All posts by Nicholas Chia

18 Nov, Monday – Spiritual Blindness

Nov 18 – Memorial for the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Basilica of St. Peter is located within the Vatican City. It occupies a unique position as one of the holiest sites and as the greatest of all churches of Christendom. It is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and, according to tradition, was the first Bishop of Antioch and later the first Bishop of Rome, and therefore the first in the line of the papal succession.
Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter’s tomb is below the altar of the basilica, which is why many popes, starting with the first ones, have been buried there.

There has been a church on this site since the fourth century. Construction on the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on Apr 18, 1506, and was completed in 1626.
While St. Peter’s is the most famous of Rome’s many churches, it is not the first in rank, an honour held by the Pope’s cathedral church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Contrary to popular misconception, St. Peter’s is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. It is properly termed a basilica.

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls is one of four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome. This basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over what was believed to be the burial place of St. Paul where it was said that after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial over his grave.

In 386 Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept. The work, including the mosaics, was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I. Under Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the basilica was again extensively modified. As it lay outside the Aurelian walls, this basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the ninth century.

Consequently, Pope John VIII fortified it, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry forming the town of Joannispolis which existed until 1348 when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

On 15 Jul 1823, the negligence of a workman repairing the roof resulted in a fire which almost totally destroyed the basilica. Alone of all the churches in Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. The whole world contributed to its reconstruction. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, and the Emperor of Russia sent the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal façade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian government, which declared the church a national monument.
The basilica was reopened in 1840 but was reconsecrated only 15 years later at the presence of Pope Pius IX with 50 cardinals. On 31 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the basilica to come under the control of an archpriest. On the same day, he named Archbishop Andrew Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.

– Wikipedia

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1 Maccabees 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-64

There grew a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; once a hostage in Rome, he became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray. ‘Come,’ they said ‘let us reach an understanding with the pagans surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us.’ This proposal proved acceptable, and a number of the people eagerly approached the king, who authorised them to practise the pagan observances. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, such as the pagans have, disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to the heathen rule as willing slaves of impiety.

Then the king issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. All the pagans conformed to the king’s decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the sabbath. The king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned. Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king’s decree sentenced him to death.

Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel.

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Luke 18:35-43

As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about, and they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied ‘let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God for what had happened.

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“He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God”

Living in California, I’ve found you need a pretty thick skin and a robust attitude to having your Christian faith questioned when you’re least expecting it. It’s happened to me often enough, each time instigated by people I consider good friends. You’re minding your own business, settling in to what you thought would be a relaxing evening – the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a heated exchange about God, why He exists and why you’re Catholic. Whoa!! As one of the more liberal states in America, close to 40% of people in California identify as atheists (Gallup Survey 2017). A statistic ceases to be just a number though, when that ‘percentage’ is your neighbour. Or your volunteer buddy. Or a close friend. Atheism has grown exponentially at the expense of Catholicism. I can see its attraction. I can even intellectualize why some of its arguments are compelling. What is a young person to do? The Internet offers answers to most things. Why wonder about a higher power when the smartphone you hold in your hands is so empowering?

That’s likely the experience of Israel in our first reading from Maccabees. “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us”. That would’ve sounded like common sense in the context of that time. Why not align with those who can safeguard our livelihood and prosperity? Today, that conversation might sound a bit like, “Let’s be more liberal, not so conservative or so religious, so we can fit in here. Let’s go to this work thing instead of going to church. Let’s not tell people we observe Lent, we don’t want them to think we’re weird”. Sound a little familiar?

It’s ironic how the small compromises we make are often the most insidious. Don’t go to church for two weeks and the third week of absence no longer seems that big a deal. Miss a few days of prayer and you will begin to not notice it. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly boiling water, we won’t even realize our role in abetting this wilful blindness. But all actions have consequences. And one day, all those small compromises we’ve made come home to roost and we find ourselves desperately crying out, “Jesus, have pity on me! Save me! Please let me see!”

While we can, let’s not be blind or unaware of the compromises that we make. We are all vulnerable to spiritual blindness when we allow ourselves to be separated from God for too long. The world’s view of self-reliance and empowerment seems noble, but those ambitions are an illusion. Only God endures. Let’s not be caught unawares and try to live more mindful of our faith. Our very souls are what’s at stake.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, open our eyes and help us to be aware each time we seek our glory and not Yours, each time we choose our own independence over Your Will. Bring us back to the narrow way with compassion, love, mercy and grace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to those God puts in our lives to keep us from straying too far.

17 November, Sunday – On Dogs

17 November

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Malachi 3:19-20

The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.

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2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

You know how you are supposed to imitate us: now we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we ever have our meals at anyone’s table without paying for them; no, we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you. This was not because we had no right to be, but in order to make ourselves an example for you to follow.

We gave you a rule when we were with you: do not let anyone have any food if he refuses to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.

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Luke 21:5-19

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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“All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”

I started fostering a couple of dogs in the last 2 months. One of them is a retired service dog, an 8-yr old Golden Retriever with melancholic eyes. His handler passed away last Christmas. People say dogs get over things quickly. I find that to be untrue – the golden is still grieving, as far as I can tell. The other is a 12-yr old Cocker Spaniel, who, despite her small stature, has figured out the secret to aging with joy and grace. She has more spunk than I do on a good day. Running after the both of them, and my own hyperactive Labradoodle has taken up the lion’s share of my time.

When I first agreed to this, I probably didn’t think it through. I figured I was doing someone a favour, that I would have more help and that things would work themselves out. I assumed (wrongly!) that they would be like my own Labradoodle – biddable, responsive and open to bribes. I’ve since learned that dogs, like people, have their own personalities and, like people, will do as they please. What applies to one breed does not work for another. I’ve also discovered things about myself in the process. I am a stickler for the invisible, unspoken math behind the perceived rights and wrongs done to me. I went into this thinking I was doing someone a favour, but when that favour became burdensome (as any form of caregiving often does), I found myself doing intricate mental calculations around what I was being owed, who owed me and how I was going to be justified. I can tell you now that as clever as they are, dogs can’t do math. And obsessing over this kind of sorry mental arithmetic anyway, is a misery-inducing exercise. Yes, the reading from Thessalonians assures us that “those who are unwilling to work, neither should that one eat”. But seriously, who is going to enforce this in a time frame that is satisfactory to me?

On good days, when the dogs are being cooperative, I’ve found myself wondering at the road that has led me here and how much my heart has expanded. I didn’t even like dogs 6 years ago. I was terrified of them. I thought they smelled. How’d I end up with three? On bad days, when they’ve trashed the lawn, messed up the house and trekked mud onto the upholstery, I’ve found myself asking God what the bigger picture is. What’s the point to all this? And every now and again, if I am not so preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself, God’s quiet voice reminds me that “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”. Nothing lasts forever – one day this will pass, and what will I feel then? Emptiness? Sorrow? Will I miss their capacity for joy and their unconditional devotion? Might it not be a better idea to embrace it all now, to drink my fill of their spontaneity, their joy and their ability to find happiness in chaos? Dogs and God have one thing in common – they only do Love. It is people that do math.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for the patience, love and fortitude to be a good steward to the dogs that have been placed in my care. May God and the good St Francis help me to be a good caregiver to them.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the angels that God sends to help me climb out of my sorry pit of despair. I give thanks for His faithfulness, even when I am being faithless, self-pitying and weak.

13 November, Wednesday – In search of wisdom

13 November

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Wisdom 6:1-11

Listen, kings, and understand;
rulers of remotest lands, take warning;
hear this, you who have thousands under your rule,
who boast of your hordes of subjects.
For power is a gift to you from the Lord,
sovereignty is from the Most High;
he himself will probe your acts and scrutinise your intentions.

If, as administrators of his kingdom, you have not governed justly
nor observed the law,
nor behaved as God would have you behave,
he will fall on you swiftly and terribly.
Ruthless judgement is reserved for the high and mighty;
the lowly will be compassionately pardoned,
the mighty will be mightily punished.
For the Lord of All does not cower before a personage,
he does not stand in awe of greatness,
since he himself has made small and great
and provides for all alike;
but strict scrutiny awaits those in power.

Yes, despots, my words are for you,
that you may learn what wisdom is and not transgress;
for they who observe holy things holily will be adjudged holy,
and, accepting instruction from them, will find their defence in them.
Look forward, therefore, to my words;
yearn for them, and they will instruct you.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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…yearn for them, and they will instruct you.

I had the privilege of sharing 5 days with 26 other extremely smart, gifted and kind people from 11 other countries this week at a leadership development programme. Right from day one when I entered the room, I sensed that this was going to be a special few days from the positive energy and the initial ‘check ins’ when we were asked to share a bit about ourselves.

As we progressed through the days, we bonded on various levels, especially when we shared our personal challenges at work as leaders who were caught in the middle – between senior management (the C-suite) and our own teams. It was interesting that in spite of our various cultural and situational differences, the challenges we faced were remarkably similar. The clincher came on day four when we were each assigned a coach/mentor for a more than 3 hour one-on-one session. What a time of sharing and input it was for me (from a career/work perspective) as she combined learnings from her years of experience with empathy, advice and some spirituality (we discovered we both serve in Catholic organisations and had some common interests). Truly, it helped spark so many ideas and thoughts for me to bring back to work in order to make me a more effective leader.

What hit home for me was the realization (I had already suspected it) that I could not be using the same strategies from way back when I had a team of 3 to 6 staff in the current environment (I now have 13). The ways of motivating each group/individual would have to be different and I would have to tailor my approaches rather than expect each one to ‘toe the line’. And while there was a need for some structure and discipline, I could not crack the whip all the time and expect the best. I would have to listen a lot more and be more approachable (I had a very low ‘need’ score for ‘connection’ in my self-analysis). This programme was timely for me as I had been struggling for answers the past few weeks and I guess they all came flooding in over the course of the five days, especially interacting with so many like-minded professionals.

Brothers and sisters, when we hit an impasse or come to a crossroad in our lives, what do we do in order to reset, reframe and rejuvenate? Do we avoid the situation at hand and look for a new environment (something which I came to realise in the context of my almost 10 years in this current job)? Or do we consult others and seek input from those who have been around the block, even our bosses? As we yearn for instruction, do we really open ourselves up to receive? Or do we put up defences and say, “Oh, this is not me”, “This does not apply to me” or “You don’t know my situation so you are in no position to comment”?

I left the training venue filled with thoughts and edified that people all round the world actually have much more in common than we think. Perhaps we need to look within ourselves and explore what we have in common with those who are suffering, those who languish in poverty, those who are oppressed, or those who feel they have no hope. More importantly, I left feeling hopeful that equipped with new tools, I can become an effective agent of change in my workplace…and even in my ministry.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Father, you shower us with your love and constantly speak to us your words of wisdom. Give us the grace to be able to seek you out in our daily challenges and listen to your voice. Fill us with the Spirit so that we can be better versions of who we are in our workplaces, in our communities, at home with our families.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Holy Spirit, for being our guiding light and His voice in our lives.

12 November – Tuesday, Enduring Faith in Love

Nov 12 – Memorial for St. Josaphat, bishop, religious, martyr

John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.

Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.

His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.

He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.

While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.

Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.

“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat

  • Patron Saint Index

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Wisdom 2:23-3:9

God made man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God,
no torment shall ever touch them.
In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die,
their going looked like a disaster,
their leaving us, like annihilation;
but they are in peace.
If they experienced punishment as men see it,
their hope was rich with immortality;
slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be.
God has put them to the test
and proved them worthy to be with him;
he has tested them like gold in a furnace,
and accepted them as a holocaust.
When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out;
as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.
They shall judge nations, rule over peoples,
and the Lord will be their king for ever.
They who trust in him will understand the truth,
those who are faithful will live with him in love;
for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.

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Luke 17:7-10

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’

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…those who are faithful will live with him in love

It is a tough ask to remain faithful to something, someone or a belief system when one has been let down or when all around, others begin to question you. At times like these, it is only natural that one retreats into a shell and either withers away or comes out renewed, re-energised and fighting to re-establish authority or a semblance of what was once true.

As I write this, I am midway through a 5-day leadership training programme, which could not have come at a timelier moment. Much of the programme is focused on the dynamics between individuals (your boss, peers and staff), between groups and the challenges that each faces when interacting with someone like myself. Needless to say, it has been an eye-opening experience thus far and I am eager to meet with my assigned career coach over the next two days as we begin to unpack my leadership style and zoom in on the personality traits that may hinder my progress.

In battling my inner demons (albeit, rather small) over the past few months, I have come to realise that the one overwhelming emotion which arises from putting your faith in God is – love. The love that comes when you decide to shield others from blame; the love that comes when you are called to lead a praise and worship session when issues at work are demanding your time; the love that comes when you see others doing their best for you in spite of your own dark moods; the love of friends who call you out of the blue and invite you for dinner; the love of a soulmate who doesn’t demand of you but only wants the best for you, even if it means a weekend sleeping in.

I wonder if this overwhelming love is what the apostles felt each and every single day in the presence of Jesus. Because it is the only explanation why they would give everything up to follow Him. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of doing the same in today’s modern world, filled with creature comforts and luxuries of all sorts that distract us from the love of Jesus. Or do we? Have we become so blind to others around us, only caring about ourselves that we have forgotten how to love others as Jesus loved us?

Have we become such an ‘entitled’ race that we have forgotten how important it is to treat each other with respect, dignity and a common decency expected from those who proclaim to be followers of Christ? In one of the exercises we did during the programme, I played the role of a ‘customer’ and a few of the comments from the sharing/debrief session highlighted a certain sense of entitlement with regards to how we treated the ‘vendor agency’. I began to ask myself if I had begun to also feel a sense of entitlement towards my staff, treating them not with the respect that were due, but more with disdain – that they could never measure up.

Perhaps that is why whenever I look around in times of crisis, I never see the people who I need to show up – kind of like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. But unlike Jesus, who treated every single one of his apostles with love, my staff don’t form a circle around me because they don’t feel appreciated nor trusted. Even worse, I treat other subordinates even better and spend more time with them instead of those who need my affirmation more.

Brothers and sisters, research has shown that for every bit of negative feedback we have to give someone, it is necessary to first give three times the amount of positive feedback. And for those who are married, the number rises to almost six times vis-à-vis feedback for your spouse. How are we doing in our interactions with those who we spend a more than significant portion of our lives with?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Dear Father, help us to model Christ-like behavior at work, especially to our subordinates, staff and fellow colleagues. Be our guiding light in the challenging times and show us your face each time we encounter a crisis or a difficult situation.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being our model of love.

11 November, Monday – Faith Debt

11 November 2019

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Wisdom 1:1-7

Love virtue, you who are judges on earth,
let honesty prompt your thinking about the Lord,
seek him in simplicity of heart;
since he is to be found by those who do not put him to the test,
he shows himself to those who do not distrust him.
But selfish intentions divorce from God;
and Omnipotence, put to the test, confounds the foolish.
No, Wisdom will never make its way into a crafty soul
nor stay in a body that is in debt to sin;
the holy spirit of instruction shuns deceit,
it stands aloof from reckless purposes,
is taken aback when iniquity appears.

Wisdom is a spirit, a friend to man,
though she will not pardon the words of a blasphemer,
since God sees into the innermost parts of him,
truly observes his heart,
and listens to his tongue.
The spirit of the Lord, indeed, fills the whole world,
and that which holds all things together knows every word that is said.

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Luke 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Obstacles are sure to come, but alas for the one who provides them! It would be better for him to be thrown into the Sea with a millstone put round his neck than that he should lead astray a single one of these little ones. Watch yourselves!

If your brother does something wrong, reprove him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, “I am sorry,” you must forgive him.’

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’

The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’

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The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith”

I have been facing a crisis of faith in myself over the recent weeks due to a few missteps at work. Apart from questioning my own leadership of my team, I wondered if I was becoming too complacent and starting to take my role at work for granted. Thankfully, I will be spending 5 days (starting today in fact) at a leadership training course which most of my other colleagues have already attended over the years. Many of them have attested to its effectiveness, especially since each was assigned a mentor/coach, depending on the areas of weakness that were identified during the course.

My own chat with my boss (this was something that had to be done prior to the course starting) revealed a trust that he has in me and how he felt that the 5 days would be beneficial, especially in the area of learning how to appreciate other divisions needs and then harnessing support from others, as well as my own team, to help focus on a common goal, even if it did not agree fully with my aims. This was an area he felt I needed to beef up on. Obviously, there has been feedback that I can be pretty ‘hard-nosed’ and that I do not consult enough before I make certain decisions.

I am pretty sure Jesus never went through a crisis of faith in his own leadership, simply because he was led by God the Father. The apostles could disagree and bicker among themselves but Jesus never bowed to their various idiosyncracies nor compromised and let them have their way. I think that is where I have been falling short – not staying my own course and allowing my staff to get away with many things. As a consequence, I have begun to tighten the fist again and even issued a ‘code of conduct’ (after consulting with HR). I felt that it was time to take back control and to let the team know I was not going to stand idly by while standards started to slip.

You could say that my lack of faith in my own leadership precipitated a reaction where I went into ‘crisis mode’. I myself am hoping that over the next few weeks and months, I can restore some pride and reset standards to where they once were. Not that they have gone totally downhill, just that we are on a slippery slope and traction has to be restored. Thankfully, I know that our God is with me on this journey and He is going to be more than just a bystander. I look back on the past two months and realise that He has been my cheerleader all this while, willing me to lean on him even more as I started to question my own abilities as a leader.

Brothers and sisters, when was the last time you faced a crisis of confidence and had to turn within yourself, knowing that only you could make things better? I want to encourage everyone of us today who is facing a tough situation that God is always with us – we just need to open our hearts and invite Him into our situations so that He can fill us with a faith and determination that no one else can give.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, be our guide and our healer as we journey through the rough waters around us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you dear Father, for your faithfulness and your loving hand in our lives.

20 July, Saturday – Humility at Heart

Jul 20 – Memorial for St. Apollinaris, Bishop & Martyr

According to tradition, Apollinaris was a native of Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria. He was made the first Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian (or Nero, depending on the source).

On his way out of the city, he was identified, arrested as being the leader, tortured and martyred by being run through with a sword. Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to St. Romuald. He was a noted miracle worker, and is considered especially effective against gout and epilepsy.

  • Wikipedia

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Exodus 12:37-42

The sons of Israel left Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand on the march – all men – not counting their families. People of various sorts joined them in great numbers; there were flocks, too, and herds in immense droves. They baked cakes with the dough which they had brought from Egypt, unleavened because the dough was not leavened; they had been driven out of Egypt, with no time for dallying, and had not provided themselves with food for the journey. The time that the sons of Israel had spent in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And on the very day the four hundred and thirty years ended, all the array of the Lord left the land of Egypt. The night, when the Lord kept vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt, must be kept as a vigil in honour of the Lord for all their generations.

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Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and began to plot against Jesus, discussing how to destroy him.

Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district. Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah:

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved, the favourite of my soul.
I will endow him with my spirit,
and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations.
He will not brawl or shout,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break the crushed reed,
nor put out the smouldering wick
till he has led the truth to victory:
in his name the nations will put their hope.

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“Here is my servant who I have chosen,…I will endow him with my spirit, and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations.”

As a ‘cradle Catholics’ (not ready for the grave yet), we know that our Lord gave us two commandments. One is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength; and love others as we love ourselves. Within that love, we are to share the treasure that God offers, and we are called to introduce, if not to bring, our fellow travelers to Jesus, our Lord, in this journey called Life. Yes, we are all called to evangelize.

I struggle with wanting to serve but fearing that I do not have anything to offer. Not knowing if I possess any talents, whatever that might be, and how to use them to serve. Feeling frustrated and ineffective, I cannot believe that God would choose me to serve in ministry as there are so many more talented, more eloquent, more knowledgeable people; why would he choose a sinner like me?

Then I came upon a reading in the Divine Mercy reflections with Saint Faustina. We are all called to serve. Some have a ‘bigger’ or more public role, some have a less public role, but we all have a part to play in God’s grand scheme. The role He entrusts to us is not given to anyone else, individually, we are to fulfill the task assigned. But we are NEVER alone.

All that we have, all that we are, is the result of graces given by the Lord. The faith that we have, the achievements that we attain, the good that we do, are all gifts from our God — who is holy and all good.  Of course, it is a choice we make in collaborating with God to do good. But it would be dangerous for us to claim that we alone, achieved the good. Left to our own devices, our fallen human nature would lead us to the wrong path.  It is only with the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we are able to head in the right direction.

So do not be disheartened if you are like me, undecided as to what talents we possess to serve the Lord.  God has a job and a plan for us. All we need is to love and trust in the Lord. We need to pray and be attentive to His call. We must have a heart that desires His will over ours, and then we need to be patient. Because it is not when we want or how we want to serve. Rather, it is according to God’s will of when, where and how.

Brothers and sisters, we are all called to serve, but we don’t have to worry about the ways or methods. God has already figured that out for us and all we need is to let Him take the wheel.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, grant us the grace to desire Your will over our own, and the grace of patience in waiting. Help us to be attentive to Your call and recognize Your voice above all else.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for deeming us worthy of Your work and providing us with the tools to serve Your will.

19 July, Friday – Master of the Sabbath

19 July 2019

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Exodus 11:10-12:14

Moses and Aaron worked many wonders in the presence of Pharaoh. But the Lord made Pharaoh’s heart stubborn, and he did not let the sons of Israel leave his country.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal. It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled, but roasted over the fire, head, feet and entrails. You must not leave any over till the morning: whatever is left till morning you are to burn. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord. That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”

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Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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“What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.”

It has come to my realisation that I had a lot of misunderstanding about the Catholic faith and that I needed to learn and study more for better understanding. Take for instance, the matter of sacrifice. It has been ingrained in us that we fast during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain every Friday during Lent. Those are the ‘sacrifices’ that we make in order to prepare us for Easter. There are other instances of ‘sacrifices’ that Catholics do, as a ritual, as a preparation, as a practice. For example, abstaining from food at least one hour before receiving the Holy Eucharist.

I never truly understood why some of these rituals existed. In my mind, God is not so petty to care about whether I ate before receiving Him. Why should I let man’s rules override God’s rules? For surely, it is Jesus himself who gave us the Eucharist, His body for us to eat. He never said to only receive Him one hour after a meal. I struggled with these seemingly innocuous questions.

Upon further reading and speaking with fellow Christians, it dawned on me that it is not so much the ritual that our Lord is after. It is what is in our hearts and minds that truly matters. If I fasted all the while complaining about it, then the fasting is for naught because my heart is not in the right place. I would not be truly reverent about receiving our Lord. For if I did revere Him and worship Him, I would make sure that I was well-prepared to receive Him. I would make sure that I am clean and presentable to be in the presence of a King. Fasting before a meal is a token of that preparedness. But more importantly, is my willingness and intentions of doing so. My intentions should be pure and whatever needs to be done is to be done with joy instead of complaints.

Brothers and sisters, this seems so simple yet, when we are tired, stressed and demoralized, it is so easy to fall into the fray and become disgruntled at the most straightforward task. In my daily life, when I am tight on time and others place additional and unexpected demands on me, I become disgruntled and silently seethe inside, all the while performing the task unwillingly. This is not what our Lord wants. He wants us to be joyful, to be excited and eager to receive Him. When we prepare to receive Him in the Eucharist, we should prepare ourselves as if for a wedding banquet, a most solemn but joyous event. Surely we wouldn’t attend the wedding of a friend ill-prepared and inappropriately dressed; so why would we attend the banquet of a King without being prepared?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to prepare our hearts, our minds and our souls to receive You in the Eucharist. Grant us the grace to be humble, simple and pure in our thoughts, words, and intentions, so that we may be prepared to receive our King.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for giving us Jesus, the Bread of Life, at every Mass.

18 July, Thursday – Burden – Heavy or Light

18 July 2019

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Exodus 3:13-20

Moses, hearing the voice of God coming from the middle of the bush, said to him, ‘I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I Am who I Am. This’ he added ‘is what you must say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you.”’ And God also said to Moses, ‘You are to say to the sons of Israel: “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.”

This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.

‘Go and gather the elders of Israel together and tell them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, has appeared to me, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and he has said to me: I have visited you and seen all that the Egyptians are doing to you. And so I have resolved to bring you up out of Egypt where you are oppressed, into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land where milk and honey flow.” They will listen to your words, and with the elders of Israel you are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has come to meet us. Give us leave, then, to make a three days’ journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to the Lord our God.” For myself, knowing that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless he is forced by a mighty hand, I shall show my power and strike Egypt with all the wonders I am going to work there. After this he will let you go.

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Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

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“My yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Today’s Gospel reading contains probably one of the most well-known verses amongst Christians. I confess I have heard it many times before and yet have not really pondered over its meaning. Often, I take things at face value, be it Bible verses, people or situations. With this superficial understanding, it is a wonder that I have not made more blunders than I already have.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

When I first read the passage, I naturally interpreted that if I were to follow Jesus, then it will be smooth sailing from then on. He would remove all obstacles from my path, and everything will be easy-peasy. This, I admit, is very naïve, very shallow and very misguided.

Upon learning more about Jesus, His teachings and the Catholic faith, I began to truly understand what the passage means. I still don’t get it perfectly, but I do have a better understanding than before.

It is true that Jesus offers rest for weary souls who are heavily burdened in whichever way — whether we are burdened by the daily amount of work, worries and troubles, we are able to find rest within our Lord. While He offered us rest for our wearied souls, He did not offer to take away our burdens. Instead, He tells us to shed our burden but take upon our shoulders His ‘yoke’. You may ask, why would we want to take on His burden since He is God and His burden would crush us? This is the mystery and wonderment of our Lord. If we all but follow Him and take up His burden, not only is His burden light compared to ours, but we will find rest and peace. For the Lord isn’t leaving His burden upon our shoulders without equipping us. He is doing the heavy lifting and walking beside us every step of the way. His burden is light to us because He is carrying us, supporting us throughout our hardships, our sorrows and our confusions. If we trust in Him, we will find rest and peace for not only our minds, but our souls and our hearts.

Not long ago, there was an occasion where I felt heavily burdened, confused and could not figure out what to do next. Emotionally drained and spiritually tired, I turned to the Lord in desperation and prayed.  I left all my issues at His feet and trusted that He, who is able to achieve the impossible, will be able to guide me through the muddle of confusion. The Lord did not disappoint. Soon after, He granted me the grace and peace to move beyond the obstacle. He did what I could not have done on my own. All I had to do was to believe and trust in Him to obtain the rest for my heart, mind and soul. He gave me a peace that I could not find anywhere else. That is the power of our Lord. If we trust in Him, no matter how insurmountable our burden seems; to Him, it is only a small bump in the road that can easily be overcome. Jesus, I trust in you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, grant us the courage and faith to let go of our worldly burdens and take Your yoke upon us. Grant us the rest and peace that this world cannot provide. Jesus, I trust in You.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for Your love and mercy and for never abandoning us, always ready to pick up the pieces and help us to journey on.

17 July, Wednesday –

17 July 2019

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Exodus 3:1-6,9-12

Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said, ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’

Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ Moses answered. ‘Come no nearer,’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,’ he said, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

And the Lord said, ‘The cry of the sons of Israel has come to me, and I have witnessed the way in which the Egyptians oppress them, so come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt.’
Moses said to God, ‘Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ ‘I shall be with you,’ was the answer ‘and this is the sign by which you shall know that it is I who have sent you… After you have led the people out of Egypt, you are to offer worship to God on this mountain.’

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Matthew 11:25-27

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

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(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:

Thanksgiving:

16 July, Tuesday – Every Turning Point Happens ‘Now’

16 July 2019

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Exodus 2:1-15

There was a man of the tribe of Levi who had taken a woman of Levi as his wife. She conceived and gave birth to a son and, seeing what a fine child he was, she kept him hidden for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him; coating it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child inside and laid it among the reeds at the river’s edge. His sister stood some distance away to see what would happen to him.

Now Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the river, and the girls attending her were walking along by the riverside. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and looked, and saw a baby boy, crying; and she was sorry for him. ‘This is a child of one of the Hebrews’ she said. Then the child’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and find you a nurse among the Hebrew women to suckle the child for you?’ ‘Yes, go’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her; and the girl went off to find the baby’s own mother. To her the daughter of Pharaoh said, ‘Take this child away and suckle it for me. I will see you are paid.’ So the woman took the child and suckled it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter who treated him like a son; she named him Moses because, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

Moses, a man by now, set out at this time to visit his countrymen, and he saw what a hard life they were having; and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. Looking round he could see no one in sight, so he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. On the following day he came back, and there were two Hebrews, fighting. He said to the man who was in the wrong, ‘What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?’ ‘And who appointed you’ the man retorted, ‘to be prince over us, and judge? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses was frightened. ‘Clearly that business has come to light’ he thought. When Pharaoh heard of the matter he would have killed Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian.

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Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent.

Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’

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Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains 

Saying “Sorry” is not an easy thing to do. Saying “Sorry” and meaning it from a deeply contrite heart is an even tougher task. I am someone who needs a ‘cooling off period’ before I can apologise and mean it. I know it sounds strange to admit this, but I’d like to think that I am not the only one who struggles with this.

We apologise for various reasons. Sometimes the word “I’m sorry” rolls off our tongues because we are trying hard to diffuse tense situations. Or sometimes it is merely an approximation for “I am afraid so”, or to express embarrassment, or regret for causing others an inconvenience. Obviously, I am not referring to those situations. Even so, some may already have trouble with that.

I am talking about the gut-wrenching, jaw-gritting, eye-rolling, sideways-glancing kind of apologies. Yep. Those sickening moments where ego is like parasitic worm winding its way in the tummy and Contrition and Justification are like the warring states of your heart and mind.

Jesus warns us of this in the Gospel passage today. He is chastising the towns of Chorazin. Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their stubborn unrepentance. In his wrath, he warns them that even those states that appear most evil (Tyre and Sidon) would sooner repent and be spared on Judgement Day than them! Interestingly, the First Reading today of Exodus relates the story of Moses’ birth and adoption into his Egyptian family. It draws the brief arc of Moses’ life until the point of his grievous sin of killing another Egyptian and burying the dead fella’ in the sand. Yes, Moses’ one of God’s chosen prophets was a murderer. But the reading stops us short with Moses deciding to flee and go into hiding after fearing his crime had been known. We know that Moses repented in the end.

But Moses himself did not know that he would eventually repent and believe in God’s redemption enough to turn around and serve Him.

The truth is, all of us are often at this turning point that Moses was in. This ‘inflexion point’ of our choice to turn away from sin and turn towards our Saviour. This is the purpose of the free will we are given. We are given the space to choose – and choose, we must. God does not accept fence-sitters into His kingdom.

In the daily tussle between Contrition and Justification for the sins and wrongs we have chosen to do in our lives, we need to be aware that in order to turn towards God, we need to turn away from sin and temptation. It can be something so simple (yet gut-twisting) as choosing to turn away from reacting with anger by spouting vicious words at the person triggering us.

Let us seek God in every moment, while we are still poor in spirit and struggling with our imperfections, so that we may draw on His strength to restore our weary and sinful hearts.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace and resolve to turn away from my human ego in order that I can turn towards your redeeming love and to seek reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: We appreciate all the people who have taught us to withhold from sinning by their humility in conflict.