All posts by Nicholas Chia

25 April, Tuesday – Proclaiming the Gospel

25 Apr – Feast of St. Mark, evangelist

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

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1 Peter 5:5-14

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

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

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

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

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

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

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“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Building on the previous readings, we see in the Gospel today how Jesus asks us to go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel. The truth really is not so much that Jesus asks us to do so, but if we have truly encountered the Risen Lord in our lives, we will want to share Him with all.  When we know who Jesus is, when we know who we are and who we are called to be, there really is nothing to fear when we are speaking the truth, living in the truth, living in light.

Many times, we rely on our own strength and we fear that we are not good enough, that we are not ready, and question who are we to comment/advise or to share our experiences and our lives. Of course, humanly it is very daunting but, when we trust and allow the Holy Spirit to take over, not only do we encounter Christ in His working within us, we allow others to encounter Christ too.

Evangelisation isn’t solely spreading Jesus by word of mouth. It is really allowing Him to live in us, and by our example, enable others to see Christ. So we practice what we preach but very importantly, with humility, recognising and giving thanks for all the blessings that Christ has bestowed on us — the people He has sent in our lives, the opportunities given to us, the graces we’ve received. In other words, to give Him the glory not just with our mouths but also with our lives.

Together with the spirit, nothing is too difficult to overcome. Let us embrace this spirit, our faith, our baptism, to go forth and share our Risen Lord with all.

“You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all graces who called you to eternal glory in Christ will restore you, he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to be faithful to you. Help us to embrace our identity, for you created us in your image, with love. Help us share you by our lives with all.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your love and your Word. Continue to show yourself to those who do not know you.

24 April, Monday – Birth from above

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

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

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

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Acts 4:23-31

As soon as Peter and John were released they went to the community and told them everything the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they lifted up their voice to God all together. ‘Master,’ they prayed ‘it is you who made heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them; you it is who said through the Holy Spirit and speaking through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why this arrogance among the nations,
these futile plots among the peoples?
Kings on earth setting out to war,
princes making an alliance,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.

‘This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate made an alliance with the pagan nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, but only to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen. And now, Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

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John 3:1-8

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

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“In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above”

“In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit…” The Gospel today reminds us of our identity. Who are we? After our Baptism, after our Confirmation, after our Marriage, who are we? Who am I?

As we are into the second week of Easter, we proclaim our Risen Lord, we profess our faith, we receive Christ week after week in the Eucharist. What is it we are doing? As Catholics, even for myself, I get trapped and worried about all the rules, commandments and practices that I find myself trapped in a meaningless routine and Christ seems more distant than ever. Catholicism is often also associated with the carrying of our crosses, pains, sufferings. Am I called to suffer just as Jesus did? Am I called to live in the conditions that Jesus lived in?

Our faith, today, challenges us in so many different but very difficult ways. Ways that draw us away from our true identity. We listen to the voice of the world and not that of God. We are told who we are by the world and, for some reason, we believe it more. We find ourselves like Peter and Pilate, during the Passion of Jesus Christ, not standing up to who they are and what they believed in; they simply wanted to blend in with the crowd that followed blindly.

The Gospel today mentions that we can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit. We need to allow the Spirit to live in us, to acknowledge Christ as our Lord, our Father and we, as His children. It’s not about knowing our future, but trusting in the Lord’s providence, that as long as we live our lives for Him, He will not be outdone in generosity. Let us welcome the Spirit into our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for strength that many times, we fail to stand up for our faith. We let the world dictate who we are, we let the lies control our lives. Lord, help us listen to you, your Word. Help us allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. Lead us Lord to your kingdom.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your Spirit, for the many gifts and blessings you have showered upon us.

23 April, Sunday – The Divine Mercy

23 Apr – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Congregation for Divine Worship decreed in 2003 that “throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difference and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come”.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy was promoted by St. Faustina Kowalski, canonized on 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

Memorial for St. George, martyr; Memorial for St. Adalbert, bishop & martyr

St. George (d. 304) was a soldier who was martyred for his faith. That’s all we know for sure.

Several stories have been attached to St. George, the best known of which is the ‘Golden Legend’. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this fierce creature, and had gone down in painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day; when mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in local villages, and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came St. George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon and converted the locals. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away.

Due to his chivalrous behaviour (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to St. George became popular in Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century, his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated ‘Knights of the Garter’ are actually ‘Knights of the Order of St. George’. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine, was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries.

He is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

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Adalbert (957–997) was born to the Bohemian nobility. He took the name of St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, the archbishop who healed, educated and converted him. He became Bishop of Prague (in the modern Czech Republic) on Feb 10, 982. He was a friend of Emperor Otto III.

Adalbert encouraged the evangelization of the Magyars, and worked on it with St. Astricus. He was opposed by the nobility in Prague and unpopular in the area, so he withdrew to Rome, Italy and became a Benedictine monk, making his vows on Apr 17, 990. But Pope John XV sent him back to Prague anyway.

He founded the monastery of Brevnov, met more opposition from the nobility and returned to Rome. There being no hope of his working in Prague, he was allowed to (unsuccessfully) evangelise in Pomerania, Poland, Prussia, Hungary and Russia. He and his fellow missionaries were martyred by Prussians near Koenigsberg or Danzig at the instigation of a pagan priest. Not long before his death, Adalbert met, and was a great inspiration to, St. Boniface of Querfurt.

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Acts 2:42-47

The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.

The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.

They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.

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1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time.

This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

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John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

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

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

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“…when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.”

In the first reading, we read about the early Christians, how they were on fire, their hearts filled with love, giving, caring, celebrating the Risen Lord. And like many of us today, we are in the season of celebration, we have the victory that Christ has won for us, the eternal life, our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins. But it is also very important that we do not take our faith for granted.

Many times, we are trapped in seeking the reward that we fail to seek the giver. Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Often, we seek the forgiveness, we seek heaven and eternal paradise but how often have we forgotten about Jesus, about God our Father? Even for myself, many times I’ve missed the point. It’s not about the sufferings, not about our sins nor the cross we have to carry. It is about Jesus, not just about His death but about His life. I believe that His resurrection isn’t complete till we have resurrected with Him, in Him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us not just pray for mercy given unto us but that we may be like Christ — givers of mercy. For it is more than if we are saved but to want to save others also. To bring love to the people we meet. For Jesus, too, came to save and not to be saved, He came to love and not to be loved.

So once again, let us not focus on the reward, for we may find an empty tomb in front of us. But if we truly know who Jesus is, we know that He already has a place for us in heaven, in His heart. Let us not live for the reward but for the people in our lives, especially our loved ones; to be merciful and loving towards them. Christ has died for us, let us now live for Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we will not focus on the reward alone but on you. For you are the example, the Divine Mercy. Help us to be more like you, in the way where we can bring you to many others in our lives. For many to encounter you through us. Make our hearts like yours.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your life. Thank you Lord, for taking on that journey in which you have given us hope, love and your life.

22 April, Saturday – Witnessing

22 April 2017

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Acts 4:13-21

The rulers, elders and scribes were astonished at the assurance shown by Peter and John, considering they were uneducated laymen; and they recognised them as associates of Jesus; but when they saw the man who had been cured standing by their side, they could find no answer.

So they ordered them to stand outside while the Sanhedrin had a private discussion. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a miracle has been worked through them in public, and we cannot deny it. But to stop the whole thing spreading any further among the people, let us caution them never to speak to anyone in this name again.’

So they called them in and gave them a warning on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.’ The court repeated the warnings and then released them; they could not think of any way to punish them, since all the people were giving glory to God for what had happened.

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Mark 16:9-15

Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, Jesus appeared first to Mary of Magdala from whom he had cast out seven devils. She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them.

But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him. After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country. These went back and told the others, who did not believe them either.

Lastly, he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.’

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It is impossible not to speak about what we have seen and heard

Recently, United Airlines came under fire for the way it had manhandled one of its paying passengers, when the airline tried to bump him off the plane due to their overbooking the flight. Videos taken by the other passengers showed the man, limp and impassive, being dragged down the aisle by enforcement officers, with his clothes disheveled and glasses askew and later on, images surfaced of the same man with a bloodied mouth. The news spread like wildfire on social media, and became a PR nightmare (no less also from the way the airline initially responded).

The appalling treatment of this passenger resonated so strongly with our moral compass that it became hard for us not to speak up about it, to stand in solidarity with what was right and just. It need not be a negative occurrence — we love sharing light-hearted stories too. Remember the BBC interview when the interviewee’s two children video-bombed his interview?

The point is that when something that we have seen and heard interests us, we feel the need to share it. Likewise with Peter and John, who said it was impossible not to share what they had seen and heard. This was, however, something much bigger than just gossip or hearsay. This was about the Messiah, that had been described for so long in scripture, which was now actually happening; in their lifetime! Not to mention all the miracles that Jesus had performed and how he had resurrected from the dead. Why would they not share such a wondrous event?

Peter had also pointed out that we are witnesses. As witnesses, we are called to give testimony on what transpires. We affirm things that have taken place, and our account puts to rest any speculation or rumour since we have seen and heard it ourselves. Peter and the disciples aren’t the only witnesses — we too are witnesses of God’s love and mercy in this day. Our own acceptance of our Saviour and the death of our old self is testimony that God is merciful and gives us a new life in Christ. The very things that God does in our lives, be it in the smallest of ways, are proof that God is present everywhere. We are not called to doubt and question when these events happen; we are called to give testimony of God’s great power so that through us, others may believe. When others believe, God is able to work more through their lives. Not sharing our faith means that we turn off the tap, and God, who is the water of life, is not able to flow and work through us.

When we accept Christ, we are called to be witnesses of Christ. Let us renew our testimony this Easter,  that God may continue to work His miracles through us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for courage to give testimony on the works You have done in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all the miracles that You work in our lives, small or big. We appreciate all the little miracles that you bring forth, and we pray for wisdom to recognize them.

21 April, Friday – Fighting for the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

  • Anselm, Opera Omnis, Letter 112
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Acts 4:1-12

While Peter and John were talking to the people the priests came up to them, accompanied by the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees. They were extremely annoyed at their teaching the people the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They arrested them, but as it was already late, they held them till the next day. But many of those who had listened to their message became believers, the total number of whom had now risen to something like five thousand.

The next day the rulers, elders and scribes had a meeting in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, Jonathan, Alexander and all the members of the high-priestly families. They made the prisoners stand in the middle and began to interrogate them, ‘By what power, and by whose name have you men done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed them, ‘Rulers of the people, and elders! If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple, and asking us how he was healed, then I am glad to tell you all, and would indeed be glad to tell the whole people of Israel, that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence, today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone. For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’

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John 21:1-14

Jesus stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.

It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.

As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

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But many of those who heard the word came to believe

Nobel-prize winner Malala Yousafzai is a staunch advocate for education, especially for girls. What started off as a movement in her native home in the Swat district in Pakistan is now an international campaign, with supporters like Angelina Jolie and the Obamas. Malala took the brave road laden with trials and obstacles to have her voice heard — she was threatened and finally shot at in an assassination attempt by the Taliban, and all this before she was 16 years old. She lived and recovered, and her message is now heard all over the world.

Sometimes when we defend the truth, we will find opposition from naysayers. Critics attempt to question our credibility by tainting our image. People start to isolate us. Who will hear us?

Peter and John faced similar adversity when they spoke of Jesus’ resurrection. The priests and Sadducees arrested them and threw them into prison in an attempt to silence them. But this only fuelled the spread of the resurrection news, and the number of believers grew and grew.

The point is this – sometimes, it is hard to defend the truth and what we believe in. We will face challenges from all fronts — people will laugh at us, family may criticise us, friends may ostracise us. Lies and rumours about us will spread. Even people who have no association with us will claim familiarity and spread all kinds of falsehoods. It will be the loneliest place on earth to be, fighting in our corner. But that is the thing, God is truth. And while it is lonely for us on earth, if we are on the side of truth, then God is on our side, in heaven. He will have a way of making things happen; we need not understand how, but have faith that it will happen, according to His will, His way, in His time.

It is hard to fight for the truth alone. But Peter and John had full faith in God because they believed strongly in what they had witnessed, and believed that to be the truth. God promised that he would never leave us alone nor forsake us, and He did not abandon Peter and John. In fact, He turned the situation on its head and multiplied the number of believers. Eventually Peter and John were released.

I realise that such situations may not yield similar results. Sadly, not every story has a happy ending. But it is my hope that we will be encouraged by God’s promise that He will be our help, which will lead us to hold on steadfastly to what we believe in. Maybe one day we will be called to testify, I don’t know. If I were in Malala’s shoes, I don’t know if I would have half her courage. But she stood for what she believed in, and in the end, truth prevailed. There is hope yet my friends, to stand by the truth, and it is my hope that truth will prevail.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the courage to stand by the truth though the odds may be against us, firm in the belief that You will deliver us and let the truth prevail.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being there with us, walking the journey though we may be alone.

20 April, Thursday – Life Stories

20 April 2017

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Acts 3:11-26

Everyone came running towards Peter and John in great excitement, to the Portico of Solomon, as it is called, where the man was still clinging to Peter and John. When Peter saw the people he addressed them, ‘Why are you so surprised at this? Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness? You are Israelites, and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus, the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after Pilate had decided to release him. It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are the witnesses; and it is the name of Jesus which, through our faith in it, has brought back the strength of this man whom you see here and who is well known to you. It is faith in that name that has restored this man to health, as you can all see.

‘Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets. Moses, for example, said: The Lord God will raise up a prophet like myself for you, from among your own brothers; you must listen to whatever he tells you. The man who does not listen to that prophet is to be cut off from the people. In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days.

‘You are the heirs of the prophets, the heirs of the covenant God made with our ancestors when he told Abraham: in your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed. It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’

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Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’

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The author of life you put to death

For writers, the story that you tell gives a voice to the cause or message that you want to put through. For example, if your story is about pre-school pedagogies, you could be advocating early learning for children. If you are talking about paleo diets, you could be raising health awareness, so on and so forth. Whatever story that a writer tells though, is always entwined with the writer. Any raw emotion or experiences, the writer’s thoughts… some part of it will end up being sprinkled into the writer’s piece. The story also ends with the writer. If a writer stops writing, the story ends there. If a writer dies, the story dies with the writer, and no one knows how the story would have been intended to end.

When the people crucified Jesus, they thought that that was the end of the story. The Pharisees and high priests were probably relieved, the disciples and followers of Jesus, very depressed. Christ was no more…

But God works in His own way. The author of life, they may have put to death, but it was through his death that the story lives! The story could only be written with Christ’s death on the cross, as it was through death that He then resurrected on the third day. So much was said about Christ in his lifetime, and so much more was even said after his resurrection. His resurrection made witnesses of many people, and his resurrection opened up the eyes and ears of many others who finally understood the scriptures, and now more than ever, believed in the power of God!

Jesus said to the disciples, “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”

Indeed, other people before Jesus had written these ‘stories’, but only Jesus could have provided life to them. Only through Jesus could these ‘stories’ finally have meaning, only by Jesus’ death on the cross could the message of the prophets finally come to pass. The ordinary people may have put the author of life to death, but they could not put an end to the story. The story did not, and does not die. God brought life back to us through the resurrection through Christ Jesus.

Every day, God’s story is written through us. His power and glory are manifested through our lives. Every day is a new chapter for God to write our story with us. Let us allow Him to do so, so that His message comes through via how we live our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, I have been trying to write my life story on my own, but I pray now with Your guidance, I will write my story with You.

ThanksgivingThank you Lord, for giving us life through Your death and resurrection. It is because of You that we live.

19 April, Wednesday – Fire and Fear

19 April 2017

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Acts 3:1-10

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in. When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’ He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God. Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.

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They recognised him at the breaking of bread

Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

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Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?

I have a little calendar that sits on my desk about God-sized dreams. It is about finding and fulfilling your purpose, the purpose that God put you on this good Earth, no matter what the odds are. I look forward to turning each page, eager to read the phrase of the day. I find that it touches a lot on determining if that dream within us is a God-sized dream — it fills your whole being with a mixture of yearning and fear; yearning to learn and lean towards God for guidance and strength, and fear of not knowing where the road leads but trusting anyway that God will take us by the hand.

When Jesus came into the world to preach, he offered nothing but the Truth. Just as Peter said to the crippled man, “I have neither silver or gold but what I have I give to you”, Jesus is saying to us “I am offering you the Truth”. As humans, our natural instinct is to question if this is ‘the real deal’. How do we know if this is indeed the Truth and not some scam? Do we even believe what Jesus has to say? We think we know everything, and we are so good at being skeptics; indeed, how would we know?

The old adage ‘the truth shall set you free’ rings true. When something is explained to us and we learn of the facts, there is a dawn of realisation that descends upon us. Suddenly, we see things in a different light and we understand; and what we were afraid of before because we didn’t understand, we are now no longer afraid of anymore. The truth releases us from our own shackles of myopia and fear. The disciples going to Emmaus were downcast over the events that had happened, until Jesus came and interpreted the Scriptures to them, showing them that the things that had occured had to occur for God’s glory to come into being.

Understanding the bigger picture and God’s plan, they were released from their sadness. The cripple in the first reading accepted the Truth of Christ and was released from his deformity. How many more examples in the Bible of people accepting Christ and were released from what was holding them back! How about when we accept Christ in our daily lives, be it accepting Him for the first time or just accepting that we should surrender our problems, ailments, sickness, fears and worries to Him wholeheartedly, because He truly wants to save us. God’s glory will come into being if we lift our lives to Him.

Secondly, once we set our lives free, our human fear no longer has control of our hearts. God does, and He fills it with a gush of life, where fear once ruled. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” asked the disciples. It consumes us and makes us want to exclaim out loud! The fire that God sets alight in our hearts not only burns out the old doubts but warms our entire being. This is an everlasting flame, it cannot be extinguished so long as we take care of it through obedience to God. Yes, there is a fear of not knowing, but it is a good fear in that I am trusting God with this purpose that He has put in me, and I am nervous because it is so much bigger than I am. It is not a fear of failure but a fear of God in us, just like Moses was filled with terror at what God wanted him to do. But if we accept this, then God will always be with us. That fire will keep on burning for as long as we love God with all our hearts. That fire is a holy fire, it will fill us like nothing we have ever experienced. It will warm us and guide us, like a flame that will extinguish the darkness in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray that my heart will never be shackled by my human fear, that I will learn to trust more in Your complete plan for me, even though I may not see or understand it fully.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for setting our hearts on fire with your Word, and for setting us free from fear!

18 April, Tuesday – Searching for Jesus

18 April 2017

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Acts 2:36-41

On the day of Pentecost, Peter spoke to the Jews: ‘The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.’

Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent,’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.’ He spoke to them for a long time using many arguments, and he urged them, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’ They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number.

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John 20:11-18

Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.

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Who are you looking for?

I always look forward to the Easter Vigil service when we welcome into our community the newly-baptised and those who are to be confirmed. It is indeed heartening to see each year, the number of children and young adults who take the leap of faith and accept Jesus as their Lord and master. Having been a cradle Catholic and baptised from birth, I have often wondered if I would have made the same decision to follow Christ if my parents had not done it for me.

My own search for Jesus was never a real conscious one. Instead, I was fortunate to have attended the Conversion Experience Retreat in 2011 and had my personal encounter with Him then. Since then, I have encountered Him in many other retreats and along the Camino as well. And in spite of my many encounters over the years, I constantly feel the need to see Him again, whether in the flesh or to feel the touch of His presence.

Brothers and sisters, we search for meaning each day in our lives as we plod on with our daily routines. But after 40 days of Lent, have we ever stopped to reflect and examine ourselves to see if we have grown in our spitiruality? For now that Christ is risen, surely He has reawakened in us the fire that we were given at our baptism and during our confirmation. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Mary who she is looking for, then when she finally realises it is Him, He tells her not to cling to him.

We tend to cling on to hope, especially in times of distress and when we face choppy seas. Yes, Jesus is and always will be there to save us. But what about the times when we do not see him nor feel His calming presence? Does that mean that He no longer cares or is too busy to help us? I think the opposite is true. Just as He prepared Mary and His disciples for life ‘without’ Him in person, He is now ‘present’ in everyone and in every situation we encounter after His resurrection and ascension.

If you open your heart and look hard enough, you will see Jesus in everyone around you. Yes, even in that difficult colleague or family member. Brothers and sisters, that is how we will be able to save ourselves from this perverse generation – by looking at others with the eyes of Christ. Who you are looking for may actually be closer to your heart than you think.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that we are able to discern Christ’s presence in our daily lives and in our own hearts.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for sending your Son into our world and for the gift of discernment.

17 April, Monday – Fear Not

17 Apr 2017

Monday within Octave of Easter
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Acts 2:14,22-33

On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice: ‘Men of Israel, listen to what I am going to say: Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God by the miracles and portents and signs that God worked through him when he was among you, as you all know. This man, who was put into your power by the deliberate intention and foreknowledge of God, you took and had crucified by men outside the Law. You killed him, but God raised him to life, freeing him from the pangs of Hades; for it was impossible for him to be held in its power since, as David says of him:

I saw the Lord before me always,
for with him at my right hand nothing can shake me.
So my heart was glad
and my tongue cried out with joy;
my body, too, will rest in the hope
that you will not abandon my soul to Hades
nor allow your holy one to experience corruption.
You have made known the way of life to me,
you will fill me with gladness through your presence.

‘Brothers, no one can deny that the patriarch David himself is dead and buried: his tomb is still with us. But since he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn him an oath to make one of his descendants succeed him on the throne, what he foresaw and spoke about was the resurrection of the Christ: he is the one who was not abandoned to Hades, and whose body did not experience corruption. God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that. Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.
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Matthew 28:8-15

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.’

While they were on their way, some of the guard went off into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened. These held a meeting with the elders and, after some discussion, handed a considerable sum of money to the soldiers with these instructions, ‘This is what you must say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” And should the governor come to hear of this, we undertake to put things right with him ourselves and to see that you do not get into trouble.’ The soldiers took the money and carried out their instructions, and to this day that is the story among the Jews.
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Do not be afraid.

I recently reconnected with an old friend and was quite surprised by how he appeared to have changed drastically since the last time I met him a few years ago. While outwardly, he seemed alright, I could sense a very negative aura around him; one that was rooted in fear and doubt. So I took the opportunity to invite him to one of our regular Friday growth sessions at CSC to help him reconnect with God and to help him discern how fear was enslaving him and not allowing him to live freely as a child of God.

So far,  over the past few weeks, I have been journeying with him (mainly via WhatsApp) to see how he is doing and whether he is at least beginning to appreciate God’s hand in his life. Happily, he has managed to make an appointment with a priest to get his house blessed and is open to perhaps attending the next Conversion Experience Retreat in August. I continue to pray for him and to ask God to watch over him each day as he starts to come out of the ‘darkness’ that I perceived he was trapped in.

Fr Erbin, our spiritual director at CSC, has a favorite word that he likes to utter. “Courage,” he always says to the congregation as he urges us to die to ourselves and to learn to appreciate how God constantly forms us in our various ministries. He has also openly shared his own weaknesses and challenges and is certainly not afraid nor ashamed to admit his sinfulness and his fears. Amazingly, his weekly homilies/talks never fail to uplift me and steel me to face my own daily challenges. Indeed, his Stations of the Cross over the last 3 weeks of Lent moved me tremendously and allowed the Lord to reveal how I have been crippled by fear, as He invited me to deepen my journey with Him in my ministry.

Brothers and sisters, we all know that fear and anxiety are not of God. They are the tools of the evil one and, if we scoff at them (which I did before), they can take root in us and lead us down a very dangerous and rocky path. At the recent CER, I was comforted by a verse I picked up when the Lord exhorted that I should not be afraid and that I should hope in Him so that I could soar as if on eagle’s wings. Lo and behold, we sang ‘Spirit Wings’ that very day as I let go of my fears and, in my heart, made another definite ‘Yes’ in answer to the call that I was discerning for a long time.

Since then, my journey continues to open up new avenues and has led me down many different paths with people I would never have associated with nor even spoken about God to. I continue to be amazed at His providence and His generosity as He leads me down an unknown road filled with mystery. Yes, this relationship with our Father is indeed a mystery and goes beyond human comprehension. All He asks is for us to surrender to His love and graces. And to not fear but to trust. For He is knocking at the door of our hearts and the doorknob is inside. He is waiting for us to open the door.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you give us the desire to trust in you fully so that you can fulfil in us the plan for your Church.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your constant faithfulness.

16 April, Sunday – Hallelujah the Lord is Risen

16 Apr – Easter Sunday

Alleluia!

This mass is our Alleluia; our song of praise to the risen Christ who is our life and whose triumph over death we proclaim to all the world.

– Sunday Missal
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Acts 10:34.37-43

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
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Colossians 3:1-4

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.
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John 20:1-9

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
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For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

I recently had the privilege of serving at CER#56, after not having served for an entire year. And what a reawakening it was for me – not just from the ministering point of view, but also from the messages I kept getting from God each day of the retreat. In one of the paraliturgies, I was called to help with the praying over session, which gave me a whole new perspective on the healing graces that Jesus poured out onto each and every retreatant.

At Sunday’s thanksgiving mass to mark the close of the retreat, I teared up many times during the testimonies. One, in particular, struck deep within me and reaffirmed God’s real presence in our lives. A couple went up and shared about how they had just lost their newborn as well as the husband’s father. Naturally, they had come to the retreat feeling angry and at a loss for why God would take away their two family members.

However, as they were prayed over, God revealed a vision to each of them and reassured them that their family members were in fact celebrating with Him and feeling a lot of joy and peace; much more than they had ever felt here on earth. And that gave the young couple closure while reassuring them that their loved ones were indeed safe in the arms of our loving God.

The Lenten CER is always a special one for us because it is truly one which awakens the fire and new-found belief in the hearts of the retreatants. During the testimonies, it was evident that God had indeed been ovely generous with His graces, showering every retreatant with His awesome love and mercy. It was a joy to see everyone unburdened and free from the shackles of sin at the last day, rejoicing among themselves and, especially the couples who embraced each other tightly, holding on to each other, some sobbing openly, while others just spoke with each other like newlyweds again.

For me, the messages He sent me each day reminded me of His constant presence and how He always gives us strength to carry on, especially in our moments of weakness. More importantly, He reminded me of how we should all pray fervently and joyfully, lifting up holy hands, without anger nor argument. Indeed, this Lenten period has been a rather ‘dry’ one for me and save for the CER, I hardly made any sort of sacrifices. However, the Lord, in all His goodness and mercy, chose to redeem me by reawakening a fervour and rekindling a fire in my heart that continues to burn bright. He is risen indeed!

Brothers and sisters, Christ has come not just to save us from our sins, but to also show us how much He loves and cares for us. His resurrection is the reason we believe that we are indeed saved and that the kingdom of heaven is ours to inherit, together with our brother, Jesus. Let us walk proudly with Him at our side and claim our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you continue to shine the light of Christ into our hearts.

Thanksgiving: Sing Alleluia, the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia.