All posts by Edith Koh

18 June, Tuesday – Stumbling into Grace

18 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Now here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches in Macedonia; and of how, throughout great trials by suffering, their constant cheerfulness and their intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity. I can swear that they gave not only as much as they could afford, but far more, and quite spontaneously, begging and begging us for the favour of sharing in this service to the saints and, what was quite unexpected, they offered their own selves first to God and, under God, to us.

Because of this, we have asked Titus, since he has already made a beginning, to bring this work of mercy to the same point of success among you. You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. It is not an order that I am giving you; I am just testing the genuineness of your love against the keenness of others. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.

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Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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Pray for those who persecute you

To walk the talk of Jesus — that is what my heart desires, but my feet stumble. Often. Daily.  Some days it seems all I do is stumble. C.S. Lewis has given me comfort in his words, “If we only have the will to walk, then God is pleased with our stumbles.” That is a quote I read every morning in my quiet time, and I know it helps me to get up again on the days I stumble, and even more so on the days that I am skipping along just fine in my flesh and end up on the ground.

It can be difficult to be kind and do the loving thing to/for those we love, and sometimes it feels impossible to be kind to those who are unkind to us. But as followers of Christ, we are called to do more than be kind. Jesus tells us to pray for, to love those who hate us. And the simplest and most common way to NOT follow Christ’s words is to focus on ourselves only. The world tells us we ‘deserve’ to be happy, that we should only do things that bring us happiness, that we have a right to be happy, a right to do what we want, a right to do WHATEVER we want. That’s actually the mantra of the pagan, ‘do whatever you want’, and it plays out quite loudly these days. The pagan way of life actually is the opposite of love; it tempts us into running away from Christ, and without even knowing it we stumble, and stay down in the stumble so long that we don’t even know we are on the ground crawling, dying, in the mud and muck.

I am grateful for the saints and all the holy men and women in scripture who have stumbled, from Adam and Eve to Mary Magdalene, to St. Peter to St. Thomas Aquinas, to Mother Teresa.  They are our role models – and knowing they stumbled, some so deep into a pit it seems they should not have been able to recover, gives me hope. They stumbled and then they stood in humility, and asked for forgiveness.

If you’re like me, asking for forgiveness in the confessional can be difficult, embarrassing and filled with shame. But it is in confession that God is most pleased with our stumbles because it is a visible sign – to our selves – that we recognize our stumbling and we are asking for His help. We recognize there that we have been crawling when He has given us the ability to walk. And there He strengthens our legs and guides us on His path.

It is human to stumble.

Stumbling gracefully comes through daily prayer.

Stumbling into grace is a gift.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, how we praise your name for the gifts you lay before us with every step we take.  For the guidance you give us on our walk.  Help us in our desire to walk with you every step, and are grateful for the times you carry us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the gift of your grace that You allow us to fall into when we stumble.  Thank you for the saints in our midst who help us to keep from stumbling, and thank you for your mercy and forgiveness that allows us to stand after each stumble.

17 June, Monday – Living for Eternity

17 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 6:1-10

As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.

We do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants. Instead, we prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering: in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving. We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness; by a spirit of holiness, by a love free from affectation; by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left, prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced; thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.

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Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.’

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Now is the day of Salvation

I recently returned from my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel. It is a time and a space unlike any I have ever known. An experience I couldn’t imagine. An encounter that must be felt to be understood, in even the most basic way.

The Holy Land is the place where salvation was born. It is truly a life-altering place; unlike any other place, ever, because it is THE place where God became man. Even though I read these words inscribed above the doors of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, they didn’t register: THE WORD BECAME FLESH HERE. HERE. As Hani, our guide said, here, where we are standing, no where else. To be in that place where Mary said ‘YES’ filled  every cell in my being. The emotion was overwhelming, so utterly complete that there was no room for any other thought or feeling mentally, physically or emotionally.

There is a sense of eternity, of salvation, in every breath in the land of our Savior’s birth.

Eternity is the biggest of words, is it not? With salvation, eternity is God in pure enveloping love. Without salvation, eternity is hollow, a painful emptiness. And I see so much painful emptiness in the world today, and I know it is because the world doesn’t acknowledge salvation.

My friend, who has coordinated four trips (so far) to the Holy Land, said to me after her first pilgrimage, “In Israel, faith is everything; faith isn’t part of them, it is WHO they are.”  I was eager to see what she meant. I went, and I saw her words come to life. I felt the words. It is like nothing I have ever even glimpsed in America, this constant visual understanding that eternity with God is all that matters.

I live in America, and here approximately 75% of Americans identify as Christian (24% Catholic). In Israel, it is about 1.5% Catholic Christian. Yet the faith of those in Israel is so strong a living faith it is visible. Our Catholic brothers and sisters in Israel live today’s gospel on a daily basis. They are their faith; they know scripture, they understand scripture, they share scripture, they live Jesus’ words. Their lives are surrounded by our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, faith filled in worship of God, but blinded to the complete truth of salvation thru Christ. In Israel, our fellow Catholics walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give their tunic and cloak, and pray for and love those who neither pray for, nor love them.  There is an undeniable peace and joy felt and seen in these Catholic brothers and sisters, despite the subtle persecution they absorb daily. They are the caretakers of the holy places Jesus walked and lived and died and rose in. Life is hard, but they remain as a remnant of people who can’t bear to leave these holy places, because they know they are called to share the gospel where the word was made flesh, where our salvation was born. They cannot leave here and are willing, as Paul was, to suffer for the gospel, to suffer because they know and love Jesus.

Now is the day of salvation. How different would our daily life be if we acknowledged that truth every day? How different would our words be? Our choices of entertainment? Our time spent in prayer? Our time spent at mass… and in mass. How different would our hearts be if we truly lived those words of truth? How different would this world be if we, those who remain in the church that Christ left us, truly lived in the knowledge that this is the day of salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, help us as we work out our salvation. We are in awe of You, in the gift we don’t deserve and we cling to you asking for your mercy and forgiveness.  Help us to live our lives as a salvation people, sharing your words of everlasting life, sharing the gospel with our actions.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father, for loving us through death, through your resurrection and through all eternity. We desire to live this truth of your merciful love every day by loving all of those around us.

16 June, Sunday – Why the Trinity Matters

16 June 2019 – Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the Sunday of Pentecost in Eastern Christianity. Trinity Sunday celebrates the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  • Wikipedia

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Proverbs 8:22-31

The Wisdom of God cries aloud:

The Lord created me when his purpose first unfolded,
  before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
  from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
  there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
  before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
  or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
  when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
  when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
 – and the waters will not invade the shore –
  when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
  delighting him day after day,
  ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world,
  delighting to be with the sons of men.

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Romans 5:1-5

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory. But that is not all we can boast about; we can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.

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John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
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But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth

Ah, the Holy Trinity. Eggs, shamrocks, fruits, states of matter (liquid, solid & gas), mathematical diagrams, and even the sun itself have been recruited through the centuries by theologians and catechists to illustrate the puzzling concept of a Triune God. How can one God be three persons and how can three persons be still…one God?

Christianity’s insistence on basing its concept of God’s nature on this mathematical impossibility (1+1+1=1?) in the face of puzzled intellectuals and bewildered nine-year olds alike, is often answered with slightly embarrassed, if not empathic nods followed by the use of one, if not all of the above available analogies in an attempt to shed some light. This popular catechism of the Trinity almost always concludes with the phrase, “but God is mystery” said in piously hushed tones and a sagely wrap-up that “we are simply not meant to know such things.”

Thus, most of us grow up accepting the Trinity as a weird curiosity, a particular quirk of our faith best less spoken of to avoid embarrassment, awkward contradictions and of course, the ever-looming specter of heresy. We treat the Trinity in the same way we treat quantum mechanics, probably true but best left to the experts. You can probably imagine my trepidation when I found out I was being assigned this Oxygen entry.

What is my approach? Rather than talk about how one God can be three persons, I want to contemplate on why a God who is three Persons matters. What difference does it make to our faith and, even more fundamentally, of reality itself, since we believe that everything was created by this God.

To do this, it is necessary to briefly consider the alternative monotheistic option, namely: the single-person God. This concept of a single-person deity is at the heart of all of the major monotheistic world religions, except one — Christianity. However, it is not difficult to conceive that a single-person God would function in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit. The reason why I make this contrast is because while we Christians profess a God of a triune nature, much of our assumptions of how this God acts largely remains single-personed. But if God were a single-person god then God will look and act exactly like the single-person gods of the other faiths. In other words, not being as God is, God will not act as God does.

Let us consider creation. If God is a singular person being and for eternity has been that way, we can infer that that is clearly the preferable state of affairs. Why would a God who is entirely satisfied by himself and has neither known any relationship, or what it is like to love another, find it in his nature to cause anything else to exist? (If the answer is that God was lonely or bored than it would imply that God created out of a sense of lack in Godself. If God needed to create in order to feel complete then God will cease to be god since such a god will not be self-sufficient.)

A Triune God on the other hand, would create the world and would do so not out of any sense of lack of love but as an overflow of love from within his very nature. In John 17:24, Jesus said, “Father, you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Before the universe was created, God for unimaginable eternity had existed as a divine community of one undivided essence but in three distinct Persons. The Father loves and delights in the Son infinitely. The Son loved by the Father reciprocates with the same love of the Father. Their mutual love meets and breathes forth an uncreated subsistence who is the third person of the Trinity.

Thus, the Holy Spirit is described in the Nicene creed as the One “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” as their bond of union. It is not a coincidence that at the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in the appearance of a dove, appears at the exact moment the Father proclaims, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) At the Father’s affirmation of His love for Jesus, the Holy Spirit as the personification of that love comes upon him. We see a snapshot of the inner life of the Trinity that has been going on for all eternity expressed in that single moment in time and space.

Why does it matter that God is Trinity? There are at least three implications of this to our lives.

  1. God is love. The Trinity tells us that being loving is not something that God does; it is who God is. The Doctrine of the Trinity destroys any unworthy ideas of God’s love. God is not lonely or bored. The Trinity tells us that God’s very nature is a love relationship of mutual delight, a reality that existed eternally even before creation came to be. Love is the beginning and end of all God’s actions.
  2. Creation is an outflow of God’s love. Creation is not something necessary for God to do, but it is very characteristic for a Triune God. We almost hear the delight of God in the act of creation in the first reading (Pro 8:22-31). The Father delights so much in the Son that He desires to have that love overflow to many other sons and daughters – that the Son “might be the firstborn of many brothers” (Romans 8:29) True love always desires to love people more and to love more people. Therefore, the God who is eternally loving creates, so that God may have many others that He might love. People like you and me. 
  1. The Love of God is poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit — Rm 5:5 Interestingly, nowhere in scripture is mentioned the love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit’s love for the Father or the love of the Spirit for mankind. Instead, the bible only speaks of the Father’s love for the Son, the Son’s love for the Father as well as the Father’s and Son’s love for humanity. The implication is that the Holy Spirit is not just the agent who ‘applies’ God’s love to believers but that the Spirit Himself is the very love of the Father and the Son poured into our hearts! That is why when we receive the Holy Spirit, we experience a greater love for Jesus because we love with the love of His Father, and we love our Heavenly Father more because the same love Jesus has for His Father is in us. Thus, our communion with God (and with each other) consists of partaking in the Holy Spirit, or God’s love.

I could go on. In truth, I have barely scratched the surface of why the Trinity matters. The place of relationships in our lives, the form our redemption takes and the outworking of our sanctification all take the contours of the Trinity. My hope is that this reflection would inspire you to set aside your shamrocks and eggs to seek and contemplate deeper into this divine mystery. (What else is a mystery for if not to draw us deeper?)

On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate not a curious quirk of our faith, but a supremely wondrous truth that undergirds all of reality. Nothing is more foundational, nothing exceeds the height of its importance. But at the end of the day, our goal is not merely to understand the Trinity intellectually, but to know God experientially. To know the Trinity is to know the living God. Our pursuit – when properly done – is an invitation to experience God’s overflowing love and to share in the delight of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever. This is why we were created.

But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth. John 16:13

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thanksgiving: That You, Triune God are both the goal of our journey and the means by which we find you. Thank you for choosing to reveal your love to us through the sacrifice of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. 

15 June, Saturday – A Promise is a Promise

15 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.

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Matthew 5:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

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“Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no

I hate it when people lie to me. I hate it more when they said, “Yes” to me but in the end it is a “No.” I hate it because of the disappointments for those unmet expectations. Why can’t they just say “No” in the first place? Of course, I would understand if there was a real valid reason why they couldn’t fulfil their promise.

I remember one time when I was still in college. We had this group paper in class and we need to work together. We agreed on the date and time. We were four in the group and we were only three during the meeting. The fourth member did not show up nor even bother to inform us that he wouldn’t be coming. When we asked him why he was a no-show, he just ignored us and didn’t give any explanation. I felt betrayed because we had to cover his part and we still put his name on our paper. Personal enlightenment: Any school project must have a maximum number of three members only.

I know it is just a petty thing for some. But for me a little lie is still a lie. Who knows, that little lie can turn to bigger lies. How much more if people are used to lying? There can come a time that they can no longer identify what is true or false. What if they run for office? I personally do not want liars to manage our government. What will become of us? From where I came from, we elect officials based on their background information and their plans for the people. We feel bad if those elected officials just talked and didn’t do anything. We place our trust in them, believing everything they have promised.

How much more if we betrayed our Heavenly Father? I know we have our promises to Him that we will do this, do that, and much more. But what if we cannot fulfil those promises? Can you remember any broken promises made to Him? There are tiny voices in my head saying, “No, I always keep my promises to God…” Personally, I made a promise to God to attend daily mass  and I try to keep it. However, there were times when I could not fulfil my promise due to work. And sometimes, even though I am physically inside the church, my mind is wandering somewhere else. Others may not know it, but the Lord and I both know that it is a broken promise on my part.

Next time, think first before promising anything when you say “Yes” or a “No”. We must always keep our promises because our Lord keeps His.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please grant me honesty so that I can only speak the truth and to not break my promises to others. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us wisdom to be very careful with the words that we say to others. Amen.

14 June, Friday – Beautiful in White

14 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But as we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be, to the glory of God.

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Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.
‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’

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You must not commit adultery

I remember attending a wedding ceremony a few years ago. After the entourage marched in, the wooden door of the church was closed for the grand entrance of the bride. As the big door opened slowly, the instrumental Canon in D became the song ‘Beautiful in White’. Everyone stood as the bride slowly walked down the aisle. She was wearing a flowy, layered, white wedding dress. There were a few tears that could be seen in her eyes but she looked very happy. As the bride approached the middle of the red carpet, her parents escorted her to the altar. As they reached the altar, I saw the groom’s eyes fill with tears yet looking so happy, while taking her hand.

If you are married, you are probably reminiscing on your wedding day, the happiest moment of your life. Do you remember your promise to your spouse? “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honour you all the days of my life.”  Do you remember what you said when you put your rings on each other’s fingers? “I take this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Weddings can be expensive. But we must remember the real purpose of a wedding. And that purpose is marriage. It is the union of a man and a woman by the grace of God. You make promises to each other which you should keep for the rest of your lives. Don’t just get married because everybody else is getting married. Marriage is a vocation. It is a lifetime commitment to your spouse and to our Lord. It is no fairytale, but a journey of you together, to get closer to God.

Some may want to have a big wedding. Some would prefer an intimate celebration. And others might even be stressed while doing the wedding preparations. What if you are not yet planning to get married? I believe that at some point in your life, you would have attended or seen one.  And you saw how the newlyweds share their happiest moment with their families and friends.

Remember, it is not about getting married. It is about staying married. Whenever you feel that your relationship is on the rocks, remember your vows during your wedding day. Quoting Matthew 19:6 “…Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” I saw this meme on Facebook, “Marriage doesn’t take two people. It takes three. You cannot have a good marriage if God is not the center of it.”

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please be the center of all relationships. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank You for the relationships that You have brought together. Amen.

13 June, Thursday – Leave and Live

13 June – Memorial for St. Anthony of Padua, priest, religious, doctor

St. Anthony’s (1195-1231) wealthy family wanted him to be a great nobleman, but for the sake of Christ he became a poor Franciscan. When the remains of St. Berard and his companions, the first Franciscan martyrs, were brought to be buried in his church, Anthony was moved to leave his order, enter the Friars Minor, and go to Morocco to evangelize.

Shipwrecked at Sicily, he joined some other brothers who were going to Portiuncula. One day when a scheduled speaker failed to appear, the brothers pressed him into speaking. He impressed them so that he was thereafter constantly travelling, evangelizing, preaching, and teaching theology through Italy and France.

A gifted speaker, he attracted crowds everywhere he went, speaking in multiple tongues. Legend says that even the fish loved to listen. He was a wonder worker. As one of the most beloved saints, his images and statues are found everywhere. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1,3-6

Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds. It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.
Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part. If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

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Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’

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If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven

In life, we are given the gift of knowing what is right and what is wrong. The question is, are we choosing to do the right thing?

There were many times in my life that I questioned myself if I did the right thing. Several years ago, I used to work for a software company. I helped our Sales team convince our potential customers to avail of our product. I always did ‘forced’ work around with our software just to impress our clients. And also, most of the time I ‘oversold’, which closed the deal. Our sales representatives were happy and the boss was happy. I always had mixed feelings about what I did. I was happy because I received commissions for every sale that I had a hand in; but, I was also guilty at the same time because I knew that eventually the customers would have a lot of complaints.

Yes, we always received a lot of complaints after sales because as the clients used the software, there were a lot of promised features that were not included in the availed package. They still had to make additional purchases for this and that just to suit their needs.

It made me sad to think that even though I knew I was not being totally truthful, I continued doing it. I kept convincing myself I was just doing what I was instructed to do and that I was paid by the company to do that.

My own personal beliefs did not matter until I attended a Catholic seminar. There was this module about how we should look at our career. That module reminded us about how everyday, we go to work and it consumes most of our waking hours. That is why our jobs are not just to make a living but also has to be our way of life.

Because of how I felt with work, I began to harbour intentions of leaving it. I prayed to God so hard for guidance as to what to do next. I reflected on everything — how did my current job make me feel? Did it contribute to my relationship with Christ? After a few months of discernment, I left that company. It was not an easy decision. I needed to give up so many things (mostly material) and transition to another career, which was quite challenging because it meant I had to start all over again.

As I reflect on today’s Gospel, I now confidently proclaim that it was worth my sacrifice. The scribes and Pharisees were considered hypocrites. As long as we are on par with them, we are not moving forward towards God.

What are you doing right now? Is it a path towards God or away from Him?

I am still in the process of figuring out if my current career will take me closer to God. I am praying that I am making progress with the decisions that I took and will take.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, in this world full of earthly desires, please grant us the grace to resist temptations and to choose to live a Christian life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father God, for giving each day a new chance for us to renew ourselves and become closer to You.

12 June, Wednesday – What Degree Do You Have?

12 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Before God, we are confident of this through Christ: not that we are qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God. He is the one who has given us the qualifications to be the administrators of this new covenant, which is not a covenant of written letters but of the Spirit: the written letters bring death, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the administering of death, in the written letters engraved on stones, was accompanied by such a brightness that the Israelites could not bear looking at the face of Moses, though it was a brightness that faded, then how much greater will be the brightness that surrounds the administering of the Spirit! For if there was any splendour in administering condemnation, there must be very much greater splendour in administering justification. In fact, compared with this greater splendour, the thing that used to have such splendour now seems to have none; and if what was so temporary had any splendour, there must be much more in what is going to last for ever.

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Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.’

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All our qualifications come from God

I work in a university and we are doing our level best to shake up the higher education landscape with a different pedagogy – one that focuses on applied teaching and learning. Since I joined the institute in Feb 2010, I have been privileged to be part of its evolution and transformation, albeit with the strong support of our far-sighted government. It is a journey that encourages learning and unlearning, and this will not stop even as we prepare to move into a brand new campus in 2023.

Over the past few years, the debate about the paper chase and how universities have to adapt to the disruption in our economic landscape has certainly gained much attention. In today’s age of technological disruption, how relevant is a degree that qualifies someone as being able to study hard and to regurgitate facts in a 3-hour examination? Is that going to be a true marker of one’s ability out in the working world? If a country continues to eschew paper qualifications without considering that many of its citizens may be more suited to a ‘hands on’ approach to learning, what sort of path are we creating?

Educators have begun to accept that no amount of formal teaching is ever going to prepare someone to face a future filled with disruption. The oft-quoted examples of how the founders of Apple, Microsoft and Facebook became successes without completing their degrees do have some bearing when we consider how ‘qualified’ someone is to lead.

Having spent time with a group of young leaders recently, I witnessed first-hand how God ‘qualifies the called’ rather than ‘calls the qualified’. Line up the 12 young adults and you’d think they were just a bunch of normal guys and girls (I think some of us do them the injustice of calling them ‘kids’). Ask them to put a business proposal together and they may flounder. But get them to run a P&W session or a 4-day stay-in retreat for 130 retreatants and sit back and watch the fireworks. I am pretty sure when they received the call initially, they were probably filed with anxiety and self-doubt. But having witnessed the goings-on and being part of their preparation camp, I can only say – “BOOM!” (to quote the now championship-winning coach of the team that just won the European Cup for the 6th time).

Brothers and sisters, God indeed qualifies us to be his saints by virtue of our baptism. Let us not walk in fear, filled with self-doubt but stride forward with our heads held high. Not everyone is given the gift of learning. But we are all given the gift of free will as children of God. Let us choose to answer His call when He makes the connection in our heart. All we have to do is to say ‘Yes’ and surrender the outcome to Him. Who knows? It may be the ‘BOOM’ moment you have been waiting for all your life.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the young adults who will be attending YCER#16 as well as the organisers. Fill them with a double outpouring of your love, joy and peace so that they may encounter you in all your glory.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who have nothing to give except their time and their hearts. We thank you for these selfless warriors who soldier on in spite of their crosses in life.

11 June, Tuesday – On Barnabas

11 June – Feast of St. Barnabas, apostle

St. Barnabas (martyred AD61) founded the Church in Antioch. He was a Levite Jewish convert, coming to the faith soon after Pentecost. Barnabas is mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, and is included among the prophets and doctors at Antioch. Like Paul, Barnabas believed in the Church’s mission to Gentiles, and worked with him in Cyprus and Asia, but split with him over a non-theological matter. At the time of his death he was carrying a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew that he had copied by hand.

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Acts 11:21-26,13:1-3 

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.’
In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

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Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

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Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand

St Barnabas, together with St Paul, evangelized to the earliest Christians and was instrumental in establishing Christianity among the many non-Jewish communities of that time. Barnabas was born to wealthy Jewish parents, and, as was customary amongst privileged young men of his time, was given an education, possibly with the same teacher who had taught St Paul. Scriptural accounts of Barnabas tell of a gentleman, filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on his work of evangelizing. His commitment ran so deep, he donated his inheritance to the early Christian Church. And despite his conservative Jewish roots, Barnabas was a staunch advocate of ‘inclusivity’ in the early Christian Church. He wanted Gentiles to feel like they belonged. This caused a bit of a scandal, that led to the Council of Jerusalem acknowledging that the Old Testament practices did not apply to Christians.

The Romans during the time of St Paul and St Barnabas were deep thinkers and cosmopolitan-minded. Their cities teemed with cultures from across the empire. They believed that commerce flourished only if peace prevailed. That peace hinged on strong leadership at the grassroots levels. Establishing the early Church threatened the uneasy power dynamic between the Romans and the Jews, so Paul and Barnabas found themselves persecuted quite often. In the end, Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, where it is believed he was stoned to death.

By all accounts, St Barnabas’ life was filled with improbabilities. He was the son of a wealthy Jewish man, raised in privilege, shielded from the rough and tumble of daily life by his family’s money and status. Yet he gave this all up to walk with God. He could have had a comfortable, cookie cutter lifestyle, but he eschewed that for the struggle of being a first generation apostle. In the end, he was killed for it. Some would say this was a ‘waste’ of a life. But God uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). What is crazy from a distance makes complete sense when looked at closely, through the filter of faith and the Holy Spirit.

In our dark days of shameless self-promotion, rampant corruption and ruthless partisan politics, let us ponder for a while on a character such as St Barnabas – unassuming, humble, patient, peace-loving, a leader of the people. There are the politicians who scheme and plot to get themselves elected. And then there are leaders like Barnabas. Wouldn’t it be something if out of the dregs of humanity now, someone like such rose to be a leader amongst us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for leaders who are guided by their moral compass, not their financial calculators and personal balance sheets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who selflessly go into public service.

10 June, Monday – Happyness

10 June – Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church

The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on his nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4), the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.

In some ways this was already present in the mind of the Church from the premonitory words of Saint Augustine and Saint Leo the Great. In fact the former says that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church, while the latter says that the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church. These considerations derive from the divine motherhood of Mary and from her intimate union in the work of the Redeemer, which culminated at the hour of the cross.

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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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John 19:25-34

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.
After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said, ‘I am thirsty.’

A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

  It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water.

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It is finished

Over the past weekend, I attended a preparation camp for an upcoming retreat for young adults. A few of us (5 adults) had been approached a few months back by the organisers to help out as facilitators and I gladly said ‘Yes’ because I had nothing on and could take leave for the 4-day/3-night retreat happening this very week.

At the stay-in camp, I got a chance to interact with the young adults in my centre and boy was I blown away. From their sharings to the worship sessions, the way everything was planned and organised, I could tell that this bunch of 50 or so youth were truly fired up with the Holy Spirit in their hearts. This was in spite of their challenges as 25 to 30-something Christians, one or two of whom already in the stage of parenthood.

Having expected nothing from this camp, I came away extremely humbled and envious of these soldiers for Christ. Many of them have been serving in the centre since their teens, some even longer than myself. I shared with one of the leaders that I was envious because they had encountered God so early in their lives (compared to me). So I considered myself merely an infant compared to most of those serving in the team.

And while I discerned that many were struggling with various issues in their lives, they truly gave their all when it came to worship and intercession. The prayers they lifted up for the retreatants, the songs they lifted up in worship to praise the Lord – the feeling of real joy was evident and was reflected in the way everyone came together to pray for those who were hurting, and even in the packing up after the camp came to an end at 4pm on Sunday.

Heading home that evening, I realised that our work was only beginning even though the camp had effectively ‘finished’ for me. Nursing a wounded shoulder (I stumbled and fell awakwardly during a game), I could only marvel at how these young adults, each with their own crosses to bear, were all giving so willingly of themselves to ministering to brothers and sisters who are also struggling but who were yet to encounter God in their lives.

Having been part of the company of young adults whose passion and zeal burn brightly, I can only say that the retreat (please pray for the 131 retreatants who will be coming this Thursday) is in the safe hands of our young leaders, who are more than ready and willing to pass on the love of Christ which they in turn received at their own encounters. They are all sitting at the foot of every cross being shouldered, ready to catch, ready to give loving support and willing to listen and share with similarly wounded souls.

Brothers and sisters, if I could only bottle up the zeal and unabashed joy that each of my fellow service team members exudes during their prep sessions, I would be a millionaire many times over. Truly, God qualifies those He calls and I look forward in anticipation of sharing and being a part of this already life-giving retreat.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the young adults who will be attending YCER#16 as well as the organisers. Fill them with a double outpouring of your love, joy and peace so that they may encounter you in all your glory.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who have nothing to give except their time and their hearts. We thank you for these selfless warriors who soldier on in spite of their crosses in life.

9 June, Sunday – Among Friends

9 June 2019

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Acts 2:1-11

When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.

Now there were devout men living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven, and at this sound they all assembled, each one bewildered to hear these men speaking his own language. They were amazed and astonished. ‘Surely’ they said ‘all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs; we hear them preaching in our own language about the marvels of God.’
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1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13
No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
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John 20:19-23
In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
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All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them

Our Muslim brothers and sisters recently celebrated Hari Raya Puasa, after observing the fasting month of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, which also includes the expression of faith, Salat (praying 5 times a day), Zakat (the right of the poor on the wealth of the financially able), and Haj (once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca).

I try to be sensitive to my Muslim friends’ routine by scheduling dinners around their Iftar, and by not overtly eating and drinking in front of them during the day. Getting them to share their reflections and experiences during the fasting month helps me to get an insight into Islam. By journeying with them during this special time, we build bonds across race and religion that draw us closer as a multi-cultural community. I also really appreciate how my Muslim friends explain the religious and personal significance of fasting to them, and this segues into a lively conversation about our faiths.

When the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles during Pentecost, it was a manifestation of God’s uniting power that fuels our Christian mission. With the Holy Spirit, we can do great things knowing that God is with us and in us, through all our trials and difficulties. This is helpful when many of us are reluctant to publicly proclaim our faith, fearing judgment or questions that we may not be able to answer.

Just as the Apostles were energized during Pentecost, we too can take comfort in the immense love and dynamism that a strong Christian faith provides. Brothers and sisters, I urge you to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps by proudly living your vocation in the face of scrutiny and questions. May we inspire others to do the same by our actions.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer:  Help us dear Lord, to show respect and tolerance for all faiths and beliefs in your world.

Thanksgiving:  We thank you Father, for the gift of the Holy Spirit. It fills us with fervour to serve and glorify you.