All posts by Desmond Soon

27 April, Friday – Trust in God

27 April

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Acts 13:26-33

Paul stood up in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, held up a hand for silence and began to speak: 

‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you. What the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did, though they did not realise it, was in fact to fulfil the prophecies read on every sabbath. Though they found nothing to justify his death, they condemned him and asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the tree and buried him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem: and it is these same companions of his who are now his witnesses before our people.

‘We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead. As scripture says in the second psalm: You are my son: today I have become your father.

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John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

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Trust in God still, and trust in me

What do we mean when we say we trust a person? Do we trust a person to love us and care for us? Do we allow our trust to be violated and if so, what can we do? God wants the best for each one of us and the readings of today remind us of the need to remain faithful to God.

Jesus would like us to realise that He loves us very much. He is the Way which we can follow and He will allow us to walk through the path which He has shown us. The love He has for us will be sufficient for each of us to handle.

In our lives, we go through many struggles and challenges. Sometimes they break us down and make us discover that we have to depend on God for all the things we have. As we continue with our lives, let us remember what it is that God desires of us in our lives and to work with Him knowing that His plan is the best for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Lord, guide us when we go astray.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for your love for us and may we all be reunited with you one day.

26 April, Thursday – Happiness with God

26 April

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Acts 13:13-25

Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem. The others carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats. After the lessons from the Law and the Prophets had been read, the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message: ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul stood up, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out, and for about forty years took care of them in the wilderness. When he had destroyed seven nations in Canaan, he put them in possession of their land for about four hundred and fifty years. After this he gave them judges, down to the prophet Samuel. Then they demanded a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. After forty years, he deposed him and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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John 13:16-20

After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.
‘Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.
‘I tell you this now, before it happens,
so that when it does happen
you may believe that I am He.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

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Happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly

The phrase “I told you so” is a statement which some of us may dread hearing because it indicates to us that what we have done is incorrect. It could also suggest to us that another person’s methodology was superior than us. For some of us who do not want to appear to be on the lossing end, this phrase is the last statement we want to hear.

The readings of today instruct us on the need to adhere to what Christ holds for us. This is not something which is difficult but perhaps we are unwilling to do so because it means giving up our old way of working. Jesus knows what is best for us. We need to co-operate with him to discover what it means to be in happiness in his love.

God’s plan takes time to unfold. The whole plan of salvation took hundreds of years to manifest itself as seen in the first reading. Yet God never abandoned his people and He always allowed his people to grow in faith and love for Him. Whatever the challenges we face, God will be with us on every step of our way. Let us work with God to accept the plan He has for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to accept the plan you have for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for friends who loves us for who we are.

25 April, Wednesday – Proclaiming Our Faith

25 Apr – Feast of St. Mark, evangelist

St. Mark is believed to be the young man who ran away when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52), and the “John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25). He was a disciple of St. Peter who travelled with him to Rome, and was referred to as “my son Mark” by the first Pope. He was the author of the earliest canonical Gospel. He travelled with his cousin St. Barnabas, and with St. Paul through Cyprus. He evangelized in Alexandria, established the Church there, and founded the first famous Christian school.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation.”

Having a mentor and someone to pray for you regularly could affect you profoundly. The supporting scripture for us Catholics comes from James 5:16 which says, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”  This supports the Catholic practice of seeking the saints’ intercession.
As I was going through my reversion to the Catholic faith, I became very aware of having a patron saint, and mine just so happens to be Saint Mark. As God-incidence would have it, I’m writing this reflection today as a further testament of the power of being devoted to your patron saint.
Saint Mark the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Mark, but they weren’t his words. He wasn’t a first hand witness of Jesus’ life and miracles, although most scholars tell us that he did become a follower at some point in Jesus’ public ministry. Some legends tell us that he was the naked man who ran away in the garden of Gethsamany after Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52), perhaps referring to himself. Most importantly, Saint Mark was the scribe of Saint Peter, our first Pope. The Gospel according to Mark was Saint Peter’s narration of Jesus’ life and ministry.
So how did this patron Saint impact me? Maybe it started even before my reversion as I was always the happiest when I was writing compositions. After my reversion, the first ministry I joined was communications in my parish, where I was mostly involved with writing the parish bulletin and articles on faith. So here am now 8 years later, writing reflections on this blog. A lot of these writings are representations of other books, articles and websites I read too, much like Saint Mark, not a first-hand witness but re-presenter of a story with some personal anecdotes and musings.
So as Saint Mark has so profoundly impacted my life, I would encourage one and all to get to know the life of your own patron saints and, in your own way, go out into the whole world proclaiming the Gospel. It could be in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, writing, teaching, administration, cleaning or just being present to people. Let us come under someone’s patronage and get some heavenly help in whatever area we are called to.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl de Payva)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the grace of being able to discern the will of our patron Saint.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for all who have sacrificed so much for us in their own faith journeys.

24 April, Tuesday – Knowing God

24 Apr – Memorial for St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, priest & martyr

St. Fidelis Sigmaringen (1577-1622) was a lawyer and teacher of philosophy. Disgusted by the greed, corruption, and lack of interest in justice by his fellow lawyers, Mark Rey abandoned the law, became a priest and a Franciscan friar with his brother George. He changed his name to Fidelis and gave away his worldly wealth to poor people in general, and poor seminarians in particular. He served his friary as guardian, and worked in epidemics, especially healing soldiers. He led a group of Capuchins to preach to Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. The success of this work, and lack of violence suffered by mission was attributed to Fidelis spending his nights in prayer. He was, however, eventually martyred for his preaching.

“Woe to me if I should prove myself but a halfhearted soldier in the service of my thorn-crowned Captain.”

  • St. Fidelis

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Acts 11:19-26

Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’

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John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

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I know them and they follow me

How do we know somebody? Is it through the various identification papers which he/she has or even the occupation in which they are engaged in? Such an approach is what the world adopts but it certainly is not what we are called to do. The readings of today remind us that God knows each one of us by name.

The faith we hold is a gift from God. This faith allows us to discover the breadth and depth of God’s love for us as seen in Jesus Christ dying for our sins. This is something which is easy for us to comprehend but we can appreciate the fact that God wants us to know Him as well as He knows us.

God the Holy Spirit is with us in our lives. He will show us the way in which we can know God and He will allow our actions and words to manifest themselves in a way which will be aligned with God’s plan. Being called Christian means we need to become Christlike. Patience, forgiveness and generosity are the fruits of being a Christian. Let us ask God to grant us the grace to share these gifts with the people around us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the ability to live a life in line with what your son has called us to do so

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for all who show us what it means to be Christian.

21 April, Saturday – The Bread Of Life

21 Apr – Memorial for St. Anselm, bishop & doctor

Anselm (1033-1109) was born of Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, he wanted to enter religious life, but his father prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon his mother’s death, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as abbot, before later becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm was a theological writer and counsellor to Pope Gregory VII, Pope Urban II, and William the Conqueror. He opposed slavery and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He fought King William Rufus’ encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independences of the Church, and was exiled. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at the Council of Bari in 1098. He strongly supported celibate clergy. King Henry I invited him to return to England, but they disputed over investitures, and Anselm was again exiled in 1106.

He was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages, and was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.

No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.”

– Anselm, Opera Omnis, Letter 112

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 9:31-42

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

Peter visited one place after another and eventually came to the saints living down in Lydda. There he found a man called Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you: get up and fold up your sleeping mat.’ Aeneas got up immediately; everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they were all converted to the Lord.

At Jaffa there was a woman disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, who never tired of doing good or giving in charity. But the time came when she got ill and died, and they washed her and laid her out in a room upstairs. Lydda is not far from Jaffa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men with an urgent message for him, ‘Come and visit us as soon as possible.’

Peter went back with them straightaway, and on his arrival they took him to the upstairs room, where all the widows stood round him in tears, showing him tunics and other clothes Dorcas had made when she was with them. Peter sent them all out of the room and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up.’ She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet, then he called in the saints and widows and showed them she was alive. The whole of Jaffa heard about it and many believed in the Lord.

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John 6:60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

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The words I have spoken to you are spirit

A couple of friends and I recently surveyed a number of Catholics on their reasons for attending mass. A range of responses were given, from spending time with the Lord, to worshipping with a community, and also accompanying family members to church.

Today’s gospel reading sees Jesus at the end of His famous bread of life discourse. The discourse comes after Jesus fed the five thousand and was seen to walk on water. Despite all the miraculous works they had witnessed or heard about, a large number of his followers left him after hearing Jesus’ response to their request for the bread that comes down from heaven. They could not accept his claim that he came from heaven, and worse, the invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. After they left, Jesus had the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings about his eucharistic teaching to his remaining followers, but he did not do that. This absence of clarification is significant in its indication that Jesus truly meant for his flesh and blood to be consumed.

Brothers and sisters, the Church has sustained this doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist for over two millennia. After receiving the body and blood of Christ during mass, the faithful are considered to be better formed to transform the world. It is not just about the quiet time with the Lord, or communion with other members of the church, but to go forth and fulfil our mission to radiate the life and peace of Christ to others.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can better live out our mission to bring Christ to the world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times when our inner transformation led others to know Christ.

20 April, Friday – Encounter With Jesus

20 April

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Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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There came a light from heaven all round him

The Case for Christ, which was recently made into a movie by PureFlix, is a book by a former atheist who started off attempting to discredit the Christian faith, but ended up becoming a convert. It began with the conversion of his wife, which prompted him to find evidence that would disprove Christianity. He applied his skills as an investigative journalist to interview several renowned religious scholars about Christianity, a process which proved to be a life-changing experience for him. Although it appeared that he converted in the face of overwhelming evidence for the existence of God and Jesus, and the authenticity of biblical content, I am quite sure that he must have had a personal encounter with Jesus through his investigations.

The conversion experience of Saul is perhaps one of the most dramatic in the gospel. Perhaps Saul needed something of that nature to cause him to make a complete turnaround towards Christianity. I have been reading Bishop Barron’s latest book To Light a Fire On the Earth, and in it, there is a quote from Pope Benedict XVI that Bishop Barron specifically states as something that Christians should always keep within sight. It is a statement from the document Deus Caritas Est – “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

A lot of people approach religion purely with reason and logic; and while that might be helpful in convincing one about the truth of Christ’s teachings, faith must come into the picture at some point. And faith is something that is often sparked by personal encounters with the Lord, helping us realise that there is a creator who loves us.

How have you encountered Jesus in your life? It might have been through a crisis, a miraculous occurrence, however big or small, people you meet, or sometimes, the ‘voice in your head’. Whatever the encounters are, how did they give your life a new horizon and a decisive direction?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will be open and receptive to encountering the Lord in every aspect of our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith.

19 April, Thursday – Talking About Jesus

14 April
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Acts 8:26-40

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:

Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!

The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.

Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.

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John 6:44-51

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
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I am the bread of life

When was the last time you spoke about Jesus to a non-Christian? My response to that question would be that I cannot recall ever having done so. Sure, I have done numerous personal sharings about my faith and spiritual life in small groups, but the audience was always Catholic. I do believe that my calling lies in working with fellow believers, but it always bugs me when I imagine myself sharing my faith with a non-Christian and I draw a blank. I do not even know how and where to start, and I know I would fear jeopardising the friendship if I end up sounding too ‘pushy’.

I thought that today’s first reading is a beautiful account of evangelization. Philip obediently follows the call of the Lord without knowing what is in store for him. He ends up meeting a foreigner and explaining scripture to him, likely by drawing links between the Old Testament readings and the messianic message and person of Christ. The Ethiopian official is receptive and humble in seeking knowledge, and what Philip said must have struck a chord with him, such that he asks to be baptized almost right away when he saw a body of water. I wonder what their conversation was like, for the Ethiopian to express such conviction and enthusiasm for the faith.

Some may assert, and I have definitely heard it said before, that it is more important to live the Word through one’s actions, attitude and behavior towards others, rather than know a lot about scripture but lead a life devoid of Christian values. Even so, this does not excuse one from not knowing scripture. Anyone can lead a life based on Christian values, yet not know Christ. I see a responsibility for practising Christians to have a kind of script in their minds that they can readily share with others; something that integrates their life experiences with the redeeming power of the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that more people will recognise their thirst and hunger for the living God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the tireless evangelical work of missionaries, priests and lay people.

18 April, Wednesday – Journeys’ End

18 April
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Acts 8:1-8

That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria.

There were some devout people, however, who buried Stephen and made great mourning for him.

Saul then worked for the total destruction of the Church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison.

Those who had escaped went from place to place preaching the Good News. One of them was Philip who went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.
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John 6:35-40

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.
But, as I have told you,
you can see me and still you do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away;
because I have come from heaven, not to do my own will,
but to do the will of the one who sent me.
Now the will of him who sent me
is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me,
and that I should raise it up on the last day.
Yes, it is my Father’s will
that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,
and that I shall raise him up on the last day.’
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Whoever sees the Son and believes in him

Lately, a combination of factors led me to seriously contemplate the concept of death, particularly what awaits us afterwards. I have left my full-time job for more than a year, giving me increased mental ‘bandwidth’ to dwell on these big questions in life. Coupled with my observation of my mom’s journey into old age and her gradual deterioration into a physically weaker version of her former self, I could not help but ponder our mortality. Naturally, along with it, came a serious examination, or shall I say re-examination, of the church’s teachings about eternal life with our Father in heaven. Maybe I lack trust in God, and/or I am not reading the gospel through the eyes of love and faith, but I am presently struggling with doubts about our fate at the end of our pilgrimage in this world.

Post-resurrection, the apostles and followers of Christ wasted no time in setting up a Christ-centred community to spread His word. Did they fully understand His teachings at that time? I am not sure that they had all the head knowledge, but they definitely had the heart, and of course the Spirit was in them. Collectively, they sought to emulate their Lord and master in His ministry, knowing that they had a mission to spread the message of salvation, and that their own salvation awaited them at their journeys’ end.

After I told a priest about my struggles with the faith, he shared that he struggled with his own doubts for a few decades, and encouraged me to persevere in reading scripture. I think reading scripture is not sufficient though. I would have to continue to sustain a life of service in the Lord, and see His face through love for my neighbours, in whatever ways I can.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that in times of struggles, doubts and crises of faith, the Spirit may give us the hope we need.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the grace of redemption and opportunities to try again.

17 April, Tuesday – Waters of Life

17 April 
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Acts 7:51-8:1

Stephen said to the people, the elders and the scribes: ‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’

They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.
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John 6:30-35

They people said to Jesus, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’
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Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst

What happens when our body is dehydrated? According to research, we can get by a few days without food, but not quite without water. Water is crucial for our body to function, as it makes up roughly 50%-70% of our body weight. Did you know that as little as a 1% dehydration rate can adversely affect our mood, attention, memory and motor abilities?

What happens when our hearts are ‘dehydrated’? Do they not share the same effects as a dehydrated body? Without the presence of God, do we not feel lost and out of kilter, unfocused without a higher purpose to strive towards? Do we not feel weaker in will because we lack the faith in something bigger than ourselves? Without God to depend on, don’t we feel bitter, angry and depressed; and, in our bitterness, do we forget gratitude for the things that have gone well for us, for the present blessings that come our way daily? Do we not feel like we are running around in circles, or stagnant in our lives, stuck in our victim mentality, refusing to move because we are too much in a “woe is me” situation? This is what ‘spiritual dehydration’ does to us.

Our fasting during the Lenten period was a metaphorical reminder to us of what it could be like to go through life without God. The more we remove food from our lives, the more we seek it and, due to its scarcity, the more we appreciate it. We hungered during our fast, yet God sustained us by answering our prayers for strength. When we empty ourselves fully and sincerely, only then are we able to receive Christ in full measure.

I am a sinner, and God knows my trespasses, as He does yours. Yet, He offers us the waters of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, the spring of everlasting life. My soul thirsts for the Lord, though I have sinned. Yet for those of us who have sinned, is not our thirst for the Lord great, like a deer who thirsts for water? And is not God’s ‘thirst’ to save us as strong, if not stronger than our thirst for Him? Jesus, the font of Life, asked a Samaritan woman for a drink – a woman who belonged to a race that had a long-standing opposition to the Jews, who had had many husbands, yet was unmarried to her current one. She was searching, just as we are, for the way and the truth, and Jesus was offering it to her, in exchange for her thirsty heart.

Let us hold out our hearts to Jesus, and ask the Lord to fill our cup to overflowing; empty out our hearts to follow Him, like a desert that lies barren to the sun and the wind, with the knowledge and faith that in its place, He will transform our hearts into an oasis of greenery, one that will thirst no more.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, You are the fountain of Life, the unending waters that will wash us clean and quench our thirst. Lord, may we seek You always, that we may hunger or thirst no more.

ThanksgivingLord, though I am unworthy, You still offer me the cup of Life. Thank you for thirsting after my heart though I am a sinner.

16 April, Monday – Steadfast and Saved

16 April 
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Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.
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John 6:22-29

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’
Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’
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But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke

My son is 2 years old now and is at a most impressionable age. He is constantly observing his surroundings, the people around him, and absorbs details like a sponge. It surprises me sometimes when he says certain things, and I wonder where he learnt them from. He is developing his identity and character, making this time of his life all the more important to instil the right values and teachings in him – teachings that I hope and pray as a mother, will carry him well when he heads off to school, and with that, life.

One of my worst fears is school bullying. No parent wants to find out that their child has been bullied, or worse, that their child is the bully – either way it is heartbreaking to hear. I can’t be there for everything that my son will go through. I know that he will have to learn the hard knocks in life, or maybe he simply won’t want to open up to me and I will just have to wait patiently by the sidelines until he is ready to reach out. But I do hope that I can teach him well enough for him to know that if he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he can at least talk to God and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help.

In Stephen’s situation, false witnesses were called upon to taint his character and speak ill of him. They accused him of blasphemy when they themselves were the blasphemous ones. They did all that because they couldn’t win against him. And so they resorted to verbal abuse and later, as we know, physical abuse and death.

People, especially children, fear being bullied and sadly, most will join in the bullying to avoid being picked on by the bully. Bullies bully because they don’t want to look weak. They need to feel a sense of security, and their strength over a ‘weaker’ person makes their position validated in their minds. What could Stephen have done? He could have fought back. He could have remained a victim. But that would not be the kind of person God called him to be. The Bible tells us not to take vengeance, for “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Jesus goes on to say that if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn, and offer him your other cheek too (Matthew 5:39). Jesus challenged us further by exhorting us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Stephen neither retaliated, nor did he become a victim. Instead, he stood steadfast in truth and faith in God, and God was with him.

It pains me to know that this is easier said than done and as humans, we are fragile beings with fragile emotions. My son is not exempt from that, neither is anyone for that matter. But I hope that I can help to instil a faith in him that is strong enough to withstand it if it ever happens. I hope that he understands that he can “call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and [be] saved” from his enemies (Psalm 18:3). I hope that he knows that truth and love will prevail in the end, and that there are more rewards for him to be steadfast on the side of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, for our children and all those who are silently suffering their tormentors and bullies – please give them strength, comfort and a listening ear. May their seedlings of faith in you grow as you stand with them, even as others stand against them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us that there is a better path to follow. It hurts, but you will sooth our hearts and show us a higher purpose, and we thank you for that.