All posts by Nicholas Chia

1 October, Sunday – Will Do For You

1 October 2017

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Ezekiel 18:25-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘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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Philippians 2:1-11

If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, So that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:

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

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Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?’ ‘The first’ they said. Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.’

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Thinks of other people’s interest

I recall those years when I was much younger and a teenager who wasn’t too disciplined. Whenever I was asked to help or given some household errands to run, I would feel reluctant. However, because we did not have any domestic helpers at home and since both my parents worked hard to put food on the table, there was no one else to complete the errands but ourselves. As reluctant as I was, it would still be done and surprisingly, I would feel good to have done it. Well, that is because most of those errands involved buying food and ordering takeaways.

As I got older, I continued to have random thoughts about the purpose of the things that I had to do. Was I doing this for my parents, because I respected them and loveed them for the care they had given me? Was I doing this because it showed faith and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus? Was I doing this just for the sake of money and survival? Was I doing this because I made the other person feel good about themselves at the end of the day? I believe when we grow up to become responsible adults, we begin to be accountable for our own actions, and if we tend to look beyond ourselves, we should be responsible about how our actions can affect others interest.

As with today’s first reading and Gospel, God looks to those who have that change of heart to do good. Our Lord and creator knows us pretty well. The Lord does not look at the surface of who we are, but to look deep into our hearts for our intentions and struggles to renounce sin. It is very comforting to know this in spite of all the difficult decisions we have to make each day just to survive. But if we believe in God and constantly make the effort to actually be the good person God wants us to be, He will see it and reward us. We do not live on Earth alone. Despite the struggles to love a difficult neighbour, we still need the help of others to move forward ourselves. Thus, there is certainly no excuse not to do what pleases the Lord, for He is simple and encouraging for us to always be by his side, renouncing sin and turning towards doing good.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Oh Lord, always be in our thoughts and hearts that we aim to do good wholeheartedly and that our actions bring peace and love to those around us.

Thanksgiving: O Gracious Lord, thank you for watching over us and recognising our efforts to not sin again, forgiving us, filling us with your Holy Spirit.

30 September, Saturday – God’s Full Measure of Mercy

Sep 30 – Memorial for St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor

Jerome (347-419) led a misspent youth. He later converted in theory, being baptised in 365, and then had a true conversion when he studied theology. Monk. He revised the Latin text of the Bible. The result of his 30 years of work was the Vulgate translation, which is still in use. He is a Doctor of the Church and Father of the Church. Since his own time, he has been associated in the popular mind with scrolls, writing, cataloguing, translating, etc. This led to those who work in such fields taking him as their patron – a man who knew their lives and problems.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Zechariah 2:5-9,14-15

Raising my eyes, I saw a vision. It was this: there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘To measure Jerusalem, to find out her breadth and her length.’ And then, while the angel who was talking to me stood still, another angel came forward to meet him. He said to him, ‘Run, and tell that young man this, “Jerusalem is to remain unwalled, because of the great number of men and cattle there will be in her. But I – it is the Lord who speaks – I will be a wall of fire for her all round her, and I will be her glory in the midst of her.”’

Sing, rejoice,
daughter of Zion;
for I am coming
to dwell in the middle of you
– it is the Lord who speaks.

Many nations will join the Lord,
on that day;
they will become his people.

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Luke 9:43-45

At a time when everyone was full of admiration for all he did, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For your part, you must have these words constantly in your mind: “The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men.”’ But they did not understand him when he said this; it was hidden from them so that they should not see the meaning of it, and they were afraid to ask him about what he had just said.

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Many nations will join the Lord, on that day; they will become his people. 

Imagine the last days when we are all gathered outside the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet, as today’s first readings prophesy, it is an unwalled city (Zechariah 2:4-5) and the Lord Himself is dwelling gloriously in the midst of it, casting a mighty ‘wall of fire’ around her where fortress walls should stand. Who will we discover being admitted through the wall of fire around her?

Today’s readings remind me of this hymn:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
 

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

The man with the measuring line in the first reading today seems to be conducting a vain and futile endeavor – to measure Jerusalem’s breadth and length. I cannot help but think of the best intentions of even the most righteous and self-righteous people I have met, who believe they know just how God will measure us up for the deeds of our lives.

Fraternal correction must be conducted with charity, justice, and mercy. But within this desire to call out a brother or sister to their failings or sins, is ultimately a mirror of reflection for the one who brings this charge against the sinner – how have you truly loved your neighbour in the midst of professing your judgment and correction? How pure is your heart? How humble have you been in acknowledging to God for your own times of failure?

This is not to say that no one is ever righteous enough to correct another with love. But indeed, we should not claim to think we know better whether this present momentary sin of others would be the death knell for the sinner and presume his or her condemnation outside the walls of Jerusalem. One’s present state of life does not convict them to an eternal state of life – but we must commit them to prayer with great love.

We are told that Jerusalem is unwalled. It is only God’s glorious wall of fire – a fire of justice and mercy – that will be the true measurement for the eternal length and breadth of his Heavenly kingdom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the gift of wisdom and greater love when we exercise our Christian duty of fraternal correction.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the love of my fellow Christians who courageously challenge me to accountability for my actions – even at the expense of risking misunderstandings.

29 September, Friday – Your Invisible Battlelion

Sep 29 – Feast of the Holy Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages…. So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

  • from a homily by Pope St. Gregory the Great

Michael was the leader of the army of God during the Lucifer uprising. Devotion to him is common to Muslims, Christians and Jews with writings about him in all three cultures. He is considered as the guardian angel of Israel, and the guardian and protector of the Church.

Raphael is one of the seven angels that stand before God’s throne. He is the lead character in the book of Tobit in which he travelled with (and guarded) Tobiah, and cured a man’s blindness; hence his connection with travellers, young people, blindness, healing and healers.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Apocalypse 12:7-12

Now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him. Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life. Let the heavens rejoice and all who live there.’

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John 1:47-51

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ said Nathanael. ‘Before Philip came to call you,’ said Jesus ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

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Even in the face of death they would not cling to life

Courage, in my life of faith, is a virtue and a quality I often pray for. It isn’t because I am timid by nature – I am quite an assertive person – yet I have come to learn that I am often in need of wisdom to summon courage for the right reasons and in the right situations.

When we are challenged by difficult situations, we can be stubborn and resistant on having our way – bashing through the obstacles like a mull. But that does not imply courage or wisdom in approaching one’s goals. Instead, I have realised that having a courageous heart requires drilling down deep into my soul and clinging on to my faith in the Lord who will, even in my cluelessness or inaction, carry me through with his grace and strength.

At the same time, I recall that I have never been short on receiving help from God’s angels! But how often do I forget, even to call upon their names! Today’s Feast of the Archangels is a timely reminder that we are surrounded by the presence of angels who watch over us and upon whom we can rely on for holy assistance.

Wasn’t it in the Scriptures (Luke 4:10-13) of the Temptation of Jesus where the devil taunted Christ to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’”?

The devil himself knows the duties and might of the angels, having been one himself. He knows that each of us is protected by our own guardian angel, and not least, the fearsome and powerful archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

Perhaps it is time to be get to know our own guardian angel and to reacquaint ourselves with God’s faithful archangel trio. Our spiritual army battalion is larger than we can ever imagine. If we trust in the glory and majesty of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then surely we must believe in and courageously call upon the help of his heavenly angels who are always battle-ready in the face of evil and danger.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Saints Micheal, Gabriel, Raphael and my Guardian Angel, please come to my aid in my hour of need.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me Jesus. Thank you for giving me your faithful court of angels who stand guard over me at every step of my way, ignorant of their presence as I have been.

28 September, Thursday – Seasonal Wisdom

Sep 28 – Memorial for St. Wenceslaus, martyr; Memorial for St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs

Wenceslaus (907-929) was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia, whose family had been converted by St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and Drahomira, daughter of a pagan chief, who was baptised on her wedding day but apparently never seriously took to the faith. He was the grandson and student of St. Ludmilla.

When his father was killed during a pagan backlash against Christianity, Wenceslaus ascended to power as the Duke of Bohemia and fought the pagans with prayer and patience. He was murdered by his brother Boleslaus at the door of a church. Though he was killed for political reasons, he is normally listed as a martyr since the politics arose from his faith. Miracles have been reported at his tomb, and he is the subject of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

  • Patron Saint Index

Laurence Ruiz (1600–1637) had a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both of whom were Christians. He learned Chinese and Tagalog from them, Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He was a professional calligrapher and documents transcriptionist. He was a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. He was a married layman, and the father of two sons and a daughter.

For unknown reasons, Laurence was accused of murder. He sought asylum on board ship with three Dominican priests, St. Antonio Gonzalez, St. Guillermo Courtet, and St. Mguel de Aozaraza, a Japanese priest, St. Vincente Showozuka de la Cruz, and a layman St. Lazaro of Kyoto, a leper. Only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan during a time of intense Christian persecution.

Laurence could have gone to Formosa (modern Taiwan), but feared the Spaniards there would hang him, and so stayed with the missionaries as they landed at Okinawa. The group was soon exposed as Christian, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki. They were tortured in several ways for days. Laurence and the Japanese priest broke at one point, and were ready to renounce their faith in exchange for release, but after their moment of crisis, they reclaimed their faith and defied their tormentors. He was the first canonised Filipino martyr.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Haggai 1:1-8

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord was addressed through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, as follows, ‘The Lord of Hosts says this, “This people says: The time has not yet come to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. (And the word of the Lord was addressed through the prophet Haggai, as follows:) Is this a time for you to live in your panelled houses, when this House lies in ruins? So now, the Lord of Hosts says this: Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. So go to the hill country, fetch wood, and rebuild the House: I shall then take pleasure in it, and be glorified there, says the Lord.”’

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Luke 9:7-9

Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was being done by Jesus; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see Jesus.

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 Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill…

We all move through different seasons in our lives. Having lived in a place where I could observe the changing over of the four seasons, I realized that this natural phenomenon is an immense gift from God. Each season has taught me valuable lessons about my expectations and outlook on life.

The movement from winter into spring reveals the hiddenness and slowness of beauty. Ice and frost takes time to thaw even after the sometimes painfully lethargic crawl out of hibernation. The cold earth seems to stall the unfurling of leaves from stalks and petals from buds. This teaches me that everything happens in its own time.

Spring arrives earlier in some places than others. We hear from friends living in other states about the flowers that have begun to spring up where they are, while my streets are still slushy. This teaches me about longing and even envy.

‘There is a time for everything,
And a season for every activity
Under the heavens: 

A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build…’ (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-3)

Thankfully, it only took me one spring to recognise that each plant and flower’s awakening from the frost is beautifully timed by God. As I watched avid gardeners (who clearly knew their stuff) strategise and schedule their floral arrays, I began to understand that the climbing temperatures and subtle seasonal phases meant that specific flowering bushes would blossom in an orchestrated ensemble. Late March to mid-April, crocuses and small bulbs would start peeking their heads out, together with some varieties of early tulips and daffodils. For example, from mid-April to early May, we start to see magnolias and cherry blossoms burst forth alongside tulips and late daffodil varieties. Eventually, rhododendrons, lilacs, peonies, and roses join in the fray. As each flowering bush peaks, others begin to fade. Sometimes these happen in weekly succession – such that garden displays were very much like a visual symphony of colours!

How I miss springtime! Yet, I am thankful for the physical reminder of how it is easy to keep stretching my neck out to watch for the next turn. In doing so I miss the present moment of beauty, which I can behold, appreciate, and savour.

It is perhaps this very virtue that King Herod lacked. He was insecure about his political power and popularity, lived in constant worry of his throne being threatened by the coming of a ‘new king’ whom he desperately tried to suss out and assassinate – resulting in the tragic massacre of the many innocent infants.

Our hearts can indeed give root to the weeds of malice, pride, and envy. We might have the capacity to turn rogue and cruel. But, it is also within our ability to ‘reflect carefully how things have gone for you.’ Perhaps it is time to take stock of our past and present blessings and gifts – recalibrate our hearts to recognize that God orchestrates life’s up-and-down events truly for our good. Nothing moves too fast or slow in His wisdom. We only have to trust, wait, and see.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the eyes to see beyond the appearance of frost and barren earth, and to trust in God’s timing in all of our comings-and goings.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks with a grateful heart and share our gifts with joy and generosity.

27 September, Wednesday – Only by God

Sep 27 – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

  • Patron Saints Index

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Ezra 9:5-9

At the evening sacrifice I, Ezra, came out of my stupor and falling on my knees, with my garment and cloak torn, I stretched out my hands to the Lord my God, and said:

‘My God, I am ashamed, I blush to lift my face to you, my God. For our crimes have increased, until they are higher than our heads, and our sin has piled up to heaven. From the days of our ancestors until now our guilt has been great; on account of our crimes we, our kings and our priests, were given into the power of the kings of other countries, given to the sword, to captivity, to pillage and to shame, as is the case today. But now, suddenly, the Lord our God by his favour has left us a remnant and granted us a refuge in his holy place; this is how our God has cheered our eyes and given us a little respite in our slavery. For we are slaves; but God has not forgotten us in our slavery; he has shown us kindness in the eyes of the kings of Persia, obtaining permission for us to rebuild the Temple of our God and restore its ruins, and he has found us safety and shelter in Judah and in Jerusalem.’

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Luke 9:1-6

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.

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Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic.

Every now and then, I slip into a false notion of self-sufficiency. The illusion of self-sufficiency comes surreptitiously, like a thief in the night; it veils my eyes with the cloak of control, bolsters my pride, and steals my peace. My family’s recent move into a rented apartment has been fraught with several problems – one of them is a water-damaged and mouldy row of kitchen cabinets. How I wish things could be solved quickly and at my convenience. Yet I am at the ‘mercy’ of a landlord who is biding time with and shrugging off the delays as the contractor’s fault. We can make no headway on the rectification works, and God knows… I am due to deliver our first child in less than two months!

I have lost sleep and my temper over the incompetence of the landlord and workers. I have fretted about whether the carpenter schedule will clash with the sudden early delivery of our baby. A dozen ‘what ifs’ about the lack of preparedness of our new home has wrecked havoc on my peace and patience. I have lost count of the number of times I have wanted to pick up hammer, screw-driver, or drill, in order to help get things moving along!

Meanwhile, at the back of my mind, I cannot help but be constantly reminded of an image of a pregnant Mother Mary calmly stroking her swollen belly and praying, “Let Your will be done O Lord.” It feels like such a sting to my state of being – making me uncomfortable with how vexed I truly feel. I know I can do better at this point in trusting God.

This is the situation that the disciples probably found themselves in as they moved from town to town, proclaiming the Good News and healing people across villages. Jesus had instructed them to take nothing for their nomadic journey. They were to focus solely on doing the work of God and relying exclusively on the mercy and hospitality of the townsfolk they came to serve. Obviously, the help and hospitality they would receive was by the grace of God.

Frankly, I find it hard to be at the ‘mercy’ of anyone’s choice to help me. Whatever I can do, I’ll do it myself. That has been my life’s motto – and for me, this independence makes me feel good, capable, and in control. But this is not to be in my current state and season in life.

Being heavily pregnant, I no longer can lift a heavy mattress to change the sheets. I can barely complete vacuuming or mopping the floor at home without panting and feeling faint. I have to rely on my husband for some household chores which I quite enjoy doing. And I have to wait upon the tardy lack of urgency of an unsympathetic landlord to repair the kitchen cabinets!

I have been humbled to wait for others to help me, to be patient with another’s timeline, and to also trust and rely on God to pull my family through this difficult housing situation. We have indeed done all we can within our ability – and the rest is truly up to God.

I am learning this age-old truth in new ways these days. I take heart that I am not alone in this journey of rediscovering my persistent weaknesses. It is at this juncture that I realize I am in need of God’s grace and help – because I have neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money, nor tunic.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, please help me to remain patient and humble as I wait upon the resolution of this difficult situation that I face now.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the gift of hospitality, love, and kindness that we receive from the people we meet. May we not take these instances for granted.

26 September, Tuesday – On behalf of us sinners

Sep 26 – Memorial for Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs (not used in 2010)

Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians who accepted no payment. Their charity brought many to Christ. Although they were tortured during the persecutions of Diocletian, the two suffered no injury.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Ezra 6:7-8,12,14-20

King Darius wrote to the satrap of Transeuphrates and his colleagues: ‘Leave the high commissioner of Judah and the elders of the Jews to work on this Temple of God; they are to rebuild this Temple of God on its ancient site. This, I decree, is how you must assist the elders of the Jews in the reconstruction of this Temple of God: the expenses of these people are to be paid, promptly and without fail, from the royal revenue – that is, from the tribute of Transeuphrates. May the God who causes his name to live there overthrow any king or people who dares to defy this and destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem! I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed to the letter!’

The elders of the Jews prospered with their building, inspired by Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building in accordance with the order of the God of Israel and the order of Cyrus and of Darius. This Temple was finished on the twenty-third day of the month of Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The Israelites – the priests, the Levites and the remainder of the exiles – joyfully dedicated this Temple of God; for the dedication of this Temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs and, as a sacrifice for sin for the whole of Israel, twelve he-goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they installed the priests according to their orders in the service of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is written in the Book of Moses.

The exiles celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

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Luke 8:19-21

The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

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‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

 How is it that one man should die for the sins of many in order that they may be saved? How is it that one man could atone for the failures and the iniquities of all of humanity, past and present? Who is capable of representing every man, woman, child? If you or I were guilty of a crime, dare we consider scapegoating one person for the crime or travesty?

Frankly, the first reading today stumbled me. And the gospel passage always makes me wonder why Jesus would sound so distant and disrespectful of Mary his mother. At the same time, it is often this passage that some Protestants use to argue that Jesus had disowned his mother and hints that he had other siblings (brothers). Hence Mary had children other than Jesus, thus it diminishing the importance she plays in Jesus’ life and questions her honored place in the Catholic faith. However, we know that the word ‘brothers’ could mean kinsmen or cousins in its proper historical context. At the same time, we have another account in the Gospel of Mark that relates his family had thought Jesus’ ministry was out of hand and had arrived to take him home (Mk 3:28-35)

As I pondered deeper on these scriptures, I realized that I was challenged by the concept of claiming my brethren, a community, fellow Christians, and my fellow kinsfolk. The point is not that Jesus had disowned his flesh and blood family. Taken together, the first reading and gospel passage reveals that Christ came to unite all of us humanity into a large family of God’s people. It is a truly difficult concept. Because no matter how we slice the pie, we still cannot help but see ourselves as belonging to one particular group of society or church community.

Very naturally, we want to protect our own kind, we desire loyalty, we want to identify with someone or some group. But these are ultimately superficial divisions, and amorphous structures that our life experiences, culture, race, society, and upbringing place upon us. These are not set in stone and the reality is, we are truly one under the love of God.

In the first reading of Ezra, we are told: The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

This image prefigures God’s plan for the whole of humanity. That He, Creator of all the world and human race, should fashion from perfect love, one Man, His Only Begotten Son, as a sacrificial lamb to be condemned to death on cruel cross for all of humanity’s sins. No sin too small or great that Christ’s blood could not cleanse and purify. No wound so hidden that God’s love and mercy could not heal and restore. Jesus did not come to serve only his kinsmen, not only the ones who love him or love God and put His Word into practice. He came for all of us, even the ones we deem unworthy of redemption.

Grace is freely given. However, it is true that there are some amongst us who may continue to choose to spurn God’s grace and love. Yet, you and I are challenged today to still think of them as our brethren and our larger family, whom God loves unconditionally.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of mercy for our brothers and sisters who have yet to come to know God.

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the many prayers that must have been said for me while I was still a wandering prodigal daughter.

25 September, Monday – Entitlement

25 September 2017

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Ezra 1:1-6

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord that was spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: ‘Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, wherever he lives, be helped by the people of that place with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, as well as voluntary offerings for the Temple of God which is in Jerusalem.”’

Then the heads of families of Judah and of Benjamin, the priests and the Levites, in fact all whose spirit had been roused by God, prepared to go and rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem; and all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.

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Luke 8:16-18

Jesus said to the crowds:

‘No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.’

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… for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.

God’s many gifts are given to each of us and meant for us to share with the world. This is the crux of the readings today. How often do we think about our gifts and talents as something that should be put to use for the good of others first, before we ourselves reap the benefits? I guess I’m guilty of often thinking: me first, then when I have time and the chance, I will share or contribute.

I know it isn’t easy to constantly think beyond myself or even to encompass the concerns of a larger community above my own needs. Jesus tells the crowds that when one possesses a coveted lit lamp in the midst of a deep darkness, the most important thing is to put it on a lamp-stand for all to see the light when they come in.

Have you have known someone who would probably snuff out the lamp once they are done with their use of it? I can think of some people I have met in life who might actually do so! Or even keep the lamp solely for their personal use.

Therein lies the question of ‘how entitled do I think I am to the gifts and talents I have?’ The reality today is that we are often told ‘to each his own’, ‘you’ve earned it!’, ‘some are just more equal than others’, and  ‘you can have control over your destiny/path/identity/dreams.’ In each of these overwhelmingly common refrains lurks a sense of selfishness and entitlement of the individual. Self-help books today abound with similar themes of ‘me, myself, and I’.

Likewise, the first reading today shows us the strength and resilience of community, of sharing in resources, skills, and talents amongst the different families of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites. Everyone of them were roused by the Holy Spirit to come together, bringing the light of their strongest skill sets and valuables, to help rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem – ‘all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.’

This light of God could be manifest in our worship, our churches, our work, our families, our time and resources, etc. The important thing for us to remember is that we are only stewards of these manifold gifts from God, and how we use them for the good of others, is what pleases God more than how well we enrich and entrench ourselves in the system of power, benefits, rewards.

God alone knows, and sees into the hearts of all He created. May He find in us clean and pure hearts desiring to serve and share His gifts of which we are guardians and stewards.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to see beyond my immediate comfort and benefit to consider serving your people humbly and generously.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people who have made it their life’s call to serve others and bring God’s light to the world.

24 September, Sunday – The Upside-down World of a Generous God

24 September 2017

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Isaiah 55:6-9

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

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Philippians 1:20-24,27

Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more; but then again, if living in this body means doing work which is having good results – I do not know what I should choose. I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake.

Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

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My ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.

Nobody likes to be last. Whether it is to be the last to join a group project, the last to complete a piece of work, or the last in a race. If we were the last to join an established group of people, some of us may feel awkward and lost amidst the already comfortable dynamics and conversation. And especially if we were the first few to kick-start a group or a project but ended up finishing close to last or doing the worst among every one else, that feeling would surely stink.

I imagine that the gospel passage today is often a huge stumbling block for many people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven (and its logic) to the system of work and payment agreement between this particular vineyard owner and his workers.

The reward for all was always intended to be the same. This is the law of a truly fair and just God. He had laid out the plan from the beginning. Each one of us who are made in His image are loved as much as the other, and share in an equal dignity among others.

Hence, whether you or I came first or late or last to the eternal banquet, we are served exactly the same portion and food, and given the same treatment – love and mercy. However, when we look out at the world through our limited and human perspective of scarcity, it is inevitable that we think the ones who struck the deal the vineyard owner first deserve the best compensation for their long and hard service. Interestingly, these first-comers were actually not short-changed, for they indeed received the wages that was agreed upon. It was only upon realizing that the latecomers received the same dues as them too, that their satisfaction was challenged and their joy diminished. They were also upset that the latecomers were paid first! It appears that fairness to them was that the latecomers should be paid later and lesser!

Let us think about the one denarius daily wage as if it were paid in terms of a meal or food at the end of the work day. In these terms, it seems the first group felt entitled to a complete meal at the banquet, whereas the later group should only be distributed the remnants of the meal!

God invites us today to open our hearts to his logic of justice and generosity. He does not reward first-comers to the faith better for our long years of service and faith – we have already had our reward in communion with Him! Likewise, he does not reward the late-comers better, in some twist of unfairness and indulgence.

“Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”

He rewards all the same with his boundless mercy and love, for it is communion that he desires with each and every soul. The dignity and worth of every single person was formed one and the same by One God who is Creator above all.

May we participate in expressing the generosity of God’s love to all who come to Him, no matter if they joined the family at birth, through marriage, in mid-life, or at deathbed. Even if a hardcore sinner or criminal should have spent all his/her life indulging in all manner of debauchery, only to repent late in life, may we give thanks and rejoice with our Heavenly Father who embraces the younger prodigal son, “he was once lost, but now is found.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to cultivate a heart of mercy and generosity to embrace and love our neighbour.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for receiving and loving us all equally no matter when we return to your fold.

23 September, Saturday – Our Models of Faith

Sep 23 – Memorial for St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Priest

Pio (1887-1968) was ordained when he was 22. He founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920s he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.

His canonisation miracle involved the cure of Matteo Pio Colella, age 7, the son of a doctor who works in the House for Relief of Suffering, the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo founded by Padre Pio. On the night of 20 June 2000, Matteo was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital with meningitis. By morning doctors had lost hope for him as nine of the boy’s internal organs had ceased to give signs of life.

That night, during a prayer vigil attended by Matteo’s mother and some Capuchin friars of Padre Pio’s monastery, the child’s condition improved suddenly. When he awoke from the coma, Matteo said that he had seen an elderly man with a white beard and a long, brown habit, who said to him: “Don’t worry, you will soon be cured.”

  • Patron Saints Index

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1 Timothy 6:13-16

Before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate, I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who at the due time will be revealed
by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all,
the King of kings and the Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal,
whose home is in inaccessible light,
whom no man has seen and no man is able to see:
to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

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Luke 8:4-15

With a large crowd gathering and people from every town finding their way to him, Jesus used this parable:

‘A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell on the edge of the path and was trampled on; and the birds of the air ate it up. Some seed fell on rock, and when it came up it withered away, having no moisture. Some seed fell amongst thorns and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell into rich soil and grew and produced its crop a hundredfold.’ Saying this he cried, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’

His disciples asked him what this parable might mean, and he said, ‘The mysteries of the kingdom of God are revealed to you; for the rest there are only parables, so that

they may see but not perceive,
listen but not understand.

‘This, then, is what the parable means: the seed is the word of God. Those on the edge of the path are people who have heard it, and then the devil comes and carries away the word from their hearts in case they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are people who, when they first hear it, welcome the word with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of trial they give up. As for the part that fell into thorns, this is people who have heard, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life and do not reach maturity. As for the part in the rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart who have heard the word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.’

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“I put to you the duty all that you have been told… until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”

I went to all boys schools at both the primary and secondary levels. Being educated in English as a first language, the boys did not hold the learning of Mandarin as a priority. In fact, we relished in speaking English during our Mandarin classes and often got “rewarded” with extended standing sessions outside the classrooms!

In my late twenties, I became interested in learning more about my Chinese heritage. Unfortunately, I realised English was not exactly the best language of instruction (especially in the pre-internet era). As a result, I began working hard on improving my Mandarin competency.

A story I learned during my “studies” still intrigues me till today. This took place during the same era as the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. A general was marching his troops over a particularly mountainous stretch and the going was tough. The sun was brutally hot and the soldiers were extremely dehydrated. With no water source available, the mission was in danger of failing, when the general told his troops that there was a forest full of plum trees just beyond the mountain. When the troops heard that, they quickened their pace, ultimately ending in a successful campaign.

In the first reading of today, much like the Chinese general, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to do his best for the Lord, and to perform his duties faultlessly, until the time our Lord Jesus returns. What really impressed me was the intensity of devotion of both Paul and Timothy. Similarly, the disciples continued to display loyalty to our Lord Jesus, even to the point of giving up their lives for Him (except for John, who died of natural causes).

Let us learn from Paul, Timothy and the disciples. May we look forward to tasting the juicy plums after we pass this mountain. We need to keep our eyes on our Lord!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, please help us to always keep our eyes on You.  Help us to be as faithful as those before us.

ThanksgivingThank You for sending models of faith for us to follow.  Thank You for always showing us how to be faithful.

22 September, Friday – The True North

22 September 2017

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1 Timothy 6:2-12

This is what you are to teach the brothers to believe and persuade them to do. Anyone who teaches anything different, and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit – with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another; and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making a profit. Religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds.

But, as a man dedicated to God, you must avoid all that. You must aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth in front of many witnesses.

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Luke 8:1-3

Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.

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“This is what you are to teach the brothers to believe…”

When I was 11, a neighbour brought me to a Presbyterian church. I continued attending that particular church for a few years and during that time, I heard many sermons explaining Bible readings and did learn quite a bit about Christian living. I must admit, though, that the messages that came through the sermons did clash at times. As someone exposed to the Bible the first time, I was confused. In fact, I was not able to differentiate what was correct and what was not.

Thanks to a good friend, I started going to the Catholic Church and got baptised. Because of my experience in the earlier church, I realised that the homilies and sermons in the Catholic Church were quite different; the style was obviously different, but it was clear that interpretation of the Bible passages were consistent.

A few years later, I became a Catechist when my daughter joined the Home Catechism group. In preparing for the lessons, I struggled to find out what was the ‘right’ message, and discovered the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)’.  The CCC is a treasure trove of what we as Catholics believe; it not only contains the interpretations of the Bible but also the oral traditions of the Church. The CCC was obviously there all along of course, it was just that I was not aware of it.

Over time, I discovered that the Catholic Church was universal in others ways as well. I have attended Masses in other countries and I was able to join in the Eucharist, just like I was at home. More importantly, I know that whatever I am, the teachings and interpretations are that of the Catholic Church; consistent and dependent.

The Apostle Paul, in today’s 1st reading, cautions us to ensure that all teachings are to keep to the doctrines of our Lord Jesus.  The Catholic Church gives us this confidence and trust.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer We pray that we may always be guided by our Holy Father and the Holy Catholic Church.

Thanksgiving – Father God, we praise and thank You for sending Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for teaching us how to live through giving us the Church and the CCC.