All posts by Debbie

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.

5 July, Tuesday – Seeing is Believing

5 July – Memorial for St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Priest

St. Anthony (1502-1539) studied medicine at Padua, receiving his doctorate at age 22. Working among the poor in Cremona, he felt called to the religious life. He was ordained at age 26; legend says that angels were seen around the altar at his first Mass. St. Anthony established two congregations that helped reform the morals of the faithful, encouraged laymen to work together with the apostolate, and frequent reception of Communion.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 8:4-7,11-13

Thus says the Lord:

They have set up kings, but not with my consent,
and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.
Out of their own silver and gold they have made idols,
which are doomed to destruction.
I spurn your calf, Samaria,
my anger blazes against it.
(How long will it be before they purge themselves of this,
the sons of Israel?)
A workman made the thing,
this cannot be God!
Yes, the calf of Samaria shall go up in flames.
They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind;
their wheat will yield no ear,
the ear will yield no flour,
or, if it does, foreigners will swallow it.

Ephraim has built altar after altar,
they have only served him as occasion for sin.
Were I to write out the thousand precepts of my Law for him,
they would be paid no more attention than those of a stranger.
They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice!
They love meat; right, let them eat it!
The Lord takes no pleasure in these.
He is now going to remember their iniquity
and punish their sins;
they will have to go back to Egypt.

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Matthew 9:32-37

A man was brought to Jesus, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.
And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.

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Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel

I was recently on holiday in Bhutan during the June break, and had the opportunity to learn more about Buddhism during the trip. It appears that the idea of karma governs the morality of the Bhutanese, as a lot of their actions or non-actions can be attributed to whether they lead to good or bad karma. To quote Wikipedia – “Good moral actions lead to wholesome rebirths, and bad moral actions lead to unwholesome rebirths.”

I was sharing with my cell group that this concept of karma is a lot easier to grasp than the nature of God’s love. Human nature is very attuned to the idea of rewards and punishment, and I find it very difficult to shake off the feeling that I will be less loved because of my sins. I am aware that God’s love will not be diminished due to one’s sin, but it is really a daily challenge to cast off my doubts and be open to that love.

In the gospel reading for today, there were those who were not open to Jesus’ messages and the signs that He gave. To those whom He healed, Jesus not only took away their physical ailments, but also encouraged them in their faith. One needs to be open and to have faith in order to be fully healed. Insecurity, doubts, pride, fear and that often-overwhelming sense of unworthiness are obstacles that can really block us from God’s love. Only prayer and a sincere, humble submission to the Lord can save us from ourselves.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace of a child-like simplicity and wonder at the power of the Lord’s love.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His presence within our hearts.

4 July, Monday – The Touch of Mercy

4 July – Memorial for St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth (1271-1336) was a princess with a pious upbringing who became Queen of Portugal before she was a teenager. Elizabeth suffered through years of her husband’s abuse and adultery, praying all the while for his conversion, and working with the poor and sick. She rode onto the battlefield to reconcile her family members twice; once between her husband and son when they clashed in civil war, and between her son and his son-in-law years later, preventing bloodshed. This led to her patronage as a peacemaker, and as one invoked in time of war and conflict.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 2:16,17-18,21-22

It is the Lord who speaks:

I am going to lure her
and lead her out into the wilderness
and speak to her heart.
I am going to give her back her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a gateway of hope.
There she will respond to me as she did when she was young,
as she did when she came out of the land of Egypt.

When that day comes – it is the Lord who speaks –
she will call me, ‘My husband’,
no longer will she call me, ‘My Baal.’
I will betroth you to myself for ever,
betroth you with integrity and justice,
with tenderness and love;
I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness,
and you will come to know the Lord.

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Matthew 9:18-26

While Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’ Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the woman was well again.

When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.

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Jesus turned round and saw her

You might be familiar with a rather famous photograph of Pope Francis – one where he bends over to kiss the head of a man suffering from an obviously severe form of neurofibromatosis. This condition is characterised by the growth of tumours on nerve tissue, and could seriously affect the appearance of the sufferer. Most probably would not wish to come into contact with the person, thinking that he looks ‘dirty’, ‘gross’, and wrongly assuming that the condition is contagious.

There is a more recent video of the Pope telling his audience that they should touch — as in physically touch — the poor, and not just toss money at them. He had gathered a group of young refugee men with him to illustrate his point. I think he meant that a simple physical touch of care and concern can make a big difference to someone’s life, especially if that person has had to endure being shunned by others due to his or her financial situation, illness and perceived low status in society.

In the gospel, Jesus knew that the haemorraghing woman had touched Him, and He turned to speak to her. I am sure he would have reached out a reassuring hand to her as He affirms her faith. Because of her bleeding, the woman would have been considered ritually unclean, but Jesus takes notice of her and speaks to her kindly nonetheless.

I have been reflecting about my own social mission, and on what we are called to do as Christians. My social circle comprises friends and acquaintances who have a similar educational background to myself, and most are caught up in either work or family commitments. I know that most of them, like me, are not actively involved in social mission work. Unless I make a very deliberate effort, I could cruise along in life without ever lifting much of a finger to help the less unfortunate (besides the giving of money).

There is a Social Mission conference in Singapore, happening soon on 13 Aug 2016. I am helping out at a related event, and as I involve myself at this level of outreach, I pray that I will be able to find an opportunity and exercise the will to do at least one of the following – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that those we have will have a greater awareness and desire to help those who have not.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Jesus’ example of merciful love.

3 July, Sunday – Confidence in God’s Name

3 July

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Isaiah 66:10-14

Rejoice, Jerusalem,
be glad for her, all you who love her!
Rejoice, rejoice for her,
all you who mourned her!

That you may be suckled, filled,
from her consoling breast,
that you may savour with delight
her glorious breasts.

For thus says the Lord:
Now towards her I send flowing
peace, like a river,
and like a stream in spate
the glory of the nations.

At her breast will her nurslings be carried
and fondled in her lap.
Like a son comforted by his mother
will I comfort you.
And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.

At the sight your heart will rejoice,
and your bones flourish like the grass.
To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.

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Galatians 6:14-18

The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. It does not matter if a person is circumcised or not; what matters is for him to become an altogether new creature. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, who form the Israel of God.

I want no more trouble from anybody after this; the marks on my body are those of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, my brothers. Amen.

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Luke 10:1-12,17-20

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.

‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.

‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

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…even the devils submit to us when we use your name.

Have you ever wondered why we always conclude our prayer to God with the words “through Christ our Lord”? There is no other way of Christian prayer than Christ. Whether our prayer is communal or personal, vocal or interior, it has access to the Father only if we pray “in the name” of Jesus. The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father – CCC 2664. The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies – CCC 2666.

The apostles in today’s gospel reading were able to bravely take steps into the unknown as they had placed their confidence in the Lord’s name. It was probably a new experience to them to experience the Lord’s power in such a manner, and so they returned rejoicing, likely with a renewed faith in God.

How readily do we act and speak in God’s name? I do not mean that we tag “in Jesus’ name” in whatever we say or do, but how often do we go about our daily lives with the confidence that God is with us? If I ask myself that question, I would say that most of the time I am just hoping that things turn out well according to my own plans and abilities, and freaking out if they do not. During those few times where I managed to let go and place my complete faith in God, I must say that God has always ensured that things turn out well. It takes a strong relationship with God, and a good understanding of how He works in one’s life, to be able to tackle challenges and difficulties with grace. I recommend, for starters, the praying of the examen. A useful app called “Examen Prayer” is available on iTunes and Google Playstore.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for a greater faith and humility to let go of the things we cling on to.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many opportunities to glorify God’s name.

 

2 July, Saturday – Same Life, New Perspective

2 July

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Amos 9:11-15

It is the Lord who speaks:

‘That day I will re-erect the tottering hut of David,
make good the gaps in it, restore its ruins
and rebuild it as it was in the days of old,
so that they can conquer the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that belonged to me.’

It is the Lord who speaks, and he will carry this out.

‘The days are coming now – it is the Lord who speaks –
when harvest will follow directly after ploughing,
the treading of grapes soon after sowing,
when the mountains will run with new wine
and the hills all flow with it.
I mean to restore the fortunes of my people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them,
plant vineyards and drink their wine,
dig gardens and eat their produce.
I will plant them in their own country,
never to be rooted up again
out of the land I have given them,
says the Lord, your God.’

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Matthew 9:14-17

John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunken cloth on to an old cloak, because the patch pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost. No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.’

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No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.

There was a period of time where the various parts of the 20-year-old car which I owned started to break down in rapid succession. First it was the timing belt, followed by the air-conditioner, the retraction mechanism for the windows, the rack and pinion and finally the windscreen wipers. In the end, the mechanic who repaired my car commented that if I continued with the replacement, the only thing which would have been remained in the original state would be the car plate number! It seems that the car cannot have a combination of both old and new parts together because the old parts would eventually give way as the new parts would work them harder thus accelerating their useful life-span.

Perhaps this is analogous to our spiritual lives too. God invites us to a total acceptance of the way he desires of us. The life of a Christian is not meant to be like a buffet where we can pick and choose the beliefs we like but more like a bento box where everything is presented to us in one, self-contained vessel where we have no option of choice of food. This then requires us to discard our former ways of life and embrace the way which God has invited us to live.

This is often difficult for us to subscribe to because there will be certain teachings which we cannot agree with. Yet, I believe it is the process in which we work towards understanding why a certain teaching needs to be understood in a particular way, will we then be able to appreciate the love of God in our lives. It is in challenges that we discover what it means to be a child of God. As we work towards this process, we will be able to discover the wonderful love which God has shared with us and fruits of living out such a life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the courage to accept the challenge you have given us to live the way of life you so desire of us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who guide people to a new way of life.