amongst their kinsman; that he protected mother and child as they fled the deserts; that he raised his family on his humble woodworking craft. What a man!

Yet, nay a word he spoke! Not even when Jesus went missing on a family trip. Instead he let Mary speak and discipline their son. One can only wonder what kind of man Joseph was. Let us pause for a moment and consider the mettle of a man who would do all of those things and more – and yet have little need for words. I know that some of us have grown up in families with absent or silent fathers. They did not say much – good or bad – and so we knew little of them and there was hardly any relationship. Some others lived in homes with all-too-imposing father figures – overbearing, opinionated, harsh – we knew too much of what they thought and felt insignificant. These two are extremes. Perhaps most of us have fathers, if at all, who fall somewhere in the spectrum.

As I pondered the role of St Joseph in God’s story, it came to be clear as day the reason for his silence – both as a narrative device, as well as a character trait. Joseph’s silence is the humble place-holder to allow God’s presence and voice in his family’s life to be heard clearly! For sure Joseph spoke. He would have talked with Mary, taught Jesus to pray, disciplined him, instructed him in woodworking, dealt and traded his craft and wares…

Through all of his life, he was ultimately a quiet, obedient, and faithful man! Faithful to his betrothal vows to Mary, to their marriage, to his heavenly Father, to his son, to the message that God sent him about fathering Jesus. We never hear Joseph speak – but his silence carries humility, wisdom, maturity, gravitas, and obedience. In the absence of speech, we as Christian disciples, are made to see beneath the surface of words to decipher fidelity in action.

May we look to St Joseph as our model Christian. He can teach us to trust, obey, love; to be faithful, hopeful, peace-loving, dependable; to lead our families to faith by example.

(for some reflections on St Joseph, explore https://augustinianvocations.org/blog-archive/2016/3/18/lwkee9qlvsxjwo8vnhqlc3oefnohca and https://devotionsbychris.com/tag/does-joseph-speak-in-the-bible/)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We humbly seek your intercession St Joseph to help us love and follow God as you did. We ask that you inspire the fathers among us to be faithful and strong defenders of their wives and families.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the fathers in our lives who have been given to us: whether by blood or adoption or baptism, through loving instruction from fatherly teachers, coaches, bosses, colleagues.

18 March, Monday – Come Back to Me

18 March 2019

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Daniel 9:4-10

O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.

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Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Rescue us for the sake of your name

Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
With tenderness
You shall know.

– Hosea (Come back to me) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czPF5B1aQ1Y

This beautiful hymn has been playing on in my head for the past week. It is after all, one of the Lenten staples. I am always struck with a quivering lip and hot tears welling in my eyes at the second verse “the wilderness will lead you, to the place where I will speak.” And I am speechless to explain why.

Perhaps, it is because I am going through a kind of wilderness now. At the same time, I know as well that the source of my tears are a deep longing for a closeness that I have missed with Christ my lover. This passionate love was so strong, that I would feel Jesus living in my heart every moment and I could commit to him with joy all my thoughts and feelings that happened throughout the day. I would visit him for daily morning or evening Mass and spend time in the quiet of the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was SO IN LOVE! Yet, even as I continue to do these things (although with less frequency), I had felt a distance and coldness in me.

How long have I felt estranged? I cannot be sure. I do know that several rough and tumbles of life and strained relationships have cast me into the wilderness.

As I read today’s Gospel passage where Jesus urged his disciples to be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. I realise that while I do not know how I got to this wilderness, God has the antidote to the dry and barren soil of my heart. We are called to water our souls with compassion just as God is compassionate to us. I realised that this compassion is not only to be given to others (although our love does need to be poured out), but restoratively, I need to be compassionate to myself!

Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. (Luke 6:38)

Notice the words of this hymn Hosea. It is a call to repentance that is borne out of a love and longing God has for us. He calls us to return to Him by casting aside our fears (of punishment, self-loathing, guilt, hatred, anger, unforgiveness)…

How often do we remember to be generous in forgiveness for ourselves and our own waywardness? Are we generous in giving ourselves time to truly rest, to freely play, to connect with the family and friends God has given to us in a deeply meaningful way? Or have we been distracted by the lesser but shinier things of this world?

Lent is a season for repentance. But it does not stop there. We repent because of love not fear. This Lent, try loving yourself (not in a selfish, prideful way) in all the parts of you within that feel unlovely – your sins, your imperfections, your bad temper, your insecurities. Believe that you are loved and wanted very much by your Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I seek God’s grace and mercy that I may see all my loveliness and to love my unloveliness, the way God sees me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the chance to repent and return to you.

17 March, Sunday – New Romance

17 March 2019

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Genesis 15:5-12,17-18

Taking Abram outside, the Lord 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.

  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.’

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Philippians 3:17-4:1

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

  So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

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Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.

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… do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. 

How often do we assume that we already know someone very well just because we have known them for long? As the saying goes, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Abraham was already 99 years old when God promised him a child and descendants so many that they would outnumber the stars in the sky. As faithful a man of God that Abraham was, I believe he experienced seasons of doubt, moments of questions. Even curiosity, at the far-out promises God was fond of making. I suppose that is why he could not help but ask, “‘My Lord, how am I to know that I shall inherit [this land]?’

God was not offended. Instead, he generously offered Abram a visible sign of his covenant in spectacularly consuming his burnt offerings. Likewise in the gospel passage today, God presented Peter, John, and James with the Transfiguration of Jesus in order that they might commit this spectacular event to long-term memory, that Jesus was the Messiah and that they should obey him. We often label these as ‘mountain-top experiences’ precisely because God plucks us out from the banality of our daily business and reveals a magnificent and eternal truth to us – that His promises are true and His Word is life.

From my personal experiences, I can tell you that even these ‘mountain-top experiences’ can become old. We can be desensitised to such an amazing ‘spiritual display’ if we presume to know that God would speak to us in the same way every time.

I made a 3-day personal silent retreat recently. Although I had a routine of making this a yearly affair, I had not done one in past the two years. However, I had clear memories of how past retreats had been for me, and subconsciously expected to experience a similarly intimate, connected, and restful time. I had expected God to re-create my spiritual encounters with inspiring visions and impart messages to enlighten me on my next steps in life. Reality turned out far from history.

While I spent many hours praying and resting at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament, I received little in the way of inspiring visions and images which used to energise me. I was frustrated and disappointed. I thought: Wow, it sure looks like the early days of courtship with God is over, and we’ve moved on to the boring ‘married life’ stage of ‘no surprises’ and ‘no anniversary celebrations’. Haha!

It was only at my final morning before leaving the retreat house, that I realised a better truth. God did speak to me – He was present with me throughout my retreat in a completely different way. It was I who was out of sync with my new normal of spiritual and mental state. So much had changed in my life over the past few years! I got married, I became a mother, and I am now also a caregiver to my husband. God knew what I needed! He gave me REST – lots and lots of it. I didn’t get powerful visions because I didn’t need those. But I sure slept and napped with abandon like a wee newborn – no chores, child, or caregiving that demanded my energy and attention. I was able to SIT, GAZE, SING at the feet of Jesus. Just me and my Lord in the chapel.

God was showing me that ‘boring’ can also be beautiful. And this time, I experienced God romancing me in a completely new way. He says: I am right there in the eye of your storm; I am right there cradling you in your ‘Snooze’ button; I am always with you. Stay with me and I will show you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for all who feel tepid in their relationship with our Heavenly Father. Trust that He is wooing you, trust that He is the one waiting for your unrequited love. Let your guard down, let Him in.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for always romancing me in new ways, for winning me back to yourself, for never letting me go. 

23 February, Saturday – Faith in spite of Fear

23 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:1-7

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by one word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

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Mark 9:2-13

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

What is the weight of faith without being challenged or tested in the midst of fear and hardship? Life is certainly fraught with difficulties, trials, and sufferings. The weight of our faith can only be ‘measured’ by how much trust we place in the Lord – in spite of all that runs contrary.

But alas! Faith is a gift that is both given freely, but must first be sought out by the receiver. We who receive the gift of faith must first desire to seek and find and cherish. This is the essence of today’s scripture readings. In Hebrews we are reminded of the many Fathers of Faith who not only had faith, but held steadfast to their trust and reliance on God in the face of evidence that questioned whether God exists or was faithful to the promises He makes. With faith, we believe there is always more than meets the eye, that God is ultimately in control and He sees, knows, acknowledges, and blesses.

My husband has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia, just at the cusp of our family relocating to another country for a new job. We were literally grounded. It has been a harrowing time for us and our families – and I cannot imagine how we would have managed in this whirlpool without our faith in God. The scripture readings today hit very close to my heart – like a mirror held up, asking, “How much faith do you have in the Lord?”

Sometimes, it seems that faith feels like a double-edged sword. In times of certain hardships, my faith had kept me afloat and steered my direction towards God. Those were times I had managed to grab on to Jesus’ staff with both hands and said, “Lord, guide me.”

Yet in other times, my reality is absolute chaos. Like now, when cancer strikes the family. We were without a roof over our heads, with our household belongings sailing as ship cargo, my little baby and I bouncing between grandparents’ homes, while my husband was bed-bound in hospital for weeks. In those moments, I wondered aloud many times, “Where are you, Lord? Is this a crazy joke?!” My world crumbled and I felt my circumstances were throwing us under the bus repeatedly, I could not seem to reconcile our painful reality with a good God. We were scared, suffering, and dealing with the grief of our lives being ripped apart from normalcy.

Still, we tried our level best and plodded on with a spark of faith which felt so tiny like the mere glow of a firefly in a dark, deep cave. The rough days and the hard moments come in choppy waves. At the same time, with one foot in front of the other, in spite of the fear and darkness, God led us into the light.

Indeed, like the scriptures today, our faith allowed us to trust in the “existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”. By God’s grace and merciful healing, my husband has been responding well to chemotherapy and it is amazing to realise how this period has not only brought my husband and I in deeper union in our marriage. It has also bestowed untold depths and texture to my husband’s faith life and relationship with Jesus. With God, everything is possible! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Abba Father, I pray for healing for my husband and all who are suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. I pray you bind up their wounds and bind up their hearts and homes that are shaken with fear and sorrow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the gift of faith that you first bestowed upon us which allowed us to hope for realities that at present seemed dim.

20 February, Wednesday – Talk is Cheap

20 February 2019

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Genesis 8:6-13,20-22

At the end of forty days Noah opened the porthole he had made in the ark and he sent out the raven. This went off, and flew back and forth until the waters dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove, to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth. The dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, again he sent out the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there it was with a new olive-branch in its beak. So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days he sent out the dove, and now it returned to him no more.

  It was in the six hundred and first year of Noah’s life, in the first month and on the first of the month, that the water dried up from the earth. Noah lifted back the hatch of the ark and looked out. The surface of the ground was dry!

  Noah built an altar for the Lord, and choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelt the appeasing fragrance and said to himself, ‘Never again will I curse the earth because of man, because his heart contrives evil from his infancy. Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.

‘As long as earth lasts,
sowing and reaping,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall cease no more.’

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Mark 8:22-26

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida, and some people brought to him a blind man whom they begged him to touch. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Then putting spittle on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ The man, who was beginning to see, replied, ‘I can see people; they look like trees to me, but they are walking about.’ Then he laid his hands on the man’s eyes again and he saw clearly; he was cured, and he could see everything plainly and distinctly. And Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

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A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.

I feel that God has decoded a mystery to me in the scripture readings today – that there is more than one component to having faith in God. The words of the Responsorial Psalm stuck with me – ‘A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.’ These words describe a very strong and intentional action on my part which is far greater than the lip service of simply giving thanks. Yes, our God is not a calculative ‘quid pro quo’ God. At the same time, we are called to fully contemplate the weight of our thanksgiving. How grateful am I, really, when I sometimes just absentmindedly exclaim ‘Thanks be to God!’ in messages with friends when I hear or share good news that happened in our lives?

Having faith in God is an ongoing process that goes beyond merely professing and confessing believe in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I often hear of comparisons of the Catholic Church’s practice of infant baptism versus a protestant understanding of water baptism as an adult, that the former is done unthinkingly (“the baby cannot choose”), whilst the latter is one made consentingly (“I know why I am being baptised”). I would suggest that baptism is an ongoing an iterative process that requires persistence of profession of our faith in God; constant surrender on to the will of God; and, the desire to make very real sacrifices in our daily lives to God. This means that, the initial baptism of water is only the first layer of faith. A baptism of fire (and perhaps, several) is always par for the course of being and becoming Christian.

The gospel of Jesus healing the blind man twice today is echoed by the Old Testament Genesis passage of Noah releasing not one, but two birds; and for each bird, not once but twice. Why is this so? Jesus performed many miracles and healed many people in the bible with just once word, one touch, one gesture. Why is this account of Jesus laying hands on the blind mind twice necessary for us? One way we can understand this is to query the depth of the blind man’s faith – that requires a further deepening. There is another way to decipher this account. The first instance of healing was a healing of a physical nature – the blind man could now see, although he could only see imperceptibly humans looking like trees. The second instance of healing cured the man spiritually. He could finally ‘see everything plainly and distinctly’. It was then Jesus sent him home and instructed him not to go back into the village.

What a strange order!

Indeed, God knows us better than we even know ourselves. Jesus healing of blindness included an ongoing medication for the blind man – stay away from your old influences, sacrifice your old associations or pleasures, break from the pattern of your old habits and evils. This is the potion of ‘thanksgiving sacrifice’ in which we are called to ‘make’ to God. We make a decision henceforth because of our faith in Christ. Thus our faith is an active, performative, sacrificial one. And not one of shallow, perfunctory lip service made effortlessly and unthinkingly!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage, the conviction, and the determination to make our individual ‘thanksgiving sacrifices’ to God.

Thanksgiving: Today or tomorrow, I will make my act of service as a love sacrifice to God by going beyond my comfort zone to be loving and kind to someone who has hurt me.

3 September, Monday – The Frivolity of Being Favoured

3 September – Memorial for St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor   

St. Gregory (540-590) collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants. He was elected by unanimous acclamation for pope. Incidentally, he was also the first monk to be pope. Before his papacy, he turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He became a missionary to England upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum.

-Patron Saints Index

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1 Corinthians 2:1-5

When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.

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Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’

And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

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I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God. 

I always wondered about the people around me who seemed to have it all put together. They have good jobs, they have happy families, they kept friendships from years before and have little trouble making new ones. All of those things seem to come easy for them. Most striking of all, they never seemed to have had a faith crisis. These friends seemed to also be unwavering in commitment to their faith. I admired this all.

For one, I used to feel like an emotional hurricane. I would go through seasons of feeling close to and then far from God. When things and relationships went south, I would read my life situation as a consequence of some bad thing I had done, that I had fallen from God’s favour. There would be a cycle of sorrow, guilt, fear, and then grit – to get back on track and ‘do the right things’. Truth be told, being a Christian sometimes felt like more of a burden than a salvation. I was always playing catch-up with my idea of being favoured by God.

As I read today’s Scripture, a few points came to my mind about living a life that is close to Christ.

  1. We will never be liked all the time. Friends and acquaintances will have different reasons for their attitude and perception of me. How well I am favoured this week or this season is no measure of my worth or likeability. Likewise, I am not perfect and I will likely sometimes piss someone off. But hey! That’s normal in human relationships.

 

  1. No prophet is ever accepted in his own country. Sometimes, our families function just the way they are. Other times, there is a whole lot of dysfunction. And every one hides more than a little bit of weirdness and lack and inadequacy about their families. We just never see it in their smiles. Families are imperfect – don’t try to change your parents, your siblings, and your ancestry. Some of us (and our desire for growth, change, and salvation) will just never sit well with the people we live with – and that is okay. We choose growth, we still try to love them, and we will move on.

 

  1. Your job, your intellect, your skills and talents – these are not the only gifts that God has given you. If these don’t work out, you may begin to see cracks in your self-image. Then you will realise that you have too many unhealthy associations of your self-worth with your social and financial standing. Celebrate your life! You are the only you in this world, and you are God’s greatest gift to your self. No one can take this away from you. Hence, ‘your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.’

 

  1. Everyone needs a personal faith crisis. Everyone will eventually experience one. This is not a consolation for those who feel like they always had the short end of stick. This is the only way you or I will ever experience the immense grace, mercy, and justice of God. We can only experience wholeness after confronting our deep brokenness. And we have the consolation of God that Christ is with us in every state of great need and tribulation. This is God’s mercy. This is also God’s love.

 

Many of these thoughts are both practical and spiritual. Our love for God and faith in Him is an iterative journey that will often see us going through cycles of doubts, comparisons with others, intimacy, enlightenment, guilt for our sins, sorrow for straying, but also a deep longing to return. May we continue to forge on this path and fix our gaze on Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Help me Lord to remain steadfast in faith no matter how the winds of human favour and the world’s attractions may blow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for all my trials and tribulations through life and all its stations. They keep me real, they keep me humble, and they help me experience empathy for others.

19 August, Saturday – A House United

19 Aug

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Joshua 24:14-29

Joshua said to all the people, ‘Fear the Lord and serve him perfectly and sincerely; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if you will not serve the Lord, choose today whom you wish to serve, whether the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living. As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.’

  The people answered, ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord and serving other gods! Was it not the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and preserved us all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we journeyed? What is more, the Lord drove all those peoples out before us, as well as the Amorites who used to live in this country. We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’

  Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, because he is a holy God, he is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you desert the Lord to follow alien gods he in turn will afflict and destroy you after the goodness he has shown you.’ The people answered Joshua, ‘No; it is the Lord we wish to serve.’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ They answered, ‘We are witnesses.’ ‘Then cast away the alien gods among you and give your hearts to the Lord the God of Israel!’ The people answered Joshua, ‘It is the Lord our God we choose to serve; it is his voice that we will obey.’

  That day, Joshua made a covenant for the people; he laid down a statute and ordinance for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a great stone and set it up there, under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord, and Joshua said to all the people, ‘See! This stone shall be a witness against us because it has heard all the words that the Lord has spoken to us: it shall be a witness against you in case you deny your God.’ Then Joshua sent the people away, and each returned to his own inheritance.

  After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died; he was a hundred and ten years old.

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Matthew 19:13-15

People brought little children to Jesus, for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer. The disciples turned them away, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children alone, and do not stop them coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ Then he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

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As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.

Serving God with all of my body, mind, and spirit, can be quite a challenge sometimes. This is especially so when I consider how my body, mind, and spirit, are sometimes not functioning in unity. In other words, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak – or otherwise.

In today’s scripture readings, we read of the how Joshua challenged the Israelites about their conviction and commitment to serving and honoring the Lord completely. He charged them with the evidence of their old ways of idol worship and asked them to choose only one – the Lord God, or the variety of alien gods they had. Joshua proclaims, ‘As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.’ This is a bold announcement, because he was making such a statement with the witness of many households.

It struck me today that the words ‘my House’ and ‘household’ is used. This ties in with the gospel passage where Jesus tells his disciples not to withhold the little children from approaching him for blessings. A household is made up of more than one person. It is a unity and community of persons. Although the father or the patriarch may be the head of the household, he too needs to lead with a heart of service to his members. And in the proper order of things, he is ultimately leading them in service to the greater agenda of loving and honoring either one God, or a chaotic disarray of alien gods and idols.

I suppose this charges the adults and older members in any household to be accountable to their community, as Joshua firmly states: ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ All of the members within one’s household take their point of reference on reverence from the leaders or heads. Simply put, children look up to their parents and learn from their actions and choices, about their values and priorities in life. If mum and dad practice differently from what they preach, the children will ultimately be confused and easily see through the discrepancies.

In this way, it is as Jesus warns us not to do: Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ Sometimes, it is not so much by our actions that we set up obstacles to the faith for our little ones – it is by our lack of commitment and integrity that might discourage them and affect their experience and understanding of what it means to lead a faithful Christian life. May we pause a little while today to consider where have we led double lives in our daily choices, and who are the everyday witnesses to our willful or accidental missteps.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for eyes to see the truth about our own failures and hypocrisy. God grant us the grace to begin again responsibly and humbly.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for putting accountability partners in my life to challenge me and witness to my growth.

18 August, Friday – Unteachable We

18 Aug

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Joshua 24:1-13

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem; then he called the elders, leaders, judges and scribes of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Then Joshua said to all the people:

  ‘The Lord, the God of Israel says this, “In ancient days your ancestors lived beyond the River – such was Terah the father of Abraham and of Nahor – and they served other gods. Then I brought your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan. I increased his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountain country of Seir as his possession. Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron and plagued Egypt with the wonders that I worked there. So I brought you out of it. I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, and you came to the Sea; the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen as far as the Sea of Reeds. There they called to the Lord, and he spread a thick fog between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea go back on them and cover them. You saw with your own eyes the things I did in Egypt. Then for a long time you lived in the wilderness, until I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan; they made war on you and I gave them into your hands; you took possession of their country because I destroyed them before you. Next, Balak son of Zippor the king of Moab arose to make war on Israel, and sent for Balaam son of Beor to come and curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam; instead, he had to bless you, and I saved you from his hand.

  ‘“When you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho, those who held Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites and Perizzites, the Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I put them all into your power. I sent out hornets in front of you, which drove the two Amorite kings before you; this was not the work of your sword or your bow. I gave you a land where you never toiled, you live in towns you never built; you eat now from vineyards and olive-groves you never planted.”’

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Matthew 19:3-12

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and to test him they said, ‘Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’

  They said to him, ‘Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?’ ‘It was because you were so unteachable’ he said ‘that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. Now I say this to you: the man who divorces his wife – I am not speaking of fornication – and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’

  The disciples said to him, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.’ But he replied, ‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.’

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‘It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted.

The human race has been unteachable since the dawn of time. Ancient civilisations have been unteachable even as they developed in wisdom and technology – hence their extinction. The modern and post-modern society is just as unteachable today, as much as the agrarian and feudal and monastic societies were. Let’s break it down further: to this very day, we can be as stubbornly unteachable as our parents, grandparents, forefathers. The readings today remind us about how much mercy and redemption we are really in need of.

It is indeed a ‘hard teaching’ of the sin of divorce and adultery that the Pharisees confronted Jesus with in the gospel passage of Matthew today. They were trying to snare Jesus on the technicalities (of the Jewish Law) and see if his so-called teachings of justice and mercy were contradictory on this particular issue. We can see it so painfully true in our world today.

Jesus does not budge or become apologetic about the fundamental nature of man. He especially calls out the Pharisees on this sin of unteachability first and foremost as the basis on which Moses commanded a writ of dismissal be given in cases of divorce. It still is not right for a marriage to be dissolved and for a man to divorce his wife. For marriage is a covenant, a binding promise, representative of the covenant that God made with His Creation that He would always be with us. If God, despite our repeated betrayals and travesties against Him, can be unrelenting in His love, mercy, and desire to still be wedded and faithful in his promise of salvation to us, who are we to ungratefully demand to dispense with Him?

Only an unteachable and ungrateful generation would repeatedly deny receiving God’s goodness and mercy.

Yet, we know of other sins that came along when divorce remained illegal in the past. The sin of adultery and murder became the route which men and women took as the means to their desired ends. Wasn’t this what King David himself did? Indeed, as the disciples foolishly responded, ‘If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.’ This refrain is so heartlessly and callously repeated even today. Many people point to others’ failing, struggling, or difficult marriages, in blame: “This is the reason why I will not get married.” This is also why many children who grew up watching their parents fumble through their own marriages lose hope and vision of how a real Christ-like marriage could be.

Not even the Christian life is to be expected to be easy. What more a Christian marriage? But even more elemental than that, all relationships are messy, difficult, and trying endeavours! Whoever has never argued and been challenged to accountability by a really close friend before? If you had ever ditched a friendship because it is tough or deemed it unworthy because of pride and stubbornness, then humbly, we need to acknowledge that a marriage that binds two imperfect and wounded persons could be exponentially difficult.

The baseline for living in peace and harmony in community, family, and marriage, is to pray for a heart of humility and teachability. From this point, we can hope to transform and transfigure our worldview, modus operandi, and expectations towards our relationships and the holy and worthy task of loving someone and learning to be loved. Yes, Jesus does teach that there is mercy regardless for those who have endured the painful process of divorce. All of us intuitively and ultimately deeply seek a covenantal promise of love that will never be broken. It has been written in our DNA. The question is, how teachable are we in the practice of loving another person? The next question is, how teachable are we in the follow-up to making mistakes and failing to live up to our promises? May we remember: We love because He first loved us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime on earth, and can be our passport to eternity. May we pray to God for a heart of teachability in this journey of learning to love another person, and to remain in love.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your unending mercy to me. For giving me countless second chances. Help me never to take it for granted and spurn your love.

17 August, Thursday – Cut and Run

17 Aug

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Joshua 3:7-11,13-17

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This very day I will begin to make you a great man in the eyes of all Israel, to let them be sure that I am going to be with you even as I was with Moses. As for you, give this order to the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: “When you have reached the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you are to stand still in the Jordan itself”.’ Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘Come closer and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that a living God is with you and without a doubt will expel the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite and the Jebusite. Look, the ark of the Lord,’ the Lord of the whole earth, is about to cross the Jordan at your head. As soon as the priests with the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, have set their feet in the waters of the Jordan, the upper waters of the Jordan flowing down will be stopped in their course and stand still in one mass.’

  Accordingly, when the people struck camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant in front of the people. As soon as the bearers of the ark reached the Jordan and the feet of the priests who carried it touched the waters (the Jordan overflows the whole length of its banks throughout the harvest season) the upper waters stood still and made one heap over a wide space – from Adam to the fortress of Zarethan – while those flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah, that is, the Salt Sea, stopped running altogether. The people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood still on dry ground in mid-Jordan, and all Israel continued to cross dry-shod till the whole nation had finished its crossing of the river.

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Matthew 18:21-19:1

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and he left Galilee and came into the part of Judaea which is on the far side of the Jordan.

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Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?

I think we become less forgiving as we grow older. I find I have less patience now when friends let me down and am more ready to ‘cut and run’ than when I was a twenty-something. This is ironic because it’s in my adulthood that I have grown more aware of His grace.

Our best intentions unravel when it comes to living our faith; forgiveness is my biggest stumbling block. I find I have the tendency to ‘measure up’ the hurts and wounds afflicted on me and keep a mental score of what ‘I am owed’. Like the proverbial evil servant in today’s gospel, that mental ledger is meticulously maintained and diligently populated by the wounds of yesteryear and the names of those who had inflicted them.

But there’s no room for math in His House. He did no math with us, so it is hypocritical of us to work sums with those He sends our way. We end up hurting ourselves when instead of forgiving, we ‘cut and run’. Our relationships have no depth when we ‘cut and run’; we become fair weather friends when we ‘cut and run’. We don’t build bonds when we ‘cut and run’. I’ve always struggled to make friends. I know now that it is because I am constantly fleeing difficult situations. I used to think it was that I didn’t like confrontation, but that’s a lame excuse for not having the tenacity to stick with things.

I’m so grateful that while I’ve been busy ‘cutting and running’, God has never ‘cut and run’ with me. He has persevered and never held back on His forgiveness, never held back on His blessings. And while not all my prayers have been answered, He has granted the prayers that have mattered.

I’m humbled by today’s gospel. It is not easy to look so clearly at a reflection of yourself. I see myself in the evil servant, always a recipient of forgiveness, not often a giver of it, and am overwhelmed by His unending mercies. I give thanks He has never ‘cut and run’ with me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

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Prayer : We pray for the self awareness to see our own weaknesses and forgive, instead of judging and punishing others for the wounds they inflict on us.

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for the never ending mercies He extends us.