All posts by Desmond Soon

12 December, Tuesday – On Knowing

Dec 12 – Memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe

Guadalupe is, strictly speaking, the name of a picture, but the name was extended to the church containing the picture and to the town which grew up around the church. It marks the shrine, it occasions the devotion, it illustrates Our Lady. It is taken as representing the Immaculate Conception, being the lone figure of a woman with the sun, moon, and star accompaniments of the great apocalyptic sign with a supporting angel under the crescent. The word is Spanish Arabic, but in Mexico, it may represent certain Aztec sounds.

Its tradition is long-standing and constant, and in sources both oral and written, Indian and Spanish, the account is unwavering. The Blessed Virgin appeared on Saturday, 9 December 1531 to a 55-year-old neophyte named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down Tepeyac Hill to hear Mass in Mexico City. She sent him to Bishop Zumarraga to have a temple built where she stood. She was at the same place that evening and Sunday evening to get the bishop’s answer.

The bishop did not immediately believe the messenger, had him cross-examined and watched, and he finally told him to ask the lady who said she was the mother of the true God for a sign. The neophyte agreed readily to ask for the sign desired, and the bishop released him.

Juan was occupied all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle who was dying of fever. Indian medicine had failed and Bernardino seemed at death’s door. At daybreak on Tuesday 12 December 1531, Juan ran to nearby St. James’ convent to ask for a priest. To avoid the apparition and the untimely message to the bishop, he slipped round where the well chapel now stands. But the Blessed Virgin crossed down to meet him and said, “What road is this thou takest son?”

A tender dialogue ensued. She reassured Juan about his uncle, to whom she also briefly appeared and instantly cured. Calling herself “Holy Mary of Guadalupe”, she told Juan to return to the bishop. He asked for the sign he required. Mary told him to go to the rocks and gather roses. Juan knew it was neither the time nor the place for roses, but he went and found them. Gathering many into the lap of his tilma (a long cloak or wrapper used by Mexican Indians), he came back. The Holy Mother rearranged the roses, and told him to keep them untouched and unseen until he reached the bishop.

When Juan met with Zumarraga, Juan offered the sign to the bishop. As he unfolded his cloak, the roses, fresh and wet with dew, fell out. Juan was startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him. The life-size figure of the Virgin Mary, just as Juan had described her, was glowing on the tilma. The picture was venerated, guarded in the bishop’s chapel, and soon after, carried in procession to the preliminary shrine.

Painters have not understood the laying on of the colours. They have deposed that the “canvas” was not only unfit but unprepared, and they have marvelled at the apparent oil, water, distemper, etc. colouring in the same figure. They are left in equal admiration for the flower-like tints and the abundant gold. They, and other artists, find the proportions perfect for a maiden of fifteen. The figure and the attitude are of one advancing. There is flight and rest in the eager supporting angel. The chief colours are deep gold in the rays and stars, blue green in the mantle, and rose in the flowered tunic.

The clergy, secular and regular, has been remarkably faithful to the devotion towards Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops fostering it, even to the extent of making a protestation of faith in the miracle a matter of occasional obligation. Pope Benedict XIV decreed that Our Lady of Guadalupe should be the national patron, and made 12 December a holiday of obligation with an octave, and ordered a special Mass and Office.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 40:1-11

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God.

‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice commands, ‘Cry!’ and I answered, ‘What shall I cry?’” – ‘All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. (The grass is without doubt the people.) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains for ever.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’ Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

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Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

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“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”

Earlier this week, we read about how “with The Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). It’s a difficult concept to grasp. Our human understanding is mostly limited to events that happen within our lifetime – where do I see myself in 5 years? What are we doing this weekend? How do I get through the week? How do I get the kids through college? We plan for the next 5 years, 10 years at most. But God sees generations ahead, connecting the dots forward for his faithful beloved. He allows us to ‘glimpse’ at His plans by grace. We, in turn, accept this grace in faith.

As I box up the memories in my old house, I’ve been overcome by both melancholy and wonder. God has moved me through so many places. I’ve lived so many lives. At every step, I feel He has laid the foundations for the next 5-10 years. I could have never planned things out myself to the degree that He has done, with the kind of attention to detail that He has seen to. Looking back, things have happened exactly as they were supposed to. Surrendering my fate to God, He put in place all that I needed even before I realized what was necessary.

In today’s gospel reading, Mary is called ‘full of grace’ because she was given a glimpse of God’s plan for the salvation of humankind. Though she saw it only as a faint sketch, she accepted the role she was to play in full confidence. When the Holy Spirit prompts us, it is manifest as a kind of ‘feeling’ that there is something we have to do or that we are meant to be some place. This sense of ‘knowing’ speaks in soft tones. You have to strain to hear it. Some people call it intuition. Scripture calls it the “gentle whisper” of the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). Not all of us will heed its promptings. Sometimes, we let human judgment get the better of us. We overthink things, overanalyze the costs and benefits. Witness Eve’s more calculated response. Eve was shown the beauty of God’s paradise yet still reached for more. The Spirit’s promptings were there; she knew what she was not supposed to do. But she chose against it.

‘Grace’ is a gift of faith. If we believe, God lets us see the broad sketches. It might only be an inkling, a feeling that this is the right path, as impossible as it might seem. But often, that’s all that is needed, a feeling. He asks us to trust Him. And in so doing, we gain a life we would never even have dreamed for ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern His purpose for us, even if that means upending the normalcy of our daily life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God for helping us to connect the dots forward. We give thanks for His providence, that even before we knew what was needed, He was already laying the foundation of our life ahead.  

11 December, Monday – The Hard Yards

Dec 11 – Memorial for St. Damasus I, pope

Damasus (306-384) was raised in a pious family. His father was a priest in Rome, and Damasus served for a time as deacon in his father’s church, St. Laurence. He was ordained a priest and became assistant to Pope Liberius. He was elected the 37th pope in a disputed election in which a minority chose the anti-pope Ursinus. The two reigned simultaneously in Rome, which eventually led to violence between their supporters and Damasus’ false accusation of a crime.

His pontificate suffered from the rise of Arianism, and from several schisms including break-away groups in Antioch, Constantinople, Sardinia, and Rome. However, it was during his reign that Christianity was declared the religion of the Roman state. He enforced the 370 edict of Emperor Valentinian controlling gifts to prelates, and opposed Arianism and Apollinarianism. He supported the 374 council of Rome which decreed the valid books of the Bible, and the Grand Council of Constantinople in 381 which condemned Arianism.

He was the patron of his secretary, St. Jerome, and commissioned him to make the translation of scripture now known as the Vulgate. Damasus restored catacombs, shrines, and the tombs of martyrs, and wrote poetry and metrical inscriptions about and dedicated to martyrs. They state that he would like to be buried in the catacombs with the early martyrs, but that the presence of one of his lowly status would profane such an august place. Ten of his letters, personal and pontifical, have survived.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 35:1-10

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy.

The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.

Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. ‘Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy; for water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.

The lairs where the jackals used to live become thickets of reed and papyrus…

And through it will run a highway undefiled which shall be called the Sacred Way; the unclean may not travel by it, nor fools stray along it.

No lion will be there nor any fierce beast roam about it, but the redeemed will walk there, for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.

They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended.

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Luke 5:17-26

Jesus was teaching one day, and among the audience there were Pharisees and doctors of the Law who had come from every village in Galilee, from Judaea and from Jerusalem. And the Power of the Lord was behind his works of healing. Then some men appeared, carrying on a bed a paralysed man whom they were trying to bring in and lay down in front of him. But as the crowd made it impossible to find a way of getting him in, they went up on to the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ The scribes and the Pharisees began to think this over. ‘Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ But Jesus, aware of their thoughts, made them this reply, ‘What are these thoughts you have in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven you” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralysed man – ‘I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’ And immediately before their very eyes he got up, picked up what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

They were all astounded and praised God, and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’

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“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

It’s ‘moving month’ for me this December. We’ve found a new house in a less crowded city, and have decided to take the plunge. With ‘moving’ comes ‘shedding’ and ‘renewing’. That process has been cathartic for us. It’s staggering how much unnecessary baggage you accumulate when you’re in a state of inertia. As traumatic as this has all been, I’m glad we are doing it. I had started to get the feeling that things were stagnating where we were – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually. And though the new house has been beset with problems, I feel alive again. We have purpose! I find myself seeking God a lot more (because it is impossible to manage cracked water mains without prayer, an able team of engineers and divine intervention). That feeling of being able to engage Him in all our problem-solving has been an uplifting experience.

Our Catholic faith is a faith of action. Bringing people to God requires action! The miracle healing of the paralytic perfectly illustrates this point. I’ve always felt that miracles are a function of teamwork, faith and the willingness to go the hard yards. It took tenacity, perseverance and some clever ‘out of the box’ thinking to get the paralytic up the roof, through the tiles and in front of Jesus. Ingenuity, creativity, serendipity, opportunity – these are all gifts that are given to us if we first make the effort to answer His call to action. The paralytic and his friends must have been daunted by the throngs they faced, yet they persevered. And because of their refusal to give in, they found a new way forward.

The path of least resistance is not usually the one that yields the greatest fulfilment. Scripture bears testament to this – all of God’s great heroes had to struggle and cope with seemingly insurmountable problems before they saw the light. Moses had to trudge the Hebrews through the desert. Joshua fought for their right to the Promised Land. Perhaps true happiness is found in the throes of struggle, and fulfilment lies in doing the hard yards?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, help me to see the boundless opportunities around me, even if they come in the guise of problems. Help me to recognize Your purpose for me. Give me faith and wisdom to discern beyond the present.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the wisdom to make good decisions for ourselves and those around us.

10 December, Sunday – Moving House

10 Dec – 2nd Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God. ‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’

Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

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2 Peter 3:8-14

There is one thing, my friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, ‘a day’ can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises, as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up.

Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.

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Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:

Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way. A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

And so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

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“That with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”

We’re in the midst of moving homes at the moment. The disruption to our daily lives has been going on for a month now, yet there is still much to do. Each day seems to present new problems that have to be dealt with. I read somewhere that moving homes is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. I can believe that. I’ve thrown up my hands in exasperation more than once now and pleaded to God to just help me survive the day. My husband tells me that this is short term pain, that I should not lose sight of why we are moving.

All change is difficult and painful. The easier path is often to just do nothing. Change takes courage and a certain amount of faith that this new path you’re on is the right one. Scripture shows us that the fruits of change are not always evident within one lifetime. In today’s Gospel, the people chose change by stepping up to be baptized by John the Baptist. In the context of their time, it took courage to openly declare their faith. The Christians were not an established political and social power yet. They lacked support. They were being persecuted by the Romans and the Pharisees. But as Peter puts it, “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day”. The problems we encounter today will fade in time. What will endure is how we treated those we encountered in the process. Were we selfish? Were we rude? Did we rise to the occasion gracefully or did we lose our composure? Did we pray or did we try to impose our will on the situation?

I hope my house woes normalize at some point. Or that I learn to deal with them with more patience. Peter reminds us that we are to aim to be “found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” This peaceful disposition is something that I’m working towards. May God guide me to make good decisions and take the reins from me when I’m too tired to continue.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: All things are possible through Him who gives me strength! I pray for God to sustain us, to help us to survive moving week.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for people that God puts around us, to help get us through difficult situations. May we always remember to be grateful for their presence.  

9 December, Saturday – Celebrate Jesus

Dec 9 – Memorial for St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, hermit, layman

John (1474-1548) was born an impoverished free man in a strongly class-conscious society. He was a farm worker, a field labourer, and a mat maker. He became a married layman with no children. Even as a pagan, he was a mystical and religious man and became an adult convert to Christianity at around age 50, taking the name Juan Diego. He was widowed in 1529.

He was a visionary to whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Guadalupe on 9 December 1531, leaving him the image known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. On 20 December 2001, a second miracle attributed to Juan Diego’s intervention was decreed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and was approved by Pope John Paul II. He was canonized on 31 July 2002.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more. He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, follow it.’ He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. Your cattle will graze, that day, in wide pastures. Oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat a salted fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and watercourses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall. Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter – like the light of seven days in one – on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.

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Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5, 6-8

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.’

He 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 twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘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. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’

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Go rather to the lost sheep

We are eighteen days to Christmas. This is the season to be jolly, perhaps? Everywhere around the city I live in is filled with Christmas cheer, the malls are decorated with all the festive ornaments, getting shoppers into the mood of buying and giving and sharing. Televisions are showing Christmas handicrafts and Christmas feast ideas to bring to family gatherings. Buy the gifts, get ready the food, bring out the bright clothes, decorate the house, write the cards. Are these the important preparations about Christmas?

This is also the period where companies hold their annual dinners, before the office closes for the new year. With all this good cheer going around us, what are our personal faith preparations like to welcome the birthday of Jesus? We recall the very beautiful story of the Nativity, the difficulties that Mary and Joseph had to go through for Jesus’ safe birth. Let us never forget that amongst all these bright and colourful distractions, the brightest star comes from baby Jesus — the birth of our saviour. Indeed, it is a call for celebration, in faith but not materialism. In today’s Gospel, we are called to go to the lost sheep. Being believers of Christ, we are disciples of our Lord, and we go and reach out to the needy and the lost. These are the people who truly need the colours of life this season. Bring a smile and the warmth of Christmas to someone lonely in the coming week.

As for me, it has been a year of peace and lots of thanksgiving. As my wife will be working over Christmas and Boxing Day, I would like to step out and give to the lost, that they may experience some form of peace to end the year.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: O Lord, let us take each step at a time to know You. To know Jesus, who has come into the world to save us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for bringing your disciples to guide me when I am lost, someone to cure my soul when I am down.

8 December, Friday – ‘Fiat’

8 December – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
On this, and the following eight days, the Church celebrates, with particular solemnity, the immaculate conception of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary who, from all eternity, was chosen to be the daughter of the heavenly Father, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of the Divine Redeemer, and, by consequence, the queen of angels and of men.
The consideration of these prerogatives convinced the most enlightened fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church that she was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin. It is very remarkable that among the shining hosts of saints who have, in every century, adorned the Church, no one wrote against this belief, while we find it confirmed by the decisions of the holy fathers from the earliest times.
Pope Piux IX forced, as it were, by the faith and devotion of the faithful throughout the world, finally on 8 December 1854, sanctioned, as a dogma of faith falling within the infallible rule of Catholic traditions, this admirable prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.
It is, therefore, now no longer, as formerly, a pious belief, but an article of the faith that Mary, like the purest morning light which precedes the rising of the most brilliant sun, was, from the first instant of her conception, free from original sin.
– Patron Saint Index
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Genesis 3:9-15,20
After Adam had eaten of the tree the Lord God called to him. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’
Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,
‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’
The man named his wife ‘Eve’ because she was the mother of all those who live.
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Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
hosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
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Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
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“let what you have said be done to me” (Mary’s Fiat)

St Irenaeus tells us that death came into the world by the disobedience of one virgin (Eve), and so our redemption was brought about the obedience of another virgin, Mary, the new Eve.

I tend to speak about obedience quite a bit and I cant help but come back to this point again. I would say that the 2 things that would make our ministry lives more pleasant and less tense would be — obedience and honesty.

Through disobedience, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, a metaphor for falling out of grace; they lost their preternatural gifts. The church teaches us that these are the preternatural gifts they lost: impassibility (freedom from pain), immortality (freedom from death), integrity (freedom from concupiscence, or disordered desires), infused knowledge (freedom from ignorance in matters essential for happiness). And so for us, disobedience to parents, to ministry leaders, our priests, Holy Mother Church and even bosses, will lead us down this slippery slope because we have been cut off (so to speak) from our head, our authority. In spiritual life, I liken this as well to protection from evil.

Let’s take two quotes to drive home this point on obedience.

“The Devil doesn’t fear austerity but holy obedience.” – St. Francis de Sales

“Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His. If obedience is lacking, even prayer cannot be pleasing to God.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Honesty lets everyone know what kind of space you are in, in life, at the moment. Many arguments and disagreements and even false judgements are formed when people are dishonest. In community, we   practice something called ‘checking in’. Before we begin a meeting or prayer, it is always helpful to know where a person is in life. We should be less concerned with the ‘quality of work’ a person produces and more in tune with the actual person. Often, we will hear of people who are coming from tough circumstances — a tense atmosphere at home, the loss of a loved one, loss of a job — and if we just continue to pile on them like machines, we get very unhappy ministries. Very recently, I made this mistake and it left me with a sick feeling in my stomach because I didn’t see two sides of a story. With Mary’s help, we might be a little more human. So let us see, with Jesus’ eyes, people for who they are — themselves.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of Grace the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

 Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us a mother who was human, so that we too might be more human and see more humanly!

7 December, Thursday – Rest On Rock

Dec 7 – Memorial for St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

Ambrose (c.340–397) was born to the Roman nobility. He was the brother of St. Marcellina and St. Satyrus. He was educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome, Italy. He was a poet and a noted orator. He was a convert to Christianity, and governor of Milan, Italy.

When the Bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement led to violence. Ambrose intervened to calm both sides; he impressed everyone involved so much that though he was still an unbaptized catechumen, he was chosen as the new bishop. He resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, but he assented to prevent further violence. On Dec 7, 374, he was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as bishop. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor, both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock.

He was a noted preacher and teacher, a Bible student of renown, and writer of liturgical hymns. He stood firm against paganism and Arianism. His preaching helped convert St. Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. Ambrose’s preaching brought Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

During his time as bishop, he also called and chaired several theological councils, many devoted to fighting heresy. He welcomed St. Ursus and St. Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution, and then sent them on to evangelize in Gaul and Germany. He was proclaimed a great Doctor of the Latin Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.

The title “Honey Tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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Founded on rock

I had an informal meeting over coffee with our boss the other day, and we were discussing the downfall of a business and the impatience of quick expansions, which could easily lead to many business risks. That includes loan repayments, wage payments and cashflow issues. These problems arise due to an over-eagerness to expand without carefully thinking through things and not giving oneself time to build a stable foundation.

One might ask how would the Bible provide teachings on business? It does not, however, businesses are built on human decisions and it requires human wisdom and attitudes to create opportunities. The Good News guides us on bringing ourselves to make decisions that are right or wrong. It emphasizes on our attitude to life and to people, building that strong character to move forward with confidence and strength. We use that same principle and apply it to business decisions, and that somehow leads us to a positive future ahead. It didn’t take our God a few days to guide His people out of slavery. God indeed didn’t change the hearts of many within days. It takes time and a lot of trust to build a rock-hard foundation. In today’s Gospel, we are told to not set our life on sand, because whatever stands on it gets eroded away.

Our Lord Jesus is not a teacher who sets us on soft unsteady ground, but one who tirelessly sets us on strong foundations. Do not opt for short cuts, where important factors have not been considered, but to stand up for firm well-calculated decisions. In this way, we move in a steady manner, which God provides in His time, and successes will follow. Trust in Him, He is always there for you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Walk away from uncertain and weak platforms, and take the longer path of stable foundations. We pray for our wisdom and for the Holy Spirit to work in us, leading us to make the right decisions.

Thanksgiving: We thank all who live around us as testimony to Jesus’ examples of love and faith to God the Father.

6 December, Wednesday – Please Share

Dec 6 – Memorial for St. Nicholas, bishop

Nicholas (d. 346) was a priest and abbot, and the bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). He was generous to the poor, and a special protector of the innocent and wrong. Many stories grew up around him prior to his becoming Santa Claus.

One story is that upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholas went by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window, saving the girls from an evil life. These three bags, gold generously given in time of trouble, became the three golden balls that indicate a pawn broker’s shop.

Another story is that he raised to life three young boys who had been murdered and pickled in a barrel of brine to hide the crime. These stories led to his patronage of children in general, and of barrel-makers besides.

Another St. Nicholas story is that he induced some thieves to return their plunder, which led to his protection against theft and robbery, and his patronage of them – he is not helping them to steal, but to repent and change. In the past, thieves have been known as Saint Nicholas’ clerks or Knights of St. Nicholas.

A fourth story is that during a voyage to the Holy Lands, a fierce storm blew up, threatening the ship. He prayed about it, and the storm calmed – hence the patronage of sailors and those like dockworkers who work on the sea.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 25:6-10
On this mountain,
the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food.
On this mountain he will remove
the mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
he will destroy Death for ever.
The Lord will wipe away
the tears from every cheek;
he will take away his people’s shame
everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so.
That day, it will be said: See, this is our God
in whom we hoped for salvation;
the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.
We exult and we rejoice
that he has saved us.
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Matthew 15:29-37
Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.
But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.
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He gave thanks and broke them

These days, when I attend a gathering with friends, I also get to meet their children. It is very heart warming when you have the kid willingly share his or her snack with you. Some may be reluctant to share at first because they are perhaps shy, but after warming up to them, most of the time they are willing to break whatever they have in half and share it with you. This simple, innocent act of kindness is being taught to them at this very young age — teaching them to be generous, to share with others.

That is exactly what Jesus is reminding us in today’s reading and Gospel. The Lord removes our sorrows, He feeds us, He enriches our body and soul, He graces us with kindness and goodness that no one else can. A kid’s generous act towards us is just how Jesus provides to the people, filled with abundance and generosity. As we follow the life of Jesus, He does not fill the people’s lives with gold and wealth, but feeds them, heals them, and actually fills the hearts with the basics of living. As for those with authority, He guides them with the use of their power to feed and aid the needy.

Let us reflect on God’s actions, and then compare our weekly goals and motivations in life. Are we for others and God, or are we for ourselves? Have we broken bread and shared it with others this week? Did the sharing just end every time after Sunday’s Holy Communion? We should keep in mind the priest’s words at the end of mass, that we are to go and share the Good News.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for those who are homeless, that they will find shelter during the night and feel safe.

Thanksgiving: Thank you to those who have helped us by giving up and sharing their time for us, and that such faith and friendship can never be measured with wealth.

5 December, Tuesday – Look Your Best In Faith

5 December

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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He does not judge by appearances

Modern society is too often being judged by appearances. Despite knowing that it is almost impossible to ‘judge a book by its cover’ these days, we still take notice of the clothes that people put on. Have you ever been treated differently because of the way you are dressed? I have definitely felt that, but not in a bad way. In my current job and role, it requires me to travel interstate very often, and so I often come across airport checks and building security. For more formal meetings and stakeholder appointments, I travel in a shirt and pants look, but if I am to travel to inspect sites where a lot of construction is going on, I will be in my boots, T-shirt and trade pants. Being in the latter attire somehow attracts a lot more checks and security questions. I am never offended as security does perform random checks (maybe they’re not so random after all), and never minded them. I even stop for a chat with them. What triggers me is that people are still judging by our appearances. It could be because we are more easy-going, easier to approach as compared to a uptight looking business man? We certainly cannot ignore that fact.

Today, we are told of how the Lord mixes us up, people of many differences, who are to live in harmony. The Lord has the power and ability to bring differences together and they are not judged by the status of the individual, but merely the humility and faith each one of us has. It would be extremely open-minded for us to really say, ‘I accept you, whoever you are’. I will take your education and wealth level into consideration, to judge you and size you up as to whether I would like to befriend you. Jesus never does that. Today’s Gospel tells us of how the Holy Spirit reveals itself inside of us. He does not judge us by appearances, not how clever we are, not how much power we hold, but by how much faithfulness we show unto others. The innocence of the eyes and of the things we hear are attractive to our Lord, because we see and listen to God’s voices more clearly and don’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the knowledge of the world.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We reach out to you O Lord, for you are our saviour, always watching over us in times of danger. And let us not be afraid to call out your name.

Thanksgiving: Give thanks to the Holy Father who, in his deep faith in Christ, guides his flock closer to you Lord Jesus.

4 December, Monday – Humbling Help

Dec 4 – Memorial for St. John Damascene, priest, doctor of the Church

John was born in Damascus about 675. After holding public office for a time, he withdrew to the monastery of Sabas near Jerusalem. He wrote The Fount of Wisdom, in which he presented a comprehensive teaching on Christian doctrine, which had great influence on later theology. He died about 750.

– the Weekday Missal

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come the mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills.

All the nations will stream to it, peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles.

Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

 

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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No more training for war

As we are surrounded by media coverage of war, political disagreements, domestic violence and occasional terror attacks, both domestic and international, we cannot help but wonder how dangerous the world can be. We must be there to embrace peace as best as we can. How will it be like when there is no need to train for war? We Singaporean boys will not need to spend our two years training as soldiers. Unfortunately, this will never be the case as there is always greed and hunger for power around the world. No matter how philantrophic one is, a businessman will always be a businessman, greedy politicians will always surface, asking for more than the previous one.

How has today’s faithful soldier taught us about faith? Despite all the hatred and political unrest between states and cultures, the Centurion approached Jesus in time of need and help. Think back on the time when someone has asked you for help, or you have required help from someone. It definitely would not have been a random person, but someone who you have faith in having the ability to assist you. It is that little faith that we have in others that gradually grows to harmony and peace. Jesus found the approach by the Centurion a very humbling one. In terms of authority and power, the Centurion is very much a middle management staff and yet he approached Jesus, a Jew, for the miracles that he believed in.

At Holy Communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof.” Before we receive Jesus into our body, we are to humble and make clean ourselves, and with the faith that we have, no matter how small, we are inviting Him to whole-heartedly enter into our lives. We look forward to a new week ahead of us, knowing that God is in us to go through it all, with no fears and no hesitation to ask for the Lord’s help when we are lost.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Make us humble, O Lord, that we do not look inwards to ourselves, but to look outwards, doing good unto others.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to those who have helped us, we pray for the faith of others.

3 December, Sunday – Abilities & Attitudes

3 Dec – 1st Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1, 3-8

You, Lord, yourself are our Father, ‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.

Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?

Return, for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your inheritance.

Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!

– at your Presence the mountains would melt. No ear has heard, no eye has seen any god but you act like this for those who trust him.

You guide those who act with integrity and keep your ways in mind.

You were angry when we were sinners; we had long been rebels against you.

We were all like men unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.

We have all withered like leaves and our sins blew us away like the wind.

No one invoked your name or roused himself to catch hold of you.

For you hid your face from us and gave us up to the power of our sins.

And yet, Lord, you are our Father; we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.

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1 Corinthians 1:3-9

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.

I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.

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Mark 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

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You will not be without any of the gifts

Today is the first day in the season of Advent. The opening and beginning in preparation for the coming of our Lord baby Jesus. If we are to look back to the year twenty-seventeen, and realise that we have not done much in terms of God’s work, being busy with our very own agenda, and have not given much charity, we may want to organise ourselves this Advent to enrich our daily living with works of the Spirit.

Last week, God reminded us that, however we have treated our neighbours, we do it unto Him. Today’s reading and Gospel reassures us that, as our heart lies in the Spirit of Christ, we are not short of the ability to do God’s work. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, the gifts from our Lord are ever so powerful and generous for us to show His work onto others. We are called to enrich others as the Lord has enriched us with His love and generosity. Following the reading, now that we know we have the abilities through the Spirit, we will need the attitude. The attitude to want to do the right thing, to always be present and being ready to invite God into our lives where we make the best decisions and actually do the work. To ‘Sleep’ is to switch off and not be prepared for what is ahead of us, such that we may feel lost and dejected. To be ‘Awake’ is to have our hearts prepared in receiving Christ into our lives, that we are always open in our hearts in seeing Jesus in every situation. We are not to be blinded by distractions and temptations that lead us away from the Spirit.

If I am to look back on the past two years, I thought twenty-sixteen was a year where God provided me with the right foundation and stepping stone in my career and personal life; that, I am very thankful for. But twenty-seventeen was an even more eventful year where those foundations and stones built in the previous year began to take place and enable me to see the generosity that He has provided me with. This Advent, I would like to move forward more through preparing myself in being His fully-awake servant, that more works of charity will come out of my daily habits. If you have been experiencing a rather difficult year, let this Advent be an encouraging one, that the coming of Jesus gives you hope and joys, to never forget that He has implanted the abilities in us. And now is for us to raise the right attitude in ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for those who are having difficult moments in their household, that the Spirit of Advent shows them a new beginning, that it is never too late with Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for a generous and loving God, who watches over us and builds our pathways the way He wants them to be.