All posts by Nicholas Chia

16 March, Saturday – Love your Enemies

16 March 2019

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Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God today commands you to observe these laws and customs; you must keep and observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

‘You have today made this declaration about the Lord: that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice. And the Lord has today made this declaration about you: that you will be his very own people as he promised you, but only if you keep all his commandments; then for praise and renown and honour he will set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he promised.’

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Matthew 5:43-48

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

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Pray for those who persecute you”

I had a very interesting conversation with my nephew, who is also my godson, one day before we went off to school. He had his arms extended and swung it from left to right while he was talking to me. He was upset with someone and I told him that, “Jesus said you must love your enemies and that you should pray for them.” He relented and said that he would not want to pray for them. Even an 8-year old knows that it does not make ‘sense’, he was in disbelief. But more often than not, I feel it is the way of our Lord. He asks of us and wills for something that makes us look at him in disbelief.

Is it possible to love our enemy? That to me is really hard because forgiving is one thing but loving them really, is a different ball game all together. I do not have any enemies, but I have ‘fallen friends’, people with whom I have estranged relationships with. I have been told that it is normal to have this group of people who have ‘fallen out of your list’. That never sat right with me, because I clearly know that Jesus is not like that. And so, I pray for them because that is the only thing that helps. Sometimes they don’t want to be friends, sometimes it’s me, but when it’s my decision, I feel really upset about it.

Friendships are important to me, although I have a tendency to grow out of people, and for this I seek His mercy and His grace. Because he wants me to be perfect, just like Him. During a recent sermon I heard, the priest said that Lent is a time of joy so that you have no more estranged relationships. “Let there be no lepers in your life”. Powerful and true. How are the enemies, lepers and perpetrators in our lives? Have we started loving them and praying for them? Today is the acceptable time for that because now is our time for salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, you said blessed are those who follow your footsteps, make us and mould us into the blessed person today. Clean the cobwebs off from all our relationships, including the one we have with you and also the one we have with ourselves. All angels and saints, watch over our enemies and pray for them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for keeping us free and for allowing us the grace to love and pray for people who most need it. Thank you Lord, for the difficult people in our lives, for through them we have learnt to see you.

15 March, Friday – Life of Virtue

15 March 2019

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Ezekiel 18:21-28

Thus says the Lord:

‘If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practised. What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?

‘But if the upright man renounces his integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked man and practises every kind of filth, is he to live? All the integrity he has practised shall be forgotten from then on; but this is because he himself has broken faith and committed sin, and for this he shall die. But you object, “What the Lord does is unjust.” Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.’

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Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’

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

We live in a world where the adage “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is often practiced. People form alliances and befriend each other for the purpose of mutual benefit instead of with the intention of wanting to help the other party.

This is not what we are called as Christians to do. Instead we are called to extend love and generosity to the people around us. This means that we need to accept the people for who they are regardless of the faults which they have. Yet sometimes we are tainted by the ways of the world. We make friends only with the people who are of gain to us and whom are able to help us achieve the means in our lives.

The first reading reminds us of the need to live a life of virtue and not abandon the ways which have been taught to us. We must stay close to God and not deviate away from the path which God has set out for us. It is not difficult for us to stay on the straight and narrow path but we are called to do so in this season of Lent where God has allowed us to experience him more deeply through the tools of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let us discover what it means to be your children and walk in the way of your love.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people who guide us towards the path of righteousness.

14 March, Thursday – Trust in God

14 March 2019

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Esther 4:17

Queen Esther took refuge with the Lord in the mortal peril which had overtaken her. She besought the Lord God of Israel in these words:

‘My Lord, our King, the only one,
come to my help, for I am alone
and have no helper but you
and am about to take my life in my hands.

‘I have been taught from my earliest years, in the bosom of my family,
that you, Lord, chose
Israel out of all the nations
and our ancestors out of all the people of old times
to be your heritage for ever;
and that you have treated them as you promised.

‘Remember, Lord; reveal yourself
in the time of our distress.

‘As for me, give me courage,
King of gods and master of all power.
Put persuasive words into my mouth
when I face the lion;
change his feeling into hatred for our enemy,
that the latter and all like him may be brought to their end.

‘As for ourselves, save us by your hand,
and come to my help, for I am alone
and have no one but you, Lord.’

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Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.’

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‘Remember, Lord; reveal yourself in the time of our distress.

This week has been a tough week for some of my friends. They are facing challenges at work such as difficult bosses. Some are also worried about the renewal of their employment papers. Another is dealing with too much work which causes a breakdown in his marriage. In all these issues, we ask ourselves where God is in their lives.

The first reading can provide us with some clue. The people of Israel were facing tremendous persecution and Queen Esther was feeling troubled. Torn between the identity as a Jew and the danger of losing her life for fear of offending the king, she went to the Lord in prayer. Indeed, she was facing the same issues that all of us face – the inability to understand what God desires and wants from us.

Sometimes we ask God why he puts us through these troubles in our lives. We ask for the ability to be freed from these concerns yet our prayer is not answered. Perhaps it is a sign for us to remember that we need to trust in God and not depend on our own human power. Only by surrendering to God can we allow ourselves to achieve the plan which he has set out for us. In this season of Lent, let us remember that we should try to mortify ourselves of whatever holds us back from entering into a relationship with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let us discover what it means to surrender our will to you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people who love us.

27 February, Wednesday – Do Re Mi

27 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 4:12-22

Wisdom brings up her own sons,
and cares for those who seek her.
Whoever loves her loves life,
those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness.
Whoever holds her close will inherit honour,
and wherever he walks the Lord will bless him.
Those who serve her minister to the Holy One,
and the Lord loves those who love her.
Whoever obeys her judges aright,
and whoever pays attention to her dwells secure.
If he trusts himself to her he will inherit her,
and his descendants will remain in possession of her;
for though she takes him at first through winding ways,
bringing fear and faintness on him,
plaguing him with her discipline until she can trust him,
and testing him with her ordeals,
in the end she will lead him back to the straight road
and reveal her secrets to him.
If he wanders away she will abandon him,
and hand him over to his fate.

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Mark 9:38-40

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’

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Anyone who is not against us is for us.

I was recently asked if I could help by singing at a wedding mass, just a week before the actual wedding.  When I asked the bride why the last-minute arrangements, she said that the original choir she picked had some reservations about a few of the songs she had chosen. She said they were not confident that they could pull off two or three of them. In a nutshell, she ended up with 4 singers (myself the only male) and a pipe organist from the choir. I guessed that she wasn’t too fussed about the music and also learnt that the groom and his family were Protestants. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought to myself as I pulled up to the cathedral for the rehearsal two evenings before the wedding.

In the end, it all turned out well. The mass, celebrated by Msgr Vaz, was meaningful and his homily hit home. I sang ‘Ave Maria’ (it was my vocal exam song anyway) and we ended up not doing ‘Hallelujah’. At the end of the mass, as we chatted with the organist, we shared about how some of the songs were actually not usually done at weddings and why the original choir may have been a bit ‘hesitant’ as the only liturgical hymn was ‘We Remember’, which we did for communion.

As I drove home, I reflected on how we tend to get ourselves into a conundrum when choosing songs for Masses. For me, as long as the hymns fit the general theme of the gospel of the day, it shouldn’t matter whether they are liturgical or not. I know there are some choirmasters who would never pick a Don Moen song (for example) or something from Hillsong United. But at the end of the day, if they are songs that glorify God, then I don’t see how they can be inappropriate. Because if we are all worshipping with one heart and one voice, surely God will not nitpick.

I wonder if that is why some of our Christian brethren tend to think of us Catholics as ‘old fashioned’ and ‘traditional’. While I am absolutely for the rituals of the mass and all the strict traditions (which other religion can say that it celebrates the same sacraments in every country on each and every single day?), I hope that when it comes to our worshipping in song, we can be a bit more ‘relaxed’ so that we can truly sing from our hearts. After nearly 8 years in a music ministry that does P&W and constantly seeks to refresh our repertoire of songs, I have begun to understand the deeper intention of connecting through worship. That no matter how much one tries to hone his or her vocal technique, it is from within our hearts that true worship begins. As I continue on my learning journey in classical vocals and also begin another in leading worship, I wonder what doors He will open for me to step through and explore.

Brothers and sisters, the next time we attend a wedding at another church, take a glance over at the choir or worship leaders and see if they are singing from their hearts. You will certainly be able to tell very easily if indeed true joy is present in the singing.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we ask you to always open up our hearts as we worship you at masses and in the privacy of our homes. Fill us with joy to sing out your praises.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gift of song and for the gift of our talented brothers and sisters who practice each week and sing at our places of worship.

26 February, Tuesday – Getting in shape

26 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11

My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart, be steadfast,
and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Cling to him and do not leave him,
so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you, accept it,
and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient,
since gold is tested in the fire,
and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust him and he will uphold you,
follow a straight path and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
do not turn aside in case you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and you will not be baulked of your reward.
You who fear the Lord hope for good things,
for everlasting happiness and mercy.
Look at the generations of old and see:
who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?
Or who ever feared him steadfastly and was left forsaken?
Or who ever called out to him, and was ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful,
he forgives sins, and saves in days of distress.

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Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.

They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

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“…prepare yourself for an ordeal”

This is going to be a milestone year for me at work. I would have started my tenth year in the organization this month and yet, we continue to grow and to achieve great things. We will be celebrating the year with various milestone events and I am preparing and planning ahead with my team to secure all the necessary key stakeholders for the various milestone events (seven in all). While it is no walk in the park, I believe that we are in a good position, having already secured budgets as well as senior management approval on the overall plan for the year.

I too know that this is the year where I will be expected to step up in ministry. This is where there is a degree of uncertainty that I am not generally used to, especially since I have been put in charge of one or two areas in our ministry. I guess this is what the more seasoned leaders will say, “Leave it to God.” And, unlike the corporate world where we determine KPIs in advance and get the whip out when things are not going to plan, we deal with a lot of ad hoc issues each week and talk about pretty much the same things in our monthly Core meetings. There is certainly a need for a lot more compassion and patience when it comes to ministry work.

And I am not 100% sure I am cut out for this leadership role. Not because I do not have the perseverance nor the determination to see things through. I just wonder whether I possess the right heart for this season in ministry. I am typically a go-getter – I will get something done to the best of my ability by rallying those around me and achieve what is needed within a set timeframe. However, when it comes to dealing with ministry members who are volunteering their time and effort, I just don’t have that same ‘drive’. I have had to bite my tongue a few times and to be more understanding when things have fallen apart or not worked according to the eleventh-hour arrangements that have been made.

So I have found myself wondering if I am that round peg in a square hole. One part of me wants to bring my ‘work’ self and drive excellence. Another part of me wants to just let God mould me and shape me as a significant contributor to this life-giving ministry that I have devoted 8 years to. Let Him take the lead and guide me along, because I know that backing away is not an option. I have found myself wondering if I am in the right shape to do the work that He is calling me to perform. Ordinarily, I would do a self-analysis of my skills and competencies but in this instance, I am not so sure that is what is required.

Brothers and sisters, while we strive hard at work to achieve our KPIs, volunteering in ministry may require a whole different mindset. The ‘fitness levels’ required are different and call for exercise in a different kind of gym. And while some of us may think ourselves ‘fit for purpose’, the work God calls us to do requires a fitness that only comes through regular prayer so that our hearts are able to expand beyond our normal human capacity. Are you truly prepared for the ordeals that will come your way as you toil in His vineyard?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father help us. We are mere mortals and lack the fitness required to perform what you ask. Give us the grace to rely on your strength and your infinite love for all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for blessing us always with more than we deserve.

25 February, Monday – In Desolation

25 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10

All wisdom is from the Lord,
and it is his own for ever.
The sand of the sea and the raindrops,
and the days of eternity, who can assess them?
The height of the sky and the breadth of the earth,
and the depth of the abyss, who can probe them?
Before all other things wisdom was created,
shrewd understanding is everlasting.
For whom has the root of wisdom ever been uncovered?
Her resourceful ways, who knows them?
One only is wise, terrible indeed,
seated on his throne, the Lord.
He himself has created her, looked on her and assessed her,
and poured her out on all his works
to be with all mankind as his gift,
and he conveyed her to those who love him.

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Mark 9:14-29

When Jesus, with Peter, James and John came down from the mountain and rejoined the disciples, they saw a large crowd round them and some scribes arguing with them. The moment they saw him the whole crowd were struck with amazement and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ he asked. A man answered him from the crowd, ‘Master, I have brought my son to you; there is a spirit of dumbness in him, and when it takes hold of him it throws him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and goes rigid. And I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were unable to.’ ‘You faithless generation’ he said to them in reply. ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’

They brought the boy to him, and as soon as the spirit saw Jesus it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground and lay writhing there, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ ‘From childhood,’ he replied ‘and it has often thrown him into the fire and into the water, in order to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can?’ retorted Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for anyone who has faith.’ Immediately the father of the boy cried out, ‘I do have faith. Help the little faith I have!’

And when Jesus saw how many people were pressing round him, he rebuked the unclean spirit. ‘Deaf and dumb spirit,’ he said ‘I command you: come out of him and never enter him again.’ Then throwing the boy into violent convulsions it came out shouting, and the boy lay there so like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him up, and he was able to stand. When he had gone indoors his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ ‘This is the kind’ he answered ‘that can only be driven out by prayer.’

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“This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer”

Despair, desperation and desolation — words that begin with the 3 first letters in my name. I have had occasion to deal with them over the past few months and while they aren’t pleasant states to be in, I believe that everyone will encounter them during their lives here on earth. When someone is in desolation, nothing you can say or do will cheer up that person. It is a season in their life that they are going through and they themselves have to work out their own timeline as to when or how quickly they are going to emerge from their private cocoon.

It is private; because in public, they might seem normal and alright. Someone in desolation is unlikely to adopt a ‘woe is me’ or ‘the world is against me’ sort of attitude in public. No one can understand their suffering because to those around them, there is probably nothing wrong with their life. They have a career (or not), a loving family (or not), a nice house (or not) and a decent bank account (or not). So what could be so wrong that nothing seems to provide any source of gratitude or solace to those in desolation?

I believe that people in desolation are living in a desert (there you go, those 3 letters again), where they wander searching for sustenance – an oasis or a well – so that they can quench their thirst for whatever it is they seek. It could be something as simple as an affirmation from a particular person at work (which may never come, especially if that person is several rungs above them), a windfall, or perhaps a reconciliation with a lost relative. It may never happen in their lifetime, it may require an intervention from someone else, or it may require divine intervention – the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.

If the person suffering is wandering around aimlessly, then he/she may be destined to do so for the whole of their earthly life. But if the person recognizes the dilemma they are in and takes active steps in seeking out a solution, there is a chance that they will emerge from this season of their life stronger and better-equipped to negotiate life’s challenges in future.

I am no trained counselor nor the most reliable of compasses in the grand journey of life. All I know is that people in desolation simply need us to be there and to listen. Most of all, they do not need us to judge nor react to any negative emotions because it is not personal. They just need to go deal with the sandstorms, the changing desert-scapes and the unrelenting heat knowing that we will be there to hold their hand and to be gentle with them when they need to put their heads down and rest for the night. Because each day is a new journey for them and until they see the glimmer of an oasis or the light reflecting off what could be water from a well, they wander about in hope.

Brothers and sisters, if you know of someone who needs that hope, reach out and offer it just by saying, “I am here and I will pray for you.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we are like the woman at the well, seeking answers for our predicaments. Give us the grace to recognize others who seek this well, who are despairing and need to feel hope in their lives. Give us the courage and heart to reach out in spite of our own challenges.

Thanksgiving:  We thank you for all the blessings, however small, you send our way.

24 February, Sunday – It Takes Two

24 February 2019

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1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,11-13,22-23

Saul set off and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by three thousand men chosen from Israel to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph.

In the dark David and Abishai made their way towards the force, where they found Saul lying asleep inside the camp, his spear stuck in the ground beside his head, with Abner and the troops lying round him.

Then Abishai said to David, ‘Today God has put your enemy in your power; so now let me pin him to the ground with his own spear. Just one stroke! I will not need to strike him twice.’ David answered Abishai, ‘Do not kill him, for who can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt? The Lord forbid that I should raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed! But now take the spear beside his head and the pitcher of water and let us go away.’ David took the spear and the pitcher of water from beside Saul’s head, and they made off. No one saw, no one knew, no one woke up; they were all asleep, for a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.

David crossed to the other side and halted on the top of the mountain a long way off; there was a wide space between them. He called out, ‘Here is the king’s spear. Let one of the soldiers come across and take it. The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord put you in my power, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.’

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1 Corinthians 15:45-49

The first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit. The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven. As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven. And we, who have been modelled on the earthly man, will be modelled on the heavenly man.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.

In the face of injustice and sheer ineptitude, how does one remain compassionate when people are paid a decent wage to perform in a job? I was struggling last year with a situation that, thankfully, resolved itself just before the Christmas break. That made the turn of the new year and my planning for my division retreat that much easier and less fraught with uncertainty. I am convinced that God’s hand was at work when I received the much-awaited resignation letter in the middle of December.

Hypothetically, let’s take the same circumstances (frustration and all) into ministry, where everyone is a volunteer. Is it possible for us to also ‘wish away’ those who don’t pull their weight and just appear when things are resolved and everything is hunky-dory? I had that conversation recently with a colleague and he shook his head and agreed that when it comes to labouring in God’s vineyard, we cannot apply the same ‘corporate lens’ to situations and people. So what happens then? Do we just let things fester and deteriorate? What about those of us who are eager and willing to change things and to improve on simple processes that would make things smoother, less fraught with tension, and a lot more ‘idiot-proof’ so that we can all focus on the bigger picture – worshipping God and providing those around us with a conducive environment to pray and receive God’s blessings?

Inevitably, many well-meaning, ‘gung ho’ ministry members fall by the wayside when they don’t see the fruits of their efforts after a certain timeframe. I made a quick calculation (with some assumptions) and worked out that what usually takes an organization (500 to 600-strong) a year to implement takes a parish council or religious organization between 3 to 10 years, given a very lean administrative office of 10 to 15 paid staff (mind you, they are likely to be lowly-paid and not even competently trained in the areas they are handling such as HR, IT or Finance – the ‘square pegs in round holes’ conundrum).

I think it would be fair to surmise that should we, as ministry members, ever be appraised by our leaders, we would be found seriously wanting in hitting our KPIs (not that we ever had any to begin with). It is precisely because we give of our time, effort and talent that our leaders have no choice but to be compassionate when equipment starts to fail, when programmes take who knows how long to implement, when after a year of meetings/discussions/gatherings, the proverbial needle hasn’t moved much because the person tasked to lead change in one area hardly even turns up.

Brothers and sisters, if you are involved in church ministry, take care that you be compassionate not only to those around you, but to yourself as well. While it is good to set expectations, don’t let them overwhelm and dictate how you look at those who are perhaps wounded themselves and seek ministry as a sanctuary from their everyday work in the office. Because at work, we are answerable to a superior, but in ministry, the only one we answer to is God. And when it comes to dealing with God, we know that it is never a one-way street.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, you know us through and through, and our deepest motives for working in your vineyard. Give us the grace to recognize that sometimes, we may falter as we serve you but let us not chide ourselves or feel inadequate because you have something greater for us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gifts and talents so that we can serve you mightily and without fear of being judged.

19 February, Tuesday – God is my GPS

19 February 2019

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Genesis 6:5-8,7:1-5,10

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that the thoughts in his heart fashioned nothing but wickedness all day long. The Lord regretted having made man on the earth, and his heart grieved. ‘I will rid the earth’s face of man, my own creation,’ the Lord said ‘and of animals also, reptiles too, and the birds of heaven; for I regret having made them.’ But Noah had found favour with the Lord.

The Lord said to Noah, ‘Go aboard the ark, you and all your household, for you alone among this generation do I see as a good man in my judgement. Of all the clean animals you must take seven of each kind, both male and female; of the unclean animals you must take two, a male and its female (and of the birds of heaven also, seven of each kind, both male and female), to propagate their kind over the whole earth. For in seven days’ time I mean to make it rain on the earth for forty days and nights, and I will rid the earth of every living thing that I made.’ Noah did all that the Lord ordered.

Seven days later the waters of the flood appeared on the earth.

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Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to take any food and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Then he gave them this warning, ‘Keep your eyes open; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ And they said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And Jesus knew it, and he said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you not yet understand? Have you no perception? Are your minds closed? Have you eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear? Or do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of scraps did you collect?’ They answered, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of scraps did you collect?’ And they answered, ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Are you still without perception?’

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“Do you still not understand?”

I love the GPS I have in my car. It has pretty cool graphics and a very soothing voice-over. Most of all, it has been a life-saver from the countless times I sat clueless trying to figure out where my destinations were, or when I find myself trying to find the quickest possible way to get to where I am going and worrying that I would not make it there in time. I love it also for the times my GPS has steered me away from endless frustrations and hours lost, getting caught in jams.

As great as these features of my GPS may be, there is one aspect which I love even more… for all the times I have taken a wrong turn, and trust me, there are plenty of those despite the best efforts of my GPS, it does this wonderful thing – it recalculates the route to get me back on track.

God is my GPS and He recalculates my route for me for the countless times that I have taken a wrong turn. And the fact that I still take wrong turns despite having such wonderful technology at my service, is due to no fault of the GPS, but to my lack of attention, to my confusion, to my stubbornness and pride (for the times I said to myself against my GPS “nah … I am pretty sure it was this way when I drove on this road 20 years ago”,) only to discover, that a certain part of Singapore has since changed beyond recognition.

God is the divine navigator in our lives and he has an in-built Google Map that is accurate and updated at every second; in fact, He is the Google map. When we turn to him and allow Him to lead us (and this is usually the big IF in our lives), we get to our destination safely, efficiently and in precise time. We will not encounter any undue traffic jams (although traffic jams will always be around, which we cannot avoid because of sin in this world), and we will not waste ‘fuel’ in terms of emotional, physical and spiritual energy wasted along the way. And, of course, most importantly, we get to the place we are supposed to get to – the places in our lives where God’s presence can be found and experienced. With God as our GPS, we get to our ultimate final destination – the bosom of God himself, when we complete our earthly road-trip.

My GPS is also infinitely patient with me – regardless of how many times I make a wrong turn, especially for the times I choose to disregard it. It does not scold me or mock me, nor give up on me (I trust your GPS system is the same?) – it simply recalculates. It finds the new path which I need to take, even if sometimes, a U-turn may be needed. It shows me how to get back on track. It stays true to its purpose and mission – which is to get me to my destination.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Our lives are confusing and complicated, our wills are stubborn and prideful, our world is full of deception, temptation, dangers and perils. Our souls are tired and battered and we often feel like not carrying on in the journey. It is easy to get lost, discouraged and tempted to stray away from you. We need you to recalculate our way back to you, our true north, where we can always find light, hope, clarity, strength and salvation. Where we can come home to you – our Father who loves us and rejoice that we have arrived safely back into your arms.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you the gifts of your love for us, of your Son, the Holy Spirit, our Blessed Mother Mary, the Saints and the sacramental life of the Catholic faith. In these you have given us the GPS we need to bring us safely back to you in all the cross-oads of our lives and for when we make the final journey back to you.

18 February, Monday – Yes, God does demand the best from us

18 February 2019

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Genesis 4:1-15,25

The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. ‘I have acquired a man with the help of the Lord’ she said. She gave birth to a second child, Abel, the brother of Cain. Now Abel became a shepherd and kept flocks, while Cain tilled the soil. Time passed and Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for the Lord, while Abel for his part brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering, and Cain was very angry and downcast. The Lord asked Cain, ‘Why are you angry and downcast? If you are well disposed, ought you not to lift up your head? But if you are ill disposed, is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you, which you must master?’ Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out’; and while they were in the open country, Cain set on his brother Abel and killed him.

The Lord asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I do not know’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s guardian?’ ‘What have you done?’ the Lord asked. ‘Listen to the sound of your brother’s blood, crying out to me from the ground. Now be accursed and driven from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood at your hands. When you till the ground it shall no longer yield you any of its produce. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth.’ Then Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. See! Today you drive me from this ground. I must hide from you, and be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth. Why, whoever comes across me will kill me!’ ‘Very well, then,’ the Lord replied ‘if anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for him.’ So the Lord put a mark on Cain, to prevent whoever might come across him from striking him down.

Adam had intercourse with his wife, and she gave birth to a son whom she named Seth, ‘because God has granted me other offspring’ she said ‘in place of Abel, since Cain has killed him.’

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Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with Jesus; they demanded of him a sign from heaven, to test him. And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ And leaving them again and re-embarking, he went away to the opposite shore.

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“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always.”

In my reflection today, I point to another parable that is probably very well-known to us – that of the Widow’s offering of the 2 coins found in Mark 12:41-44. In that parable, the message is clear that in the eyes of God, offering 2 little coins means everything to God, if it is everything you have left to your name on planet earth, versus giving 2 million gold bars if you have 2 billion more in reserve somewhere collecting dust. It is therefore simple and clear – God does not look at the absolute value of our offering to Him but in relative terms. In fact, God does not consider our offering, in and of themselves, at all … be it in our gold, our time nor our talents. He considers instead, our sincerity. In God’s reckoning, he looks at the sincerity in our hearts in what we offer Him.

Do we give him sincere adoration in prayer, or do we hope to gain His favor when we praise and worship Him? Do we offer him authentic service in Ministry or do we or put on a good show of our ‘devoutness’ to gain the adulation of men and seek privilege in Church? Do we offer him true sorrow and repentance for hurting our brothers and sisters when we fail to love them as God did, or do we hope to avoid retribution and punishment? Are we truly grateful for all God has given us, including the crosses in our lives, or are we grateful to God only when He has granted our wishes?

In the story of Cain and Abel, let us examine again the specific offerings brought to God:

“Cain brought to Jehovah an offering from the fruit of the ground. Abel, he also brought from the firstborn of his sheep, their fat portions”. (Genesis 4:3-4).

In the ancient cultures, people were not supposed to bring just any old ordinary fruits, grains, and animals to their God. For the gift to be acceptable, it had to be the best of what they had to offer. And the first of their harvest, as well as the firstborn of their flocks and herds, was to be offered to God. Why did God have regard for Abel’s offering, but not for Cain’s? Abel brought God his best, and put God first. With his offering, Abel richly thanked and honored the God who had given him life, health, wealth, and wellbeing. Cain just brought whatever ordinary produce he had on hand. Was that any way to thank the One who gave him his very life, and made his crops to grow, flourish, and bear fruit? In short, God accepted Abel’s offering because it was offered out of a heart full of sincerity and gratitude. God did not accept Cain’s offering because it smacked of being a half-hearted effort to curry God’s favor or to do the bare minimum so long as we need not get inconvenienced and to stay within our comfort zone.

What then are our own offerings to God – the best we are able to from the sincerity of our hearts? Or what we can spare? Sometimes, because we believe in an all-loving, all merciful, all faithful God, we think that is ‘okay’ if we fall short of giving our best to God. On the contrary, dear brothers and sisters, it is not okay …for God does demand the very, very, very best from us. He knows we will always fall short of it but that does not mean that He does not expect us to make the sincere effort on our part. And it begins from our hearts; start from there to offer your best – most loving, most sincere, most authentic, offering to God. For our God deserves only the best from us. He has said so when He commanded us to love Him with all our hearts, our souls, our minds and to love our brothers and sisters the same. The first and THE most important commandment since the beginning of time.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, free us from the great evil in us of our ingratitude and insincerity to you. Deliver us from the spirit of this world that deludes us into the falsehood that you deserve only our mediocrity, our inauthenticity and our compromises in our worship and service of you and our brothers and sisters. Help us Father. We cannot rise above all these without your saving grace and love. Forgive us for all the times, we have been too human, forgetting that we are your children – children of the Almighty God.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you for giving us your very best – your first born and only Son to save us, Mary to bring us the love of a perfect mother and the Holy Spirit, to sanctify, empower and advocate for us, for all the times we have given to you anything and everything… except our best.

17 February, Sunday – The Truth is out there

17 Feb – Memorial for Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites

The Order of the Servants of Mary (Servites) was named the fifth mendicant order by Pope Martin V. It was founded in 1233 by Sts. Alexis Falconieri, Bartholomew degli Amidei, Benedict dell’Antella, Buonfiglio Monaldi, Gherardino Sostegni, Hugh dei Lippi-Uguccioni, and John Buonagiunta Monetti.

They were beatified on 1 December 1717, and canonized on 1887 as The Seven Holy Founders. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1240, the Founders received a vision of Our Lady. She held in her hand a black habit, and a nearby angel bore a scroll reading “Servants of Mary”. Mary told them:

“You will found a new order, and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name: Servants of Mary. This is your rule: that of St. Augustine. And here is your distinctive sign: the black scapular, in memory of my sufferings.”

From their first establishment at La Camarzia, near Florence, they moved to the more secluded Monte Senario where the Blessed Virgin herself conferred on them their habit, instructing them to follow the Rule of St. Augustine and to admit associates. The official approval for the order was obtained in 1249, confirmed in 1256, suppressed in 1276, definitely approved in 1304, and again by Brief in 1928. The order was so rapidly diffused that by 1285, there were 10,000 members with houses in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, and early in the 14th century, it numbered 100 convents, besides missions in Crete and India.

The Reformation reduced the order in Germany, but it flourished elsewhere. Again meeting with political reverses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it nevertheless prospered, being established in England in 1867, and in America in 1870.

The Servites take solemn vows and venerate in a special manner the “Seven Dolours of Our Lady”. They cultivate both the interior and the active life, giving missions and teaching. An affiliation, professing exclusively the contemplative life is that of the “Hermits of Monte Senario”. It was reinstated in France in 1922.

Cloistered nuns, forming a Second Order, have been affiliated with the Servites since 1619 when Blessed Benedicta di Rossi called the nuns of her community “Servite Hermitesses”. They have been established in England, Spain, Italy, the Tyrol, and Germany.

A Third Order, the Mantellate, founded by St. Juliana Falconieri under St. Philip Benizi (c. 1284) has houses in Italy, France, Spain, England, Canada, and the United States. Secular tertiaries and a confraternity of the Seven Dolours are other branches.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 17:5-8

The Lord says this:

‘A curse on the man who puts his trust in man,
who relies on things of flesh,
whose heart turns from the Lord.
He is like dry scrub in the wastelands:
if good comes, he has no eyes for it,
he settles in the parched places of the wilderness,
a salt land, uninhabited.

‘A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord,
with the Lord for his hope.
He is like a tree by the waterside
that thrusts its roots to the stream:
when the heat comes it feels no alarm,
its foliage stays green;
it has no worries in a year of drought,
and never ceases to bear fruit.’

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1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20

If Christ raised from the dead is what has been preached, how can some of you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins. And what is more serious, all who have died in Christ have perished. If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.

But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.

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Luke 6:17,20-26

Jesus came down with the Twelve and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon. Then fixing his eyes on his disciples he said:

‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.

‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’

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“Your faith is in vain”

In the context of our Christian faith, truth prevails regardless of the choices we make, what we choose to believe in or otherwise, and what this world chooses to value versus what God reveals to us of the values that prevail in His kingdom. For example, if Satan himself was to appear in front of you one day and declare, at the top of his voice, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living and Almighty God, what would your reaction be like (shock and eye-popping aside)? Would you focus on the fact that this was a sentence uttered by Satan and hence become questionable or false? Or to recognize that regardless who states it, truth prevails. That our Lord is the son of the living Almighty God regardless who proclaims it, remains truth. Nothing changes that because God’s truth will always prevail. It is a light that the darkest darkness cannot overcome. And what is this truth? The readings today hold extremely important revelations to us about the truths of the resurrection, the fidelity of God and of His Kingdom values which are the very foundations of our Catholic faith.

God’s truths are absolute, not relative nor subject to the interpretations of man. There is no wishy-washiness, no ambiguity, no ifs and buts, no double-entendre, nothing equivocal – about what is being revealed today. The resurrection is not a “maybe it did happen, maybe it didn’t? ”. The fidelity of God is not a “perhaps if I counted on Him, things might turn out okay”. And the kingdom values of the Beatitudes point to what God holds cherished, despite how our world says, “… you gotta be kidding me … how can persecution, sorrow, hunger for justice, denunciation, being hated, poverty and humility possibly be good and be part of the Gospel values?

Yet, they are. God is infinitely bigger than our faith. God does not increase or diminish on the basis of the relative strength or weakness of our human faith. When the evil one uses the circumstances of our lives, our emotions and our thoughts to create falsehood, distraction and deception, God’s truth remains eternal, unchanged and unchanging – the truth of His love for His children, His power over all of creation, His unfailing fidelity to His own, His mercy, His grace.

For God speaks in words that are absolute:

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.”

“Blessed are they who hope in the Lord. He is like a tree planted near running water, that yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never fade. Whatever he does, prospers”

“Blessed are you … Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven …”

You can take these promises of God to the ‘bank’ and cash those in when you meet face-to-face with Him one day.

The truths are often antithetical to what can be understood, seen or felt. They transcend our thoughts and emotions, which the devil often uses to dumbfound us and deceive us away from the truth. They transcend all human science, understanding, senses, pride and convenience. God’s truth does not rely on what is known, what is seen and what is felt by man. Rather only on what is BELIEVED by him. It dwells and bears fruit only when we choose, through the Holy Spirit, to believe. To believe in His Word, His Character, His Wisdom, His Grace, His Love.

“If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable creatures of all”.

If you stop believing right here, right now, this very instance, in the resurrection of Christ, the fidelity of Christ, the Kingdom of Christ… indeed, your faith is in vain, and indeed, you are most pitiable. For then, there is only, falsehood and nothingness.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Help us as we do battle each day in a world that more often than not, chooses not to believe that you are our living God but a dead thing hung on a piece of wood, to not rely on you to be our ever-faithful God, and that chooses not to live in your kingdom of deferred eternal salvation but rather on instant gratification.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the gift of your Spirit which brings all falsehood to eternal truth, all darkness to eternal light and all living death on earth to eternal life in your heavenly Kingdom.