All posts by Debbie

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.

16 August, Wednesday – Being Known by God

16 Aug

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Leaving the plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land; Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the stretch of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross into it.’ There in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of the Lord died as the Lord decreed; he buried him in the valley, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but to this day no one has ever found his grave. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired. The sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. The days of weeping for the mourning rites of Moses came to an end. Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. It was he that the sons of Israel obeyed, carrying out the order that the Lord had given to Moses.
  Since then, never has there been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man the Lord knew face to face. What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and his whole land! How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the sight of all Israel!
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Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

  ‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

  ‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

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For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.

It is said in our first reading that Moses was known as ‘the man the Lord knew face to face’. Have you ever wondered how awesome yet terrifying it must have been to come so close to God? Yet, do you sometimes feel so far from Him even when you try your very best to draw closer?

Lately, attending Mass has been quite an alienating routine for me. It recently became trying for me due to the extreme lethargy I experience in pregnancy. Some days my energy or concentration levels simply dip such that it is hard to focus for more than five minutes. This new ‘attitude’ of mine towards Mass caused me to feel privately guilty for not being present with God

One recent Saturday evening, after being completely sapped of energy from our house-moving, I suggested to my equally exhausted husband that maybe we could skip Mass on Sunday to recuperate. God would understand that my spirit is willing but my flesh is spent, I reasoned. Sunday morning brought along a migraine. But we decided to go anyway. As I made my way to church, I said a persistent prayer asking God to grant me enough energy to make it through Mass meaningfully. I had a long day ahead with household appliance deliveries, but I just needed enough ‘battery’ for the present moment.

We arrived to a full-house church with the possibility of only standing space. My heart sank. I ventured forward towards a section of pews anyway, hoping just a little for a seat. To our surprise, a lady happened to turn around in my direction and smiled warmly, signaling for us to sit beside her. At that moment, I felt like God had reserved those seats for us, as no one seemed to have spotted the empty space!

As I settled in to Mass, I felt my spirits lift and I pondered the way God had chosen to make Himself known to me, to pull me in closer despite how distracted my mind and body were. It was not a mountain-top, face-to-face encounter that Moses probably had abundant experience of. But in this small gesture of a kind stranger, I felt comforted that He knew my needs and my heart’s inmost desire more intimately than I could express.

Where in your life have you felt far from God? Are you waiting on Him for an answer over a problem that seems too huge to be resolved? Maybe, like me, you long to return to a season of spiritual relationship with Him that you once shared, but seem to have lost…

My experience that Sunday reminded me that God is truly present in my life, even when I am too tired to recall the many consolations and assurances He has given me before. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled (2 Cor 5:19). Keep praying, even if you think your words sound like clanging cymbals with little heart or direction. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, always intercedes for us.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (Psalm 139:3-5)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: O Lord, grant me the graces and strength to keep on trying and going on in this life of Christian faith and discipleship.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the angels God sends our way through the kindness of the people we meet.

14 August, Monday – Strangers Passing Through this World

14 Aug – Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest, Martyr (1894 – 1941)

He was born on 8 January 1894 in occupied Poland: he joined the Franciscans in Lwów in 1910, and was ordained eight years later, as his country became free and independent for the first time in over 120 years.

  He believed that the world was passing through a time of intense spiritual crisis, and that Christians must fight for the world’s salvation with all the means of modern communication. He founded a newspaper, and a sodality called the Knights of Mary Immaculate, which spread widely both in Poland and abroad.

  In 1927 he founded a community, a “city of Mary,” at Teresin: centred round the Franciscan friary, it attracted many lay people, and became self-supporting, publishing many periodicals and running its own radio station.

  In 1930 he went to Japan, studied Buddhism and Shintoism, and through the Japanese edition of his newspaper spread the Christian message in a way that was in harmony with Japanese culture. In Nagasaki, he set up a “Garden of the Immaculate,” which survived the atomic bomb.

  He also travelled to Malabar and to Moscow, but was recalled to Poland in 1936 for reasons of health.

  When the Germans invaded in 1939, the community at Teresin sheltered thousands of refugees, most of them Jews.

  In 1941 he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where he helped and succoured the inmates. In August of that year a prisoner escaped, and in reprisal the authorities were choosing ten people to die by starvation. One of the men had a family, and Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place. The offer was accepted, and he spent his last days comforting his fellow prisoners.

  The man he saved was present at his canonization.

Maximilian Kolbe’s martyrdom is the least important thing about him. We are none of us likely to find ourselves in a position to emulate his sacrifice, and speculation as to the heroic way in which we would have behaved in his place is a pernicious waste of time. What is important is that he acted the way he did because of who he was – or, rather, because of who he had become. It is because of who he had become that we revere him as a saint: he would have been a saint (though perhaps not canonized) even if he had not been martyred. And that process of becoming is something we can all emulate. We can all become people for whom doing the right thing is obvious, natural, and easy. It requires no heroism, no special gifts: just perseverance, and prayer.

Source: Universalis

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Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Moses said to the people:

  ‘Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to fear the Lord your God, to follow all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and laws of the Lord that for your good I lay down for you today.

  ‘To the Lord your God belong indeed heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all it contains; yet it was on your fathers that the Lord set his heart for love of them, and after them of all the nations chose their descendants, you yourselves, up to the present day. Circumcise your heart then and be obstinate no longer; for the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, triumphant and terrible, never partial, never to be bribed. It is he who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow, who loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing. Love the stranger then, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. It is the Lord your God you must fear and serve; you must cling to him; in his name take your oaths. He it is you must praise, he is your God: for you he has done these great and terrible things you have seen with your own eyes; and though your fathers numbered only seventy when they went down to Egypt, the Lord your God has made you as many as the stars of heaven.’

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Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again.’ And a great sadness came over them.

  When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel came to Peter and said, ‘Does your master not pay the half-shekel?’ ‘Oh yes’ he replied, and went into the house. But before he could speak, Jesus said, ‘Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?’ And when he replied, ‘From foreigners’, Jesus said, ‘Well then, the sons are exempt. However, so as not to offend these people, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you.’

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Love the stranger then, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Are you a foreigner where you live? Maybe you have studied or worked abroad at some point in your life, or even now. Maybe you have just returned from living overseas for a period of time. How did you feel when you first arrived? Can you recall those tentative, uncertain, shy, and anxious moments of wondering if you would fit in? Were you terrified of sorely sticking out and being targeted or stared at?

I have just returned from living in the USA for the past year. It has been just two weeks since my return to Singapore. While this has not been a long arrangement, coming home entailed much adjustment. Why? My husband and I relocated for his work right after we were married. We spent a couple of months finding our footing in a foreign land, setting up a brand new (short term) first home in a strange neighbourhood, finding a church community, etc. After we had struggled and established a wonderful routine there, we had to start making plans to leave, pack up, and return home. All in a span of 12 months! Upon our return home, we have been without a place to call our home until we found a rental apartment. We moved temporarily back into our respective parental homes and adjusted to living apart until we could find a place. Essentially, we were pilgrims or wanderers. I truly felt like a stranger passing through all manners of foreign lands, living with this season of feeling up-rooted and un-rooted.

I am acutely aware of the scripture readings today, which speak of the transient nature of our earthly sojourn. So often we take for granted our privilege of living in our own country, or having a home of one’s own. This is especially true when one lives in a place of general prosperity and stability. Yet as Christians, who may live in all parts of the world with such diverse circumstances and experiences, we are reminded constantly of the Israelites and their endless desert wandering. Though they are God’s chosen people, He never gave them the cushy life of permanence and stability. This is the reality of life we must acknowledge. It unnerves, yet matures us.

I believe that more than a mere literal reading, us modern Christians are also given a heritage example of what our earthly time really means. We are all strangers in this foreign land of the world. Our true eternal address, if we so desire, is heaven-bound with God our Father. This cannot be a contrite statement of tokenism. None of us will live on this earth forever! In fact, this should hit us squarely between the eyes that we are stewards of our homelands, families, and our environment. Likewise, our fellow commuter on the bus or train, who may clearly be of a different nationality, is no lesser than us in the eyes of God who has so graciously ordained the very soil on which you and I happened to be born in.

How then have we chosen to treat the man on the street; the one who is also our brother and sister in Christ? As I write this, I am reflecting on the terrible wars, civil unrest, and terrorist sieges happening over the world. Though we condemn these actions, some of us are so far removed (physically) from the events that we think it is something the ‘others’ have failed at. But what have we personally chosen to do in our own department of lives? Where have we been sounding like clanging cymbals and gongs about ‘Love’ but have not acted ‘IN Love’?

I have been challenged indubitably for the past few days in my own microcosm of life. We must not reduce the racism, violence, or terrorism that is happening on this large scale to ‘loving thy neighbour/stranger’ in tokenism. But instead, to think specifically of that ‘neighbour/stranger’ you are tempted to distance or hate, or the one who seems to deserve your wrath for a transgression. Is it possible to try and love that one whom, for some reason, you just cannot find mercy for in your heart? Try that. Then try to radiate that same sensibility outwards. It’s easier to condemn others for larger faults, than to admit to one’s own cosy hypocrisy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for peace in the world. I pray that I will choose to be at peace with the people I live with and the many others who cross my path.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for my lot in life. I continue to be grateful for my daily portion, even if a part of it may taste sour or bitter.

13 August, Sunday – The Lord is in the Breeze

13 Aug

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1 Kings 19:9,11-13

When Elijah reached Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, he went into the cave and spent the night in it. Then he was told, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

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Romans 9:1-5

What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood. They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen.

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Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

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‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’

Our God is all-powerful and Lord over all Creation. This is an aspect of our faith that most of us are undoubtedly aware of. But how often do we consciously consider how small and meek and softly God chooses to come to us, and tune our hearts in to this humbling mystery? I, for one, conveniently forget this – unless I somehow find myself in a poetic and nature-filled setting.

In other words, when I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day chaos (work, peak-hour traffic, bothersome interactions), my core of trust and peace is disrupted. I am less disposed to listening, feeling, or seeing the abundance of God-moments around me with eyes of humility and wonder.

Elijah’s experiences on Mount Horeb reveal his trust and sensitivity to God’s presence. He was given the command ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord’ – and experienced the terror of nature’s wind, earthquake, and fire. But we are told the Lord was in neither of these occurrences. Instead, he sensed that the sound of the gentle breeze heralded the presence of God, and with this assurance, he stepped out to the entrance of the cave to ‘meet’ God there.

“God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other human being.” – Henri Nouwen. This quote comes to my mind and gives me pause.

When the storms and disturbances of life come – am I more inclined to fear that I have somehow lost God’s favour or protection? To worry that this time, I am going to be ‘going at it on my own’, and I had better gird myself with worldly wiles and strategies in order to survive or get ahead? It is only natural that I am tempted to take on this attitude, if I believe I have much to lose, and if I lose sight of the reality that all I have has in fact been a gift from God – my skills, talents, intellect, status, wealth, and even repute. The ego has a way of speaking lies and threats to our insecurities.

I have realized this counstant struggle occurs throughout my growth as a person who desires to increase in spiritual maturity. The ‘elements of life’ that come my way have challenged me immensely to hold fast to the Lord and trust that He is more likely found in the smallest details of my life, than I would choose to stay still enough to notice.

Rather than complain that I have to tussle another minute or hour with a difficult family member; rather than lament that the difficulties I face have outlasted another 24 hours; rather than wonder “why me” or “why this road”; rather than flounder like Peter in the midst of the lake even as I walk towards Jesus – is it possible that I give thanks for the buoyancy of this mysterious water that supports me beyond my reason? Is it possible that I give praise to God for the mere fact that I am given the supernatural patience to outlast my problems or difficult interactions?

My greatest comfort is in knowing that Jesus never tires of me crying out to him for the umpteenth time ‘Lord! Save me!’ His mercy and faithfulness never ceases, and His goodness surrounds me no matter how impatient and desensitised I may grow. May we never tire of crying or calling to our Lord who will always save us and uphold us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Jesus, help me to remember that you are ever near me. I pray for the gift of stillness to sense you in all the storms or winds in my life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the inconveniences and challenges that humble me and make me ever aware that I am in need of growing greater in generosity.

Thursday, 23 February – Flavourless salt

23 Feb – Saint Polycarp, Bishop, Martyr

St Polycarp (-155) He was a disciple of the Apostles, bishop of Smyrna, and a friend of St Ignatius of Antioch. He went to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus about the celebration of Easter. He was martyred in about 155 by being burnt to death in the stadium. Polycarp is an important figure in the history of the Church because he is one of the earliest Christians whose writings still survive. He bears witness to the beliefs of the early Christians and the early stages of the development of doctrine.

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Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10

Do not give your heart to your money,
  or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy
  to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’
  for the Lord will certainly be avenged on you.
Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’
f or the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness
  that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great,
  he will forgive me my many sins’;
for with him are both mercy and wrath,
  and his rage bears heavy on sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord,
  do not put it off day after day;
for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out,
  and at the time of vengeance you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains,
  they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

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Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

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If salt has become insipid, how can you season it again?

Salt was an extremely important and valuable commodity in ancient times. It can be used to flavour and preserve foods. Salt, in ancient times, did not go through the purification that modern technology provides, so it was possible for the salt from the Dead Sea to lose its saltiness through exposure to air, contamination with impurities or through exposure to excessive sunlight. A chemical reaction must occur for the salt to lose its saltiness, and the process is irreversible.

How can we lose our flavour when it comes to the faith? Very easily. We live in times where worldly ideas of ‘freedom’ are the social norm, or even if they are not yet the social norm, people fight to make it so. Without a solid foundation in the faith, it is easy to fall prey to the reasoning behind secular worldviews. A lifestyle where one places work and other priorities before Christ is another characteristic of this age of busyness, and almost inevitably the faith becomes lukewarm or even non-existent.

The silver lining in all this is that, unlike salt, we can still regain our saltiness. For me, I find that it is crucial for me to be in constant contact with spiritual writings or faith communities. Since most of us do work that does not directly involve scripture or religion, there has to be that extra effort made to be constantly reminded of Christ’s teachings. It is only when we ourselves feel refreshed, invigorated and inspired by the faith, that we can reach out effectively to others.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will not be led by our own appetites and energy to follow the passions of our hearts. Instead, let us be led by Christ and His love.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the invisible hand of the Lord that guides us and brings us up when we fall.

28 August, Sunday – Others, before ourselves

28 August

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Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21,30-31

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business,
and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
and then you will find favour with the Lord;
for great though the power of the Lord is,
he accepts the homage of the humble.
There is no cure for the proud man’s malady,
since an evil growth has taken root in him.
The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables,
an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.

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Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.

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Luke 14:1,7-14

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’
Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’

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“…the man who humbles himself will be exalted”

I was scared stiff when I first learned that I had to sell mortgages as a relatively new joinee to the banking industry. You can imagine how high this fear escalated to when I learned I was scheduled to speak with potential buyers at the property show flat soon after I graduated from training!

I remember pacing nervously at the show flat, wondering what to do, when an idea came to me. I approached one of my colleagues, a seasoned mortgage banker, and made him an offer; I would refer all my prospects to him, provided he allowed me to sit in to listen to how he spoke with them.

I learned a lot that day. While I remember him speaking confidently with the prospects, what struck me even more was that in order to sell the loans, my colleague actually misrepresented certain features of the housing loan product. When asked subsequently about it, the man said, with a smile, that he would have long left the bank by the time the clients came back to the bank to complain.

I was appalled.

While my colleague showed great competence in dealing with clients, which was a way for me to learn and model my presentations after, his lack of integrity clearly negated this.

In today’s gospel, Jesus points out what is done in society and suggests an alternative approach. Until then, people learned from watching each other, often taking their cue from the ‘higher-ups’ in society. The model was turned on its head; instead of focusing on ourselves, the parables Jesus taught showed us the right way was to focus on others.

Jesus is our ultimate role model. Jesus came, not only to die for us, but to be our ultimate role model. He shows us how we are to live!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, help us to always turn to You and Your Son Jesus, to show us how to live our lives in the way that You would want us to live. Speak to us, Father, in our prayers and in Your Word.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for showing us an alternative way to live, dear Lord. For showing us that our focus should not be on ourselves, but on others in our desire to be closer to You.

9 July, Saturday – Hope vs Fear

9 July – Memorial for St. Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest, & Companions

Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.

The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (87) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or labourers, ranging from nine years of age to 72. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.

The 33 foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese solider who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine was baptized and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was martyred in 1815.
Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000.

– Source: http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1914

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Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings: two to cover its face, two to cover its feet, and two for flying.
And they cried out to one another in this way,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.
His glory fills the whole earth.’

The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said:

‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said:

‘See now, this has touched your lips,
your sin is taken away,
your iniquity is purged.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:

‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’

I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’

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Matthew 10:24-33

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, what will they not say of his household?

‘Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.

‘So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’

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Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.

As I was reflecting on today’s readings, I am reminded of how Rolf Harris was sentenced to 5 years and 9 months in prison for indecently assaulting young women and girls. One of his victims was his daughter’s best friend, who gave a statement during his trial. In her statement she said that the attacks made her feel “dirty, grubby and disgusting”. It affected her childhood, relationships, and her aspirations in a negative way and it wasn’t until she was much older that she was able to tell someone about it. She described how she fought anxiety, alcoholism and abuse. Her statement ended on a positive note: “I can now live my life with no fear and anxiety, and can concentrate on building my life.”

For someone who had suffered for so many years, this lady was very brave to have spoken up about someone who had literally ruined her life. What is more admirable is that she was brave enough to recognize that she could rebuild her life to something better and look forward, not backwards. It is very easy to say forgive and forget, but in a situation like this, even if she would be able to forgive sometime in the future, it is unlikely that she would be able to forget the whole terrible experience; it is likely to have scarred her for life. But the positivity that she exudes, well that is encouraging, and I do wish her the very best of luck in her future.

We may be hurt at some point in our lives by something that someone did or said, which may have affected us badly. Prolonged abuse like that can have lasting effects psychologically and emotionally: we are made to feel and believe that we are really as weak as our ‘abusers’ make us out to be. It makes us see things very differently in life. Coming out of a psychological hole can be very, very hard. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. I have learnt that if we let that happen, then we are digging ourselves deeper and deeper into that hole.

We have nothing to fear but God Himself. God sees and hears everything, He is everywhere. He dictates what grows and what dies, what stays and what goes. He determines our future, He charts our paths. God is within us as long as we remain in Him. God breathed life into us and counted each and every one of us as His child. He knows us by name and knows our hearts, way better than we know ourselves. There might be someone out there who is hurting us now, but if we pray and believe that God will deliver us from the pain and hurt, we will find that that person can do whatever he/she wants, but they can never take away our soul, our will to live, our faith in God. Pray fervently and believe that God will rescue us, and pray for the strength that He will deliver us. Pray to forgive, and pray to forget… forget all the pain, so that we can move forward. Don’t give in to hopelessness, because with God there is always hope. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the helpless and those who have lost hope. Hear our hearts when we are beyond words to form a prayer. We pray for a helping hand to pull us out of our hole of despair.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for hearing our prayers and for the comfort that the Holy Spirit brings. Thank you for helping us see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With your help, we can look forward to the future.

8 July, Friday – Doing Right

8 July

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Hosea 14:2-10

The Lord says this:

Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.

Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.

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Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.

‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you. ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’

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Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.

The Gospel reading for today talks about religious persecution, where the believers in Christ were put on trial for spreading the Good News. Religious persecution is still as rife as it was centuries ago. We should consider ourselves blessed not to be caught up in the tensions and wars that continue to rage in other countries. In fact, so global is this issue that those of us living in countries where there is peace and stability may feel so far removed from this issue that it affects us with such little inconvenience. It is not to say that we are insensitive to the situation. It’s just that we may not feel quite as affected because we are not directly caught in the midst of it, hence we continue to go about our daily lives.

However, even in our so-called peaceful world, we may still be faced with persecution of a different sort without knowing it. To stand on the side of truth and what is of God, and have people reject you for it, that is persecution too. We are all so driven by the ‘herd mentality’ (perhaps sub-consciously) that sometimes we reject the direction of our moral compass and choose instead the opposite. A case in point — how many of us would stand and watch if someone was being bullied or attacked, just because we think we should ‘mind our own business’ and not get involved? Some of us are probably too busy trying to ‘capture the moment’ of an incident so that we can post it on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. Have we not read of so many incidences of drugged girls getting gang-raped at parties, with the whole thing being filmed and no one bothering to intervene? The other party-goers just look on, and one wonders if at any one point whether they thought, “hang on, this is not right”. The point that I am trying to make is this – in our own daily lives, we may be faced with situations that will force us to choose between what is right in the eyes of God over what is wrong. I believe that we are all born with good moral fiber in us. As we grow older though, these notions are influenced by what we experience around us, and our moral compass may get a bit clouded. Can we say that we are brave enough to take the position of what is right, or are we afraid? God promises us that we need not be afraid for He will teach us what we have to say if we are called to justify our actions.

Twenty years ago, a young black girl was amongst a crowd demonstrating against a Ku Klux Klan rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when someone suddenly announced on the megaphone that there was a KKK supporter in their midst. The anti-KKK demonstrators turned around and identified a white man garbed and tattooed with logos and symbols suggesting supremacist tendencies. He was pursued down the street and beaten. This young black girl stepped in and threw herself over this man and shielded him from the blows. That was 20 years ago. She is now in her 30s and when she was asked why she did it, she responded that mob mentality had taken over, and people were doing things that they would not normally do. It wasn’t right, “violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt,” she said. Would it matter that if the tables were turned it would be unlikely that this guy would have done the same for her? What would we do if we were in her position? Would we be one of the herd? Or would we be brave enough to step forward and stand up for what is right by God?

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for the times when we chose to be spectators instead of defenders of what was just and right. We pray for the courage to do what’s right with all our might.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for letting me be in a place where religious freedom is a given right, and not something where I could be persecuted for. We pray for those who live amongst conflict and in fear because of what they believe in, and we pray for peace to prevail.

7 July, Thursday – Stay The Hand

7 July

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Hosea 11:1-4,8-9

Thus says the Lord:

When Israel was a child I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to them, the further they went from me;
they have offered sacrifice to the Baals
and set their offerings smoking before the idols.
I myself taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them.
I led them with reins of kindness,
with leading-strings of love.
I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek;
stooping down to him I gave him his food.

Ephraim, how could I part with you?
Israel, how could I give you up?
How could I treat you like Admah,
or deal with you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils from it,
my whole being trembles at the thought.
I will not give rein to my fierce anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
for I am God, not man:
I am the Holy One in your midst
and have no wish to destroy.

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Matthew 10:7-15

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep.

‘Whatever town or village you go into, ask for someone trustworthy and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his house, salute it, and if the house deserves it, let your peace descend upon it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you. And if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet. I tell you solemnly, on the day of Judgement it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town.’

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I will not give rein to my fierce anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again, for I am God, not man: I am the Holy One in your midst, and have no wish to destroy

I have a terrible temper, I will own up to that, and my family will attest to that. When I was younger, I had no idea how to rein it in. Now that I am much older, I hope that I have learnt more patience. I know I have, ever since discovering God. But every now and then, it rears its ugly head and in the heat of anger, I sometimes say or do things that I regret. It scares me how easily I can give in to my anger sometimes’ because more often than not, it is my loved ones that bear the brunt of it. It is destructive for me as well, and for the relationships that I have with my husband and family, and with God. Of late, I have taken to praying fervently each time I feel as though I am getting upset. I pray that it doesn’t boil over. I pray for strength and patience, for God to help guide my heart and guard my mouth.

I’m not perfect, but I don’t believe I’m a bad person either. Yes, I have a temper as I suppose do most of us. But that doesn’t mean that we are bad people. There are plenty of people in the Bible who displayed moments of anger: Jesus was so angry that God’s temple had been used as a ‘market place’ and overturned the tables of the money changers (Matthew 21:12). Moses was enraged at the people for creating and worshipping a golden calf right after God brought them out of Egypt that he smashed the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. And this was after he implored with God not to be angry at the people and stay His hand (Exodus 32:7-14). The point is that we should take a leaf out of the Bible and follow God’s example when we get upset.

When we are angry, we should not let it consume us. Don’t keep the bitterness in our heart and let it stew. If it still nags at us, try to reconcile with the other person if possible. If we are angry, and we allow ourselves to keep being angry, then we also allow the Devil to take advantage of our anger and sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26-27). When two sparks come together, it can only create a fire which, if not checked, will spread and destroy everything in its path.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness” says Psalm 103:8. Let us too then be compassionate and slow to anger. Let us be more forgiving, and also sometimes be the first ones to seek forgiveness. If our hearts sincerely seek a peaceful resolution, we may surprise ourselves that that is what the other party is looking for too.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, when I am angry and am unable to control myself, please help me to curb my anger lest I may say or do things that I regret. Let the Holy Spirit be upon me that I may be soothed. Help me to control it so that it doesn’t flare up into something bigger than I can manage oh Lord. I pray that in my anger, no one will be hurt. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the times when you stayed my hand and guarded my tongue so that I would not do anything that would sin against you. I pray for Your mercy and forgiveness for the times when I let my anger overwhelm me. Help me Lord not to sin again.

6 July, Wednesday – The Summons

6 July – Memorial for St. Maria Goretti, Virgin & Martyr

Maria Goretti (1890-1902) was a beautiful and pious farm girl, one of six children of Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. In 1896 the family moved to Ferriere di Conca. Soon after, Maria’s father died of malaria, and the family was forced to move onto the Serenelli farm to survive.

In 1902, at the age of 12, Maria was attacked by 19-year-old farm hand Alessandro Serenelli. He tried to rape the girl who fought, yelled that it was a sin, and that he would go to hell. He tried to choke her into submission, then stabbed her 14 times. She survived in hospital for two days, forgave her attacker, asked God’s forgiveness of him, and died holding a crucifix and medal of Our Lady. She is counted as a martyr.

While in prison for his crime, Alessandro had a vision of Maria. He saw a garden where a young girl, dressed in white, gathered lilies. She smiled, came near him, and encouraged him to accept an armful of lilies. As he took them, each lily transformed into a still white flame. Maria then disappeared. This vision of Maria led to Alessandro’s conversion, and he latter testified at her cause for beatification.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12

Israel was a luxuriant vine
yielding plenty of fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
the richer his land became,
the richer he made the sacred stones.
Their heart is a divided heart;
very well, they must pay for it:
the Lord is going to break their altars down
and destroy their sacred stones.
Then they will say,
‘We have no king
because we have not feared the Lord.’

But what can a king do for us?
Samaria has had her day.
Her king is like a straw drifting on the water.
The idolatrous high places shall be destroyed –
that sin of Israel;
thorn and thistle will grow on their altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’
and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’

Sow integrity for yourselves,
reap a harvest of kindness,
break up your fallow ground:
it is time to go seeking the Lord
until he comes to rain salvation on you.

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Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows:

‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

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Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

I can place the church participation level of Catholics in roughly 4 categories – 1) regular mass attendance and active in church ministries; 2) only attend mass but are not active in church ministries; 3) attend only Christmas/Easter masses; 4) do not really identify themselves as Catholics anymore.

I am struck by what Jesus told His disciples in today’s gospel reading, to go first to the people God first chose as His own, before preaching to the Gentiles. In the present day, I feel that I can relate this concept of outreach to the large number of lapsed Catholics in the church. They had received the sacraments and had been instructed in the faith but, for various reasons, did not continue to practise it. There are supposedly around a billion Catholics in the world, but I believe that a large number are only Catholics in name. That is why when it comes to evangelisation, I would prefer to focus my efforts on reaching out to other Catholics first.

Allow me to share a little about my own involvement in ministry work. It has been slightly more than ten years since I graduated from university, during which I was very active in the Catholic Students’ Society there. That laid the groundwork for my subsequent participation in ministry work and I can say with certainty that it will be a constant in my life. In the past ten years, there was never a period of time when I was not involved in ministry work in some way or another. It is something I find great meaning in, as avenues to exercise my gifts and talents, and more importantly, to build a relationship with God. I think that for any individual, it is not one’s career, nor achievements, or even family, which matters. What will see us through till the end of life is our relationship with God. And serving the Church is what helps us build this relationship, not only for ourselves, but for everyone else in the community.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the grace of the Spirit will guide more hearts to be converted to follow Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the labourers of the harvest who have given of themselves in order to bring in the harvest.