All posts by Edith Koh

20 April, Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil

20 April – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Edith (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.

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Origin Story

“God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.”

Today’s first reading harkens back to the Story of Creation.  It is fitting that as we contemplate the life, passion and crucifixion of Christ during the Easter Vigil, we are reminded of how it all began.

In comic book terminology, an origin story is a background narrative that informs readers of the identity and motivations of heroes and villains, and reveals the circumstances under which they gain their superhuman abilities.  Similarly, the Story of Creation in Genesis is a narrative of how nothing throughout the wide extent of nature has originated by chance but by the hands of the Creator.  From creating light and dividing light from darkness, God proceeds to tend to his creation by filling the earth with flora and fauna, before finally creating man in his own image.  It struck me how God methodically worked day by day – putting in the basics, seeing that it was good, before adding onto His creation.  God could have finished His work of creation at one go, yet He chose to phase it out.  This is perhaps telling of how He works in our lives as well.

Personally, this period of Lent has been a journey of searching and exploration.  There have been moments of darkness and doubt, akin to groping in the dark.  Each time I seem to gain some semblance of clarity, the goalpost would shift somewhat.  It feels like a never-ending journey where the GPS is constantly reconfigured to a changing destination.  While Carrie Underwood may have sung “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, this backseat driver wants to know where she is going!

Yet, we are reminded that God has a beautiful plan for each of us.  An ex-colleague contacted me out of the blue, and shared about his calling in long-term mission work.  He and his wife, already high-flyers in their own right, had secured their postgraduate scholarships and places in prestigious universities, so one can imagine how God’s calling truly upended their plans!  Magically, everything fell into place once they responded to the calling, and they are soon headed to Nepal.  Through his testimony, I am reminded that while God always has a plan, He usually gives just enough light to take the next step.

As we await the coming of the risen Christ, let us take heart that God our Creator has planned everything from the beginning, and continues to be with us even in our darkest moments.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: God, let us never forget that You are the wonderful Creator and that You make all things new.  Walk with us in our darkest moments, as we trust in Your plan for us.      

Thanksgiving: Father God, You sent Your Son to die for us so that we may have a personal relationship with You.  Thank You for Your gift of new life. 

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Providence

On the mountain the Lord provides

In this passage, we read about Abraham’s obedience, even when God commanded him to offer up his beloved son, Isaac, as sacrifice.  It was revealed that God was in fact testing Abraham, and provided a ram caught by the horns in the bushes, which served as Isaac’s replacement.  In return, God blessed Abraham abundantly for his faithfulness.

It must have been a tremendous struggle for Abraham to say yes and follow through with God’s command.  Seeing that Abraham pleaded with God against the destruction of Sodom, I wonder if he had similarly begged God to let Isaac live.  Failing which, I wonder if Abraham had any “back-up” plan.  Did he consider fleeing with his family from the will of God?  Did he think about smuggling a sheep, or maybe a couple of turtle doves for his journey up the mountain of Moriah?  Since he made the journey with Isaac and two of his servants, wasn’t he tempted to use one of the servants to replace Isaac?  In the three-day journey, there would have been plenty of opportunities for Abraham to lose his nerve and not fulfil God’s will.  Yet Abraham stayed true to his word, and God, in his mercy, more than provided.

Abraham’s response brings to mind an anecdote from the book “With Open Hands”, Henri Nouwen’s book on prayer.  Nouwen narrates the story of a hysterical elderly woman bought to a psychiatric centre.  As her behaviour posed a danger to herself and others around her, the doctors had to take everything from her.  But there was one coin, her last possession, which she gripped in her fist and refused to surrender.  It was as though she would lose her very self in giving up the coin.  I am reminded of how often I try to will God to answer my prayers the way I want them.  I fear letting go of the present, preferring to stay within the comfort zone which I may not be fully satisfied with, rather than move towards a future which holds both uncertainty and promise.

Yes the fear is real.  But let us not be afraid, for God wants to enter our most intimate space.  He invites us to let go of what we are clinging onto so anxiously.  This was God’s test for Abraham, and this is His invitation to us today.  More than two thousand years ago, God sent his only Son as sacrifice to redeem us and provide for our salvation. If we are willing to surrender what little we have to God, we can also trust that His providence will prevail.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: Dear God, please help me discover that I am not what I own but what you want to give me – unconditional and everlasting love.      

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for Your providence.  Grant me the gift of faith to do Your will, so that I may be a visible sign of Your love.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Tools of the Trade

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name

Slippery socks in shifty shoes, buggy software, loose strings, and bent spatulas. Niggling things that get in the way of what we set out to do. When equipment fails and the tools that we trust let us down, nothing gets done. We feel discouraged, bemoan wasted opportunities and at worst, blame ourselves.

A pair of boots I owned was not giving me the stability that I needed on my snowboard. I tightened the laces, wore thicker socks, and strapped on my bindings as tightly as possible. But yet, my foot kept moving around. I was about to buy a different, stiffer pair but that’s when ingenuity struck. Taping a few pieces of foam around my heel locked my foot in place, and made all the difference.

Sometimes we can’t choose our gear; we have to play the hand that we’re dealt. But on most occasions, we do have more control than we think. Control to gear-up and face challenges head on. Control to make wise choices about the tools we use and the people on our team.

Just as Jesus picked his disciples, how David wielded his catapult, and how Christians grow in the word of God, we have to discern what best serves us in our struggle to live beautiful and bountiful lives.  We can pray, go for adoration, speak to wise friends, or trust our conscience. We will do and choose what work best, in pursuit of the greater glory of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: We ask for God to give us signs and symbols to light our paths.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for never forsaking us and for your perfect timing in all our life circumstances.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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What’s in a Name?

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name

Title-inflation is all the rage these days. CEOs, Directors, Leaders, and Transformationists abound on LinkedIn. While looking the part and crafting an image may be part of the traditional corporate battlefield, living up to those titles is the hardest component of personifying leadership.

Years ago when I had just started my career, a boss of mine once wisely said that he would have succeeded once the office could function without him. At the time I thought that it would be quite a quizzical use of money to pay a redudant employee. However, his words held true. Because of his demands for high standards, his sterling example, and his dedication to mentoring, our office was motivated to work hard and not let him down. He instilled a strong sense of mission in us and true enough, everything simply just worked regardless of whether he was around.

To be worthy of our names and to earn the respect of our flock, we need to do more than bestow ourselves with ranks or descriptors. We have to live our lives in ways worthy of emulation, and live for something bigger than ourselves. Jesus did just as such and is rightfully called our Lord.

I’ve been blessed to have had humble yet amazingly capable bosses who have shown me how heavy the mantle of leadership is. As I lead in, and out, of the workplace, I know that my title means nothing without hard work and Christian values underwriting my daily living. For all of you in positions of leadership (or with fancy titles), I ask that you consider how the title has shaped you, and how you will breathe renewed fervor into your roles.

Someone is surely watching, and waiting to be inspired.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Light in us, dear Lord, a fire of love for your people.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God for giving us Jesus as the perfect example of human existence.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Over and over and over again

The favors of the Lord are not exhausted

How meaningful these words are, especially in knowing how often I ask God for the same thing… over and over and over again. Whether it is asking His forgiveness, the strength to ‘get through’, the ability to see and hear His guidance, or countless other repetitive prayers.

What peace I find in knowing that His favors do not run out. His favors are not measured out. His favors are not counted. His favors are not limited, even by my sins. His favors truly are inexhaustible…and as the verse continues, ‘…His mercies are not spent’.  He wants us to come to Him with everything and simply ASK. He wants to give us favor and His mercy.

If you are like me, then you have people in your life who you offer a ‘limit’ to –- a limit on YOUR time, a limit on YOUR compassion, a limit on YOUR love. These are the people who get on your nerves, the people who keep doing it wrong, the people who talk too much, or talk too much about things you don’t know or care about, or the people who don’t talk enough, and of course, the people who are not enough like you.

There is such favor in simply knowing HIS love and acceptance of us is not like ours –- He is not conditional. He never exhausts in loving us, despite our unloving nature. He never exhausts in wanting to be wholly with us, despite our hiding from Him. He never exhausts in calling us to Him, tarnished and sinful as we are, He has a place for us. Our true home is with Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Jesus, my desire is to walk in your footsteps, I know you have called me to love like You.  Help me to be limitless in my love for all those you allow in my space. Help me to look only for your face in all those I see.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for your inexhaustible favor, for your never ending mercies. Thank you for calling me, for loving me and for allowing me to return to you time and time again.

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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Knowing the Father

Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us

Easter vigil is special for me this year, the familiar gospel story of Jesus’s resurrection taking on even greater meaning than usual. I have spent the first three months of 2019 fighting leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow that can be life-threatening if left untreated. By the grace of God, the disease has now gone into remission and a stem cell transplant that would provide a more lasting cure successfully carried out. All in time for Easter.

I will never forget how tough the journey was, or how desperately I clung on to God when the chemotherapy or radiotherapy gave rise to all sorts of side effects. The tougher the treatment, the harder I clung on to God. I have come to understand that there is very little that we can do when it comes to illnesses and disease. In fact, there is absolutely nothing we can do. I realised very early on in the treatment that only God could cure me, and that it was futile for me to do anything, except to trust in God and let Him heal me.

More importantly, I also came to see that the cancer was part of God’s plan for me. The suffering was not for nothing. Rather, in the depths of my suffering, I became closer to God through prayer. While illnesses and other unexpected circumstances can often take us by surprise, our response to such difficult times should not vary. Specifically, we should pray and cling every closer to our God. This is why the readings say that we are blessed, “for what pleases God is known to us”.

On this Easter vigil, let us draw closer to our God, the God who has gone to the cross for us and who will now arise from the tomb to save us. Let us love and praise Him as the gospels have taught us to. And should words fail us, I have often found it enough to just close my eyes and say: Jesus, I love You.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Dear Father, we pray that you will continue to grant Your mercy and comfort to all who are sick. We pray especially for all the little children who are stricken with cancer. We pray that You will show us, amid our physical suffering, that Your saving grace is enough to tide us through all hard times.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for healing and saving us, even when we are often unworthy. Thank you for giving us hope in our darkest hours, and life in the face of death.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Eternal Love

You shall be my people, and I will be your God

One of the most memorable times of a being a pet owner is when the owner chooses the name for the pet. To give a name to an animal means the individual is claiming ownership of the person. The readings of today look and remind us of how God is choosing to re-claim us as his children through the pouring of clean water over the people of Israel.

Sin has a way of making us ‘bone-dry’ – a lack of nourishment from the love of God. Indeed it is this issue which troubles a lot of people because they often feel that God is distant and they lack a sense of communication with God. Perhaps it will be good for us to consider what it is that is required from each one of us from God. Could it be a sense of entitlement where we expect God to demonstrate to us his existence? Continuing the analogy above, does the pet owner need to justify his existence to the pet?

Yet God’s ways are not our ways. He does not seek to demonstrate that he is the boss of our lives, but wants to be our father. A person who cares for us and shows us what it means to be loved. Indeed, God is love. This means that all of us can return to him without any fear of reprimand. The readings in the Easter Vigil remind us of the entire history of God’s love as written in the Bible. God wants us to love Him and he has already made the first step.

Brothers and sisters, what would be our response?

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Dear God, give us the grace to acknowledge our own shortcomings.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who continue to love us.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Dying to Self

When he died, he died, once for all, to sin

“Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die, it remains but a single grain with no life…”. So goes the lyrics of a popular traditional hymn, based on John 12:24. How does a grain ‘die’? Under the right conditions for germination, the cotyledons, or seed leaves, will gradually shrink as the nutrients inside are used up by the developing embryo.

So how should we die to ourselves so that we might have life? What is it that must be used up? In a recent homily, Archbishop William Goh spoke about how pride prevents us from dying to ourselves. The inability to forgive, the clinging on to the hurt and injustice done to oneself, the placing of self before others. These are signs of dysfunctional seed leaves. Without the expenditure of the nutrients, there can be no new life.

I am presently struggling with a self-imposed burden of hurt and disappointment. It is easy to say and think that I should let it go, but I do wonder if I really want to. Although the resulting feeling is a very unpleasant one, there is something oddly appealing about the thought that I am in the right and the person is in the wrong. To let go of the burden and try something called forgiveness seems to be giving out a signal that it is okay to be in the wrong. How can forgiveness help the person get better? What’s more, I sense a great need to protect myself from future episodes of the person’s wrongdoing that I am sure will bring me down a spiral of shock and disappointment again. But is this what dying to oneself is about? Using up my own precious emotional resources and risk hurting my well-being in the name of love for another? If so, this is a very challenging ‘yes’ to give to the Lord.

Following Christ entails a great deal of commitment to keep to the narrow path. Jesus’ teachings are demanding in that we are constantly challenged to make sacrifices and go against our natural instinct of self-preservation. As we celebrate the triumph of Jesus over sin and death this Easter, let us also pray for and seek the courage necessary to surrender our beings to God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer:  We pray for the grace and strength to love, in spite of ourselves.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many times when others forgave us for our iniquities.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Because He Lives

Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?

There is a certain blindness that is more debilitating than physical blindness – it is spiritual blindness. One could be staring at the same scene as other witnesses, at the same time, and have a completely different perspective. While that is normal, as Christ-believers, we have been graced with a spiritual lens to understand the difficult situations we find ourselves in.

What appears to be good, could turn for bad. What appears to be bad, could easily turn for good. It matters more that we pray for God’s grace to see the physical reality with eyes of eternity.

In the Gospel, the women were making their way to Jesus’ tomb to prepare his body for a burial ritual. But the empty tomb and bare stone on which Jesus’ body once lay, gravely shocked them. The angels who appeared were spiritual signposts pointing the women towards their memory of Christ’s prophetic words:

Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?’ And they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6-7)

Then Peter rushes to the tomb to verify the women’s words. When he arrived, he looked on the ground and saw the evidence of this mystery – the unravelled binding cloths strewn on the ground. Unlike the other apostles who heard the same account by the women, Peter chose to believe what he heard.

With God, many incredulous realities in our daily lives can become a handle with which we hold on to His promise. I use the phrase ‘incredulous realities’ to refer to amazing miracles, as well as, devastating tragedies. As today’s Gospel passage goes, Christ’s death and disappearance of his body broke the hearts of the women. It also breaks them away from reality and ritual.

When we are broken down and broken apart, it definitely feels like a part of us has died. At the same time, with God in our hearts, and the fiery veil of the Holy Spirit, we can look at the mess before us, and still trust in the brilliant radiance of Christ’s resurrection. Lately, the ones I love and the people closest to me have repeatedly broken my heart with hurtful words and deeds. Many things are unresolved and reconciliation seems a far-off dream. But like the women were told, I choose to remember the many signposts God has given me of Christ redeeming life’s mess – and I will believe.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the wisdom to see past present pain into tomorrow’s victory, because you have risen and you have conquered sin and disappointment.

Thanksgiving: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, I know, He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

19 April, Good Friday – All of our Crosses

19 April 2019

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

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John 18:1-19:42
 
Key: N. Narrator. ? Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

  N. Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They answered,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. He said,
  ? I am he.
  N. Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They said,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? I have told you that I am he. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.
  N. This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’
  Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter,
  ? Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
  N. The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’
  Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter,
  O. Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?
  N. He answered,
  O. I am not.
  N. Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.
  The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered,
  ? I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.
  N. At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying,
  O. Is that the way to answer the high priest?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?
  N. Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
  As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him,
  O. Aren’t you another of his disciples?
  N. He denied it, saying,
  O. I am not.
  N. One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
  O. Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?
  N. Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.
  They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said,
  O. What charge do you bring against this man?
  N. They replied,
  C. If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.
  N. The Jews answered,
  C. We are not allowed to put a man to death.
  N. This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
  So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, and asked,
  O. Are you the king of the Jews?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. So you are a king, then?
  N. Jesus answered,
  ? It is you who say it. Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Truth? What is that?
  N. and with that he went out again to the Jews and said,
  O. I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?
  N. At this they shouted:
  C. Not this man, but Barabbas.
  N. Barabbas was a brigand.
  Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying,
  C. Hail, king of the Jews!
  N. and they slapped him in the face.
  Pilate came outside again and said to them,
  O. Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.
  N. Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said,
  O. Here is the man.
  N. When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted,
  C. Crucify him! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.
  N. The Jews replied,
  C. We have a Law, and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.
  N. When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus
  O. Where do you come from?
  N. But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him,
  O. Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.
  N. From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted,
  C. If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.
  N. Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. Pilate said to the Jews,
  O. Here is your king.
  N. They said,
  C. Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Do you want me to crucify your king?
  N. The chief priests answered,
  C. We have no king except Caesar.
  N. So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
  They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate,
  C. You should not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said: “I am King of the Jews.”’
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. What I have written, I have written.
  N. When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another,
  C. Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.
  N. In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
  They shared out my clothing among them.
  They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.
  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.
  N. Then to the disciple he said,
  ? This is your mother.
  N. 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.
  N. 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;
  N. and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
  Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
  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. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
  Not one bone of his will be broken;
and again, in another place scripture says:
  They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.

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Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala

For a lot of us, tonight is traditionally the night that the Passion of Christ is staged at church by the younger members of our parish. Those of us who have young children in our families will typically jostle for good seats. We crane our necks, stick our mobile recording devices in people’s faces, all to get a good shot of our kids in Easter costume. The pageantry of the Passion almost supersedes its sombre message. This familiar story takes on new meaning when staged by our young. Our hearts are filled with love as we watch them bring it to life.

But what must John, Jesus’ mother Mary, his aunt Salome, Mary of Clopas and Mary of Magdala have felt watching it in real time at the foot of Jesus’ cross? Love, heartbreak, horror, hopelessness, despair, confusion…? How could this be the fulfilment of God’s plan? Where was the happy ending? Surely it couldn’t be this?

The Passion story has meant different things to me as I’ve grown older. The layers have begun to peel back and I’ve found myself looking with fresh eyes at the other characters that make up the Easter story. And now that I am an aunt and have watched my sister blossom into a loving mother, I’ve begun to wonder about the women who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Is this what family love is about? How strong must be their devotion to Jesus and to each other, that they would stay till the very end. This is what steadfast love looks like – holding on to each other through the gut-wrenching, bone-crushing gruesomeness. Holding on, despite their own fear, despite the whip of the Roman lash, the wild screaming of the mob, the heat, the stench of the dirt and blood. Yet they prevailed. This is what carrying your cross looks like.

Though Jesus is the one overtly carrying a cross in this story, everyone else is in some way, carrying one too. At that moment, Mary’s cross was her motherhood, that she was the mother of Christ. John, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdala’s cross was that of devoted discipleship. Pilate’s cross was self-preservation – he let Jesus die to appease the mob and save his own skin. Joseph of Arimathea’s cross was redemption from his wealth – he used his vast resources and stature in the community to give Jesus a dignified burial. Peter’s cross was Christ’s forgiveness despite Peter’s denial of him. Everyone is carrying a cross in this story. And if we look and listen very closely, we’ll be able to see ourselves in each of their stories. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for steadfastness and tenacity, as we pick up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s love and mercy, in that when we were sinners, He deemed us enough and sent his beloved Son to redeem us. 

18 April, Thursday (Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper) – Participation not Perfection

18 April 2019

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Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord. That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

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 John 13:1-15
 

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

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Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet

Over the Christmas season last year, I hosted my husband’s family at our house for a week. Because I ran myself to the ground the year before trying to take care of every small detail, my husband suggested that this time, I learn to be more ‘collaborative’, to allow others to ‘share in the joy of making Christmas a success’ (his words, not mine!). I argued that it was a pointless exercise, that no one would be able to do things as efficiently as I would, that they would mess it up and I would have to spend even more time fixing it. He argued that while it might be the case, everyone would feel like they had contributed, even if the end result wasn’t perfect. He argued that it was less important for things to be perfect, it was a nobler ideal that people felt they had participated, that they had played a part in making Christmas a success.

So we tried it his way. I let his family ‘collaborate’ even as I ‘helicopter-hovered’ as discreetly as I could. And I have to say… my husband was right!! The feeling of love, goodwill, joy and family warmth that emanated over the week was worth the less than perfect end result. Everyone had a great time, despite all my hovering!

How is this relevant to the gospel today? As much as we refuse to admit it, most of us are control freaks. We think that we’re the bee’s knees, that no one can do a better job of something than us. We shun help, disdain it, decline it condescendingly or worse, feel offended by it – “Why, do YOU think that I can’t figure it out for myself? Are YOU trying to tell ME how to do things?” A lot of this is rooted in self-pride – pride in our abilities, pride in our efficiency, pride in our perceived martyrdom. It’s a form of affirmation, this delusion that no one can do it better than we can. But in our hastiness to seize the spotlight for ourselves, we rob others of the chance to serve. Like Peter, we proclaim, “You will never wash my feet”. You will never serve me! I won’t allow it! But really, who are we to decide who gets to serve? Who are we to decide what is good enough? Don’t we also deny ourselves the chance to be loved, to be taken care of, when we are disdainful of a helping hand? Might joy and love not be multiplied if we all collaborated?

As we attend this evening’s mass and look upon the symbolism of the washing of feet, let us call to mind all the times we turned down a helping hand because we didn’t think someone was good enough, and ask the Lord’s forgiveness for our pride, our selfish vanity and foolishness. It is not the end result that matters, what’s more important is how we all got there together. Perfection is not nearly as noble an ideal as participation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience, the humility and the awareness to involve others in our lives and in the work of God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the times we have been helped, for all the times we have stood on the shoulders of others, and for all the opportunities that God has given us to be that shoulder for someone to stand on. 

18 April, Thursday (Chrism mass) – Own The Moment

18 April 2019

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Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

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Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

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Luke 4:16-21
Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

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You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God shall you be called

How do we discern what God’s plan is for us? Does that plan change as we move through our life’s cycle? Some people are dutiful daughters, loving wives and doting grandmothers, but what if we are in one of those non-traditional families and don’t have children of our own? What roles do we play then? I’ve found myself mulling this over a lot as we approach the home stretch of Holy Week. I feel an urgency to figure this out because if I don’t, then it would be as if I had squandered yet another Lent. It would be as if I had learned nothing. I still don’t know what God wants for me. That failure to bear fruit is causing me a lot of anxiety.

The confidence with which Jesus embraces his purpose in today’s gospel reading is truly humbling. It takes courage to recognize and embrace your cause, courage which I clearly haven’t found. In his shoes, I would never have been so bold. I would have been intimidated by the expensive trappings of the temple, the rustle of the high priests’ robes as they walked, the scale of the place and all it symbolized in Jewish culture. I would have been overwhelmed by the weight of all that history, the expectations of generations of Jewish prophecy. I would have fretted over whether I was good enough, whether I would ever be good enough. I would have been too afraid to own the moment, as Jesus did.

And maybe that’s my problem. Fear. I am afraid to own my moment. I’m afraid to embrace my cause. I’m afraid to disappoint all the people who expect things from me, that I will upset their well-laid plans, if I stand up for myself. I don’t want to rock the boat with anyone. I tell myself that I’m trying to keep the peace but fear of confrontation is not the same as peacekeeping. No one succeeds in trying to please everyone. There is no happiness in pandering to everybody’s expectations of us. And perhaps that’s why I still haven’t figured it out — because I’ve lost sight of the only opinion that matters. God’s.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom and fortitude to see the long view and discern God’s purpose for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s mercy and the expansiveness of His love, that despite our unworthiness, He deemed us enough for Him.

17 April, Wednesday – The Betrayal

17 April 2019

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Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

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Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

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Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

I wonder how Judas must have been feeling when he said “Surely not I, Rabbi?”, and to think that Jesus wouldn’t already know?

I think the many times that I’ve sinned, sometimes maybe I’m more willing to sin because I haven’t faced the consequences or may have forgotten what it means to go against Christ. Such times are filled with guilt, remorse, regret, where I can’t be myself, where I’m not at peace with myself, where I’m not free. I add on to my burdens and it weighs down on my shoulders to know that I’m such a person and, deep down in my heart, I know that I’ve turned away from the person that Christ desires for me to be. It affects me and, in turn, affects the people around me.

I wonder whether Judas, Peter or anyone who has turned their backs against Christ may and probably would have experienced these feelings as well. We are not able to change what we have done but what we are able to do is to repent and return to Christ. This is usually the season where the church is packed, suddenly there is no space to sit or even to stand on services like Good Friday or Easter Vigil.

The challenge is for us not to make it an adhoc experience but a call to conversion. A betrayal would occur because we choose one thing over another, in this case, Judas chose the thirty pieces of silver over Jesus. And like the many times that we sin, it’s because we also choose something over Jesus, whether pleasure, work, friends, parties, money or fame. This conversion requires us to realign our mission and purpose to make Jesus the centre of our lives, to allow all that we do and say to flow from and through Him.

Just as the betrayal, though led to the death of Christ, it also led to His resurrection and hence our salvation. The betrayal isn’t the end — we do not need to condemn ourselves or always live in shame, for Christ is ever ready to forgive us, as long as we first learn to forgive ourselves and others, to embrace all that we’ve done wrong to ensure we do not repeat our mistakes. There is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to look ahead instead of behind, we need to move towards the light instead of remaining in darkness, we need to reclaim our identity instead of allowing the world to decide for us. We need courage and faith instead of money and freedom. We need to live instead of survive.

We need Jesus. Amen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we may have your strength to resist and fight temptations. Help us to always turn and look to you. Help us not be distracted by what is seemingly good and pleasurable. Help us to not just focus on the worldly but the eternal. Help us in our conversion, that our hearts may be like yours.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for this hope that you give, to know that there is salvation. Thank you for your love. Amen.

16 April, Tuesday – Glory of Christ

16 April 2019

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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

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John 13:21-33,36-38

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.

 When he had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,

and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,

where I am going, you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’

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Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified

Today we hear of the how and who was to betray Jesus. In fact, I believe that all of us would have betrayed Him before by sinning against Him. There are times also when we sin because of the glory that we want to attain for ourselves. Many times, it seems reasonable and fair that we are ‘rewarded’ for the hard work and hours of service that we have given to Christ. It seems that even after everything that we have done, instead of being appreciative, others merely feedback how we are not good enough.

It is difficult but, like Jesus, we need to once again understand our mission and who it is we are serving. Even after everything that Jesus had done for Judas, even after all the preaching and miracles that Judas had seen and heard first hand from Jesus, it wasn’t enough for Judas; he did not hesitate in betraying Jesus. Thus, we see the power of money, fame and pride that causes us to betray Jesus, that causes us to sin. It’s not just solely about the severity of the sin or betrayal, but we see that even Peter’s denial of Jesus is as equally hurtful and a sin itself. There are times when I’ve seen others comparing their sins, “at least my sin is not as bad as yours”, “you make me feel less of a sinner”, what should matter is that we have sinned against God and that is a betrayal in itself, regardless of how small or big it seems to be.

But the glory of Christ is different from the glory that man desires. We read of how God is glorified by the death of Jesus. How can something so painful, humiliating and so wrong be something that brings glory? The glory of Christ is such that even on the cross, Jesus cries to ask for forgiveness for all of us, for we do not know what we are doing. The glory is in accomplishing the mission that His Father has set for Him. The glory is in glorifying God.

God understands that in doing His mission, we will be persecuted, misunderstood, even at times humiliated and He knows because He himself has gone through such. He promises us, as in the first reading, that He has a plan for each and every one of us and that He is with us each step of the way. May we always be aware of His presence among us, to listen to his voice, that in all things that we do and say, it is for His glory and His glory alone. Amen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

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: Thank you Jesus, for teaching us Your way, what it means to love and forgive. Thank you for showing us the way. May we strive and learn to be like you, glorying Our Father in all that we say and do.

15 April, Monday – Growing in Riches

15 April 2019

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Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

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John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

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You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me

Today, the message that I’ve gotten out of the readings is that of growing in riches. In our present world, we focus on growing in riches, in terms of financially, growing in reputation such as to seemingly be able to live a ‘comfortable’ and secured life in the future.

What is comfortable? What is secure? In today’s Gospel, we read of how the chief priests planned to put Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, to death as many of the Jews were leaving them and following Jesus. And in contrast, we see Mary using costly perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet with her hair. We even hear of how Judas Iscariot feels that the expensive perfume should be sold and money given to the poor.

Sometimes, we can be too focused on the ‘mission’ that we are blinded and fail to acknowledge the giver of the mission in the first place. In losing the reason why we are alive, we then equate it to the need to grow in riches because we want to lead a comfortable and secure life. While it is important that we look after our lives financially, the true growth — which is our mission — is to be a witness and a disciple of Jesus, to lead all to Him. We will then focus on growing in riches, as in the first reading, growing in relationship with Christ and His people, growing in faith, growing in humility, growing in sight, in listening and in formation to understand and live out our mission better.

Recently, I was asked to lead a short sharing about the raising of Lazarus from the dead and on that day itself, I felt out of sorts and wasn’t in a good disposition — my mind and heart were all over the place. It was just minutes before my sharing that I prayed. Lord, I’m sorry and I am a sinner, I do not deserve this opportunity but the people who will be hearing the sharing deserve to know of your love, how great you are and to know you are real. Please take over me. And when it was time, it was He who led the sharing and the words from my own mouth even inspired me. Thank you Jesus. I grew.

As we continue to prepare our hearts for His passion, death and resurrection this week, may we also continue to grow in the riches of our faith, that we may be poor in spirit, in order to be rich in you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that you continue to reveal yourself to us and lead us to the path that leads to you. Help us to be constantly reminded of our call as your disciples and not be distracted by the missions of the world.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for this time of prayer, thank you for allowing us to go deeper into your word. Thank you for being there especially in our times of need.

14 April, Sunday – My Lord, my King

14 April 2019

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Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

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Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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Luke 22:14-23:56

Key: N. Narrator. J. Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

  N. When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them,
  J. I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
  N. Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said,
  J. Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.
  N. Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying,
  J. This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me.
  N. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said,
  J. This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.
  And yet, here with me on the table is the hand of the man who betrays me. The Son of Man does indeed go to his fate even as it has been decreed, but alas for that man by whom he is betrayed!
  N. And they began to ask one another which of them it could be who was to do this thing.
  A dispute arose also between them about which should be reckoned the greatest, but he said to them,
  J. Among pagans it is the kings who lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. This must not happen with you. No; the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? Yet here am I among you as one who serves!
  You are the men who have stood by me faithfully in my trials; and now I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father conferred one on me: you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
  Simon, Simon! Satan, you must know, has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.
  N. He answered,
  O. Lord, I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death.
  N. Jesus replied,
  J. I tell you, Peter, by the time the cock crows today you will have denied three times that you know me.
  N. He said to them,
  J. When I sent you out without purse or haversack or sandals, were you short of anything?
  N. They answered,
  C. No.
  N. He said to them,
  J. But now if you have a purse, take it; if you have a haversack, do the same; if you have no sword, sell your cloak and buy one, because I tell you these words of scripture have to be fulfilled in me: He let himself be taken for a criminal. Yes, what scripture says about me is even now reaching its fulfilment.
  N. They said,
  C. Lord, there are two swords here now.
  N. He said to them,
  J. That is enough!
  N. He then left to make his way as usual to the Mount of Olives, with the disciples following. When they reached the place he said to them,
  J. Pray not to be put to the test.
  N. Then he withdrew from them, about a stone’s throw away, and knelt down and prayed, saying,
  J. Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.
  N. Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength. In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
  When he rose from prayer he went to the disciples and found them sleeping for sheer grief. He said to them,
  J. Why are you asleep? Get up and pray not to be put to the test.
  N. He was still speaking when a number of men appeared, and at the head of them the man called Judas, one of the Twelve, who went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said,
  J. Judas, are you betraying the son of Man with a kiss?
  N. His followers, seeing what was happening, said,
  C. Lord, shall we use our swords?
  N. And one of them struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. But at this Jesus spoke:
  J. Leave off! That will do!
  N. And touching the man’s ear he healed him.
  Then Jesus spoke to the chief priests and captains of the Temple guard and elders who had come for him. He said,
  J. Am I a brigand, that you had to set out with swords and clubs? When I was among you in the Temple day after day you never moved to lay hands on me. But this is your hour; this is the reign of darkness.
  N. They seized him then and led him away, and they took him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance. They had lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and Peter sat down among them, and as he was sitting there by the blaze a servant-girl saw him, peered at him, and said,
  O. This person was with him too.
  N. But he denied it.
  O. Woman, I do not know him.
  N. Shortly afterwards someone else saw him and said,
  O. You are another of them.
  N. But Peter replied,
  O. I am not, my friend.
  N. About an hour later another man insisted, saying,
  O. This fellow was certainly with him. Why, he is a Galilean.
  N. Peter said,
  O. My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.
  N. At that instant, while he was still speaking, the cock crew, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered what the Lord had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will have disowned me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
  Meanwhile the men who guarded Jesus were mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying,
  C. Play the prophet. Who hit you then?
  N. And they continued heaping insults on him.
  When day broke there was a meeting of the elders of the people, attended by the chief priests and scribes. He was brought before their council, and they said to him,
  C. If you are the Christ, tell us.
  N. He replied,
  ? If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God.
  N. Then they all said,
  C. So you are the Son of God then?
  N. He answered:
  J. It is you who say I am.
  N. They said,
  C. What need of witnesses have we now? We have heard it for ourselves from his own lips.
  N. The whole assembly then rose, and they brought him before Pilate.
  They began their accusation by saying,
  C. We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king.
  N. Pilate put to him this question:
  O. Are you the king of the Jews?
  N. He replied,
  J. It is you who say it.
  N. Pilate then said to the chief priests and the crowd,
  O. I find no case against this man.
  N. But they persisted,
  C. He is inflaming the people with his teaching all over Judaea; it has come all the way from Galilee, where he started, down to here.
  N. When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man were a Galilean; and finding that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction he passed him over to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
  Herod was delighted to see Jesus; he had heard about him and had been wanting for a long time to set eyes on him; moreover, he was hoping to see some miracle worked by him. So he questioned him at some length; but without getting any reply. Meanwhile the chief priests and the scribes were there, violently pressing their accusations. Then Herod, together with his guards, treated him with contempt and made fun of him; he put a rich cloak on him and sent him back to Pilate. And though Herod and Pilate had been enemies before, they were reconciled that same day.
  Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leading men and the people. He said,
  O. You brought this man before me as a political agitator. Now I have gone into the matter myself in your presence and found no case against the man in respect of all the charges you bring against him. Nor has Herod either, since he has sent him back to us. As you can see, the man has done nothing that deserves death, So I shall have him flogged and then let him go.
  N. But as one man they howled,
  C. Away with him! Give us Barabbas!
  N. (This man had been thrown into prison for causing a riot in the city and for murder.)
  Pilate was anxious to set Jesus free and addressed them again, but they shouted back,
  C. Crucify him! Crucify him!
  N. And for the third time he spoke to them,
  O. Why? What harm has this man done? I have found no case against him that deserves death, so I shall have him punished and then let him go.
  N. But they kept on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he should be crucified. And their shouts were growing louder.
  Pilate then gave his verdict: their demand was to be granted. He released the man they asked for, who had been imprisoned for rioting and murder, and handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they pleased.
  As they were leading him away they seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus. Large numbers of people followed him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said,
  J. Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say, ‘Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’; to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?
  N. Now with him they were also leading out two other criminals to be executed.
  When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him there and the two criminals also, one on the right, the other on the left. Jesus said,
  J. Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
  N. Then they cast lots to share out his clothing.
  The people stayed there watching him. As for the leaders, they jeered at him, saying,
  C. He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.
  N. The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said,
  C. If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.
  N. Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
  One of the criminals hanging there abused him, saying,
  O. Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well.
  N. But the other spoke up and rebuked him:
  O. Have you no fear of God at all? You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
  N. He replied,
  J. Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise.
  N. It was now about the sixth hour and, with the sun eclipsed, a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. The veil of the Temple was torn right down the middle; and when Jesus had cried out in a loud voice, he said,
  J. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
  N. With these words he breathed his last.
  All kneel and pause a moment
  When the centurion saw what had taken place, he gave praise to God and said,
  O. This was a great and good man.
  N. And when all the people who had gathered for the spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating their breasts.
  All his friends stood at a distance; so also did the women who had accompanied him from Galilee, and they saw all this happen.
  Then a member of the council arrived, an upright and virtuous man named Joseph. He had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out. He came from Arimathaea, a Jewish town, and he lived in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He then took it down, wrapped it in a shroud and put him in a tomb which was hewn in stone in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day and the sabbath was imminent.
  Meanwhile the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus were following behind. They took note of the tomb and of the position of the body.
  Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath day they rested, as the Law required.

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And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names

And so, we enter Holy Week. Possibly the only week where we experience from a humiliating and painful suffering to redemption and a resounding victory over death. We read of the Passion of Christ today, also possibly the most read ‘story’ and the one we remember most clearly, especially in this season. But today, more than focusing on the feelings involved, the sins we have committed and how we nailed Christ to the cross, I would like to share on who Christ was and is, throughout all this time. The references come from the first and second readings.

In the first reading, we get a glimpse of who God is, “for me to know how to give a word of comfort to the weary”, “to listen like a disciple”, “I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spittle” for “Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me… I shall not be put to shame”. The work of God and serving Him is greater than the persecutions that will come our way. Already we know that serving God comes with trials, sacrifices and burdens that seem to take a toll on us, maybe even far more than if we do not serve Him at all. Many times we compare ourselves to others and feel that we are not ‘rewarded’ enough for the work that we put in. Well, we know what Jesus went through when He came to serve His Father.

In the second reading, we read how Christ being in the form of God, did not consider His equality but gave fully of Himself for undeserving men and women like you and me, and accepted death on the cross. This is a God that placed and places us far beyond our wrongdoings, places us far beyond the hurts and pains and sins that we have committed against Him. He even placed us higher than Himself when He paid the price for us.

Whether it’s entering Jerusalem on a donkey, born in a manger, more than the palms that we are waving today, may we understand the meaning of love, His love for us. This is a King who gave up everything in the hope that one day, we may be one with Him and in Him, that all of us will be united in heart and mind. This is a King who is a witness to the mission set out for all us, “so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May this week be a reclaiming of our identity as God’s beloved and to receive His love like never before during this Holy Week. May we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us, that we may be more and more like you, Jesus, my Lord, my King.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we may fully immerse ourselves in all the events happening this week. May this week be a re-encountering of your love for all of us, to not take you for granted and to know you are real.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all you have done and all that you are still doing in our lives. Thank you for always offering us a way to return to you. Amen.

13 April, Saturday – All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing

13 April 2019

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Ezekiel 37:21-28 

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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What action are we taking?

There was an interesting story related by Scott Hahn at one of his talks, which I caught on youtube. It tells of how when at the Pearly Gates, Scott managed to get into heaven. However, a friend of his from high school, let’s call him John, did not. At the Pearly Gates, when St Peter showed John the path to the other door, John desperately pleaded for mercy, kicking and ranting. John caught sight of Scott at the other door and asked him how come he got into heaven. Scott replied because he had come to know and to love Jesus who redeemed and saved him. John then asked Scott why he did not tell him about this Jesus all these years that they had been friends. Scott’s reply was, “Well, I did not think it would have been ecumenically and politically correct, I did not want to impose myself on you, I felt I should mind my own business and you did not seem very open to it and I did not want to jeopardize our friendship or make you feel awkward.” And as the gates to the underworld slowly closed on John, he screamed out his last desperate curses at Scott, “Damn you Scott, damn you … you could at least have tried!”.

There is a saying — “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” — a phrase which may be familiar to some of you. I especially find this quote very provoking yet very empowering. Many of us may have experienced the frustrations of encountering apathetic individuals who, when faced with situations where affirmative action was needed, simply chose to look away, turn a blind eye, shrug a shoulder. Perhaps some of these situations may be familiar to us …

…a ‘friend’ whom we have not seen for some time, suddenly connects and seeks financial help in order to provide for his critically ill child and we do all we can to pretend we never knew him;

…when we spot a beggar from a distance and we change the route we walk to avoid him;

…when the frequent company of buddies over a few pints makes for more exciting and extended evenings, knowing a spouse or elderly parent or a child sits alone and lonely at home, hoping for your return to talk to and spend time with them;

…when self-righteousness and arrogance come before desperate calls for help from the Church for parishioners to step forward to help in the many areas which sorely lacked laborers in His vineyard;

…when this world’s pleasures come before silent adoration before Almighty God;

… when we refuse to forgive a spouse, a friend, a child when we are hurt by them and continue to treat them coldly and harshly in retribution, often leaving behind scars that would never heal.

Let us reflect on how easy and insidious our own journey towards self-deception, self-righteousness and self-indulgence is. Selfishness, pride and apathy are the roots of the sins of omission that strangle our Christian virtue but the ones that they choke are often those around us whom we failed to love, to help and to serve. These situations are indeed very familiar to me. I think you know why.

Let me end by drawing on another story which brings us to the gates of hell. The parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ in Luke 16:19-27 is a poignant reminder. Whilst the rich man was too busy maxing out on the indulgences of life, he was totally blind and indifferent to Lazarus who was at his gates, starving and with dogs licking his open sores. But Lazarus’ plight was not blind to God. God was the silent witness to all that was happening (and not happening). Precious in the eyes of God was the suffering of Lazarus. So much so that when Lazarus died, God sent angels to carry him tenderly into the bosom of Abraham. In life, Lazarus was a ‘nobody’, but he mattered to God. When the rich man died, he was just buried. No angels came for him. It would seem that the many sins of omission committed by the rich man against Lazarus made him the real nobody in the eyes of God. He remained a nameless, rich man who lived only for himself, died, was buried and was sent to Hell. God, it seemed, had long since turned his gaze away from him and focused his eyes on Lazarus instead, with a heart overflowing with mercy, compassion and love for him.

Unrepentance for grievous sins we commit will send us to hell one day; but so too will sins of not doing good when we could have and should have. Just ask the rich man, if you are ever unfortunate enough to go to the same place he ended up in.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We have sinned for all the chances we have missed, for all the graces we resist, for all the evil we have done and for all the good we have failed to do.

Thanksgiving: Father, for all the chances we have missed, for all the graces we resist, for all the evil we have done and for all the good we have failed to do, thank you for the mercy you give us through the Eucharist of your Son and through the sanctifying merits and graces of our Blessed Mother. For by these, you have redeemed us.

12 April, Friday – Praying through Pixels

12 April 2019

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do

One trait which cuts across consistently throughout the public ministry of Jesus was the way in which those around him often were not able to see the truth of who He was. They were focused more on the superficial actions of what Jesus did and what he said. The Jewish people and their leaders could only interpret the actions and words of Jesus through the lens of Judaism – and from this lens, they were not able to accept the many revelations of God through Jesus sent to be the Messiah. It is through this lens that they could only see the miracles, especially those of healing and casting out of devils. They were also not able to accept the revelations of Jesus as the Son of God (which became only blasphemy), the Messiah sent to redeem the world (reducing him to just another prophet or the reincarnations of Moses or Elijah) or that their focus was on how Jesus desecrated the Sabbath rather than the revelation that mercy is what God’s love is all about, not rituals. Because they were unable to cast off the lens of Judaism, many of them were unable to let the light of truth penetrate and they remained in darkness, to be forever lost.

Many remain lost in that darkness through modern day lenses — materialism, humanism, or even through the viewpoint of Americanism which defines a great part of the evangelical Christian sects, so dominant in America, which are so vocal in the condemnation of God’s revelations through the Catholic faith. All of which does not allow the light of God’s revelations to shine through.

In the gospel, Jesus therefore makes a simple but succinct point. That if we cannot believe his words, then let his actions bring forth the revelations and lead us to the light.

We too often lose sight of the truth of God’s presence and intimacy in our lives — of His sovereignty, His power, His mercy, His blessing, His graces. When the storms of our lives blow hard and furious, when the desert of our lives make our faith dry and parched, when we are too busy being strangled in the thorn-bushes of worry and responsibilities of this world, we question God’s promises, His Will and His word. These too become our own lenses and they too are just as powerful in preventing God’s light and truth from penetrating into the reality of our lives.

In such times, let me suggest you do this – close your bible, keep your prayer cards, store away your spiritual readings. Then take out your phone and open up the gallery where you store all the photos contained therein. As you go through them, you will probably have captured photos from a myriad of events that have happened to you — celebrations marking family milestones, the birth of your child, a birthday, a wedding anniversary, your child’s first step or perhaps the wedding of one of your children, an unforgettable outing with your best pals, various events at church, a reunion with a special someone in your life, graduation of your child, perhaps your kid did great in school and got an award, a statue of your favorite saint you chanced upon, a promotion celebration for you in your office, an amazing sunset — and of course, all those wonderful memories of the family holidays you may have had.

Your memories tug at your heart and perhaps, you can reflect and come to realize just who made all those great memories and events in your life possible in the first place. God not only blessed you abundantly, He was also present with you at those great moments of your life. More importantly, you begin to see that indeed, God acted in your life. He worked in your life to bring you providence, achievement, joy, fulfillment, growth, peace, hope.

Sometimes, he even made miracles happen just for you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We forget easily. We doubt all the time. When your will differs from ours, when we feel the weight of the cross, when the bright lights and glitz of this world beckon, we doubt. We forget who you are — Almighty God, faithful friend and brother. Instead, we see you as weak, indifferent, distant, unattainable, often, we don’t see you at all. Help us to break through the lens of our preconceived notions, of our stubborn habits, of our unbending minds and wills.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for showing us once again, who you really are and where you have always been. Thank you for bringing the light of your truth to pierce through the deepest darkness of our hearts and helping us shatter the lenses that keep us in bondage to our sins, our doubts and which stops us from reaching you. Our Almighty God, our friend and brother who never left our side. Not for even one second.