Category Archives: Advent

24 December, Friday – Giving up your Son

24 December 2016

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2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Luke 1:67-79

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue
and he has raised up for us a power for salvation
in the House of his servant David,
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant
the oath he swore
to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace.’

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I have been with you on all your expeditions

‘And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him…’ Which father will give up his child for a good that he cannot see, may not live to see, and can only have faith that there be a purpose in the sacrifice?

As I pondered the readings of the Gospel today, I dwelt in the scene of Zechariah bravely proclaiming by the power of the Holy Spirit, the awesome prophecy over not just the history and future of Jerusalem, but his very own son, John the Baptist. Zechariah and Elizabeth had yearned and prayed for a son until, finally, their prayers were answered in their old age. They had a great model couple before them, though they may not have expected to walk similar footsteps. The other aged father and son duo is Abraham and Issac from the Old Testament.

Abraham and Zechariah were both men of great and deep faith. Great, in the expanse and expense of how they were willing to offer up to God their lives and love. Deep, in the manner of certainty and substance with which they believed their hopes rested on. Even though Zechariah did not physically set up the altar and wood with which to sacrifice John on, his act of bringing John up in the way of the Lord and giving him up to that wilderness life to pave the way for Jesus was an extreme act of sacrifice and exercise in letting go. Both fathers and mothers had waited a long, long time for their dreams of progeny and continuity to be fulfilled, only to be told to offer up this beautiful gift.

It is in this vein that we begin to more fully comprehend the sacrifice of the Heavenly Father. Because it can be hard to imagine an abstract omnipotent and omniscient God actually sacrificing flesh and blood, we are given human examples to watch, walk with, and listen to.

Long before Jesus was born, a man and a woman gave up their versions and visions of married life for God’s greater purpose. Sometimes, we may take the ordinariness of their life before Jesus for granted. They did not know how or when, but they simply knew who they were doing it for. Mary and Joseph must have drawn from the lessons of their forebears to walk this challenging but life-giving road in to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph may not have expected their story and choice to bring Jesus to birth in that dingy soggy manger, to bear God’s greatest gift and salvation plan for all of humanity.

Our Salvation came through a choice to sacrifice. God made a choice too. May we each, as parent and child, ponder the magnitude of Mary’s fiat, Joseph’s silent but steady servantship, and God’s great sacrifice, in this beatific vision of the Nativity scene, where an extraordinarily ordinary baby was born. Ordinary, because we all experience the mystery and magic of birth. Yet, extraordinary because this little helpless baby came vulnerable, to reveal in us our need for a great Love that would die for us.

To find the courage in our lives to do the great and little things for God and our loved ones, is to remember this line which God spoke to David in our first reading: I have been with you on all your expeditions. God is Faithfulness and Love. And the evidence of this is the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God-is-with-us (Isaiah 7:14).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: May we take time this Christmastide to dwell in the true reason for this day – Jesus who is ever with us on all of life’s journeys.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for entering my heart this Advent and gently preparing me to receive you.

23 December, Friday – A New Tribe is Here

Dec 23 – Memorial for St. John of Kanty, presbyter

John (1390-1473) was a Polish country lad. A brilliant student at the University of Krakow, Poland, he became a priest and professor of theology at the University of Krakow, where he was falsely accused and ousted by university rivals.

At the age of 41, he was assigned as parish priest at Olkusz, Bohemia. He took his position seriously, and was terrified of responsibility, but did his best. For a long time that wasn’t enough for his parishioners, but in the end he won their hearts. After several years in his parish, he returned to Krakow and taught Scripture for the rest of his life.

John was a serious, humble man, generous to a fault with the poor, sleeping little, eating no meat and little of anything else. He was a pilgrim to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When warned to look after his health, he pointed out that the early desert fathers lived long lives in conditions that had nothing to recommend them but the presence of God.

At the time of his death, John was so well loved that his veneration began immediately. For years his doctoral gown was worn by graduates receiving advanced degrees at the University of Krakow. He was declared patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737 by Pope Clement XII, 30 years before his final canonization.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Malachi 3:1-4,23-24

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.

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Luke 1:57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

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‘But no one in your family has that name.’

In this day and age when we may stumble upon the most innovative and brow-raising kids’ names, the magnitude of choosing a name for one’s child might be lost on some parents. Some name their children to help them stand out with un-pronounceable monikers; some choose names after their favourite soccer players or movie stars; some use names of beloved family members who have passed as a way of remembrance, while others may seek out a name whose virtues they hope their children will grow into. For whatever reasons, we know plainly that names do matter.

The angel Gabriel foretold two pregnancies – Mary’s and Elizabeth’s. To Mary he proclaimed: “For nothing will be impossible with God” when he shared that Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age. At the same time, it was the angel of the Lord who declared the names of these two special children to their fathers. The name John was revealed to Zechariah the priest; the name Jesus was revealed to Joseph the carpenter. What struck me in the readings today was the line ‘But no one in your family has that name.’

Tribes were the way ancient peoples sought protection, community, and identity. Although Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbours shared in her joy, they hesitated when she (as a mother) chose the name ‘John’ that came from neither hers nor Zechariah’s heritage – such that they had to summon Zechariah to verify. Only after Zechariah confirmed this as correct did he regain his speech. This account teaches us a few lessons.

The first — God can start a new tribe in you, right this very moment, at this very place. So trust in His promise and seek His will in your life. I recently had a conversation with some friends on our conversion and ‘reversion’ stories. Each of us were baptized either at birth, as a teen, or in adulthood. Although we had different cultural and faith backgrounds, we shared one important moment in common – the desire to receive God into our lives and the conscious decision to follow Him. As the Heavenly Father of all, God not only chose Jesus’ name, but also John’s, because he was anointed to pave the way for a new eternal tribe for Jesus. This is echoed in our first reading of Malachi.

Secondly — Do we believe that God can do the impossible for us, in us, and through us? Much of today’s self-help literature tells us “do not sell yourself short” when we put limitations on our abilities or potential to succeed. Perhaps. And yet that is still quite a self-centred view. As Christians, we might be guilty of ultimately selling God short. Do we draw Venn diagrams around the areas of our lives where we designate where God may work His wonders? As a priest, Zechariah should have known better than to question whether God could grant him and Elizabeth their longed-for child. Mary had her questions too, but her disposition of spirit was in complete surrender that she could say, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’

Last, but not least — our souls were created to glorify God. We look to Mary who praises ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior… Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.’ (Luke 1:46-47) May we never shy of allowing our souls to be like a clear piece of magnifying glass, that through our earnest seeking and listening, we reveal God’s glory to those among us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Grant us O Lord, a heart humble and trusting, brave and willing, to seek and do Your will.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Jesus, for calling me by name and for never letting me wander too far.

22 December, Thursday – Proclaiming the greatness of God

22 December

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1 Samuel 1:24-28

When Hannah had weaned the infant Samuel, she took him up with her together with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’
There she left him, for the Lord.

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Luke 1:46-56

Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

The Magnificat is a beautiful prayer familiar to many Catholics. It is an integral part of the Visitation, where Mary responds to Elizabeth’s exclamation that “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

The Magnificat has always been particularly memorable for me, because of a series of weekly talks that I once attended, during which a priest would explain the Magnificat. On the first week, the priest asked us a question that has stuck with me since: “Do you know what it means when your soul is proclaiming the greatness of God?”

It is one thing to proclaim something with your mouth, but to proclaim something with your soul is to believe in that thing wholeheartedly and unreservedly, with every fibre of your being. I would take it one step further to suggest that the soul could only truly proclaim the goodness of God, for if we are made in the image and likeness of God, and our souls were made out of His very goodness, then it could not be possible for the soul (having made the acquaintance of God before we were even born!) to proclaim anything else but His goodness.

But here’s the catch — we are often so caught up in our lives (or worse yet, in ourselves) that we do not listen closely enough to our souls’ deepest longings for God and His goodness. That is when the soul’s proclamations slowly die down to a whisper and finally, having found its voice fallen on deaf ears, wind down to a deafening silence. We must not let that happen.

We learn from scripture that Mary has often pondered many events (such as the words of the angel Gabriel during the Annunciation) in the silence of her heart. We also learn that Mary was extraordinarily obedient to God’s call. Perhaps all these are signs of a soul enraptured by God and deeply in love with Him. If your soul is already proclaiming the greatness of God, constantly saying yes to Him and praising Him at the same time, what need would there be for spoken words?

It is a well-worn cliche to say that we often speak but do not listen. But the problem is not simply speaking and not listening: it is speaking with the wrong part of ourselves. As we await the coming of our Lord in this advent season, let us focus on speaking to, and of, God through our souls. Let us proclaim His glory and goodness not just through spoken words or song, but through actions animated by a soul in love with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we praise you and we adore you from the depths of our souls. May our souls not fall into silence and despair, but in memory of Your loving providence, sing your praises forever.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His patience and love. For even in our waywardness, He continues to await the return of His beloved children.

21 December, Wednesday – Wooed by God

Dec 21 – Memorial for St. Peter Canisius, priest, doctor of the Church

Peter (1521–1597) was the son of Jacob Canisius, a wealthy burgomeister, and Ægidia van Houweningen, who died shortly after Peter’s birth. He was educated in Cologne, Germany, where he studied art, civil law, and theology. He received a master’s degree by age 19. His closest friends at university were monks and clerics.

He joined the Jesuits on May 8, 1543 after attending a retreat conducted by Bl. Peter Faber. He taught at the University of Cologne, and helped found the first Jesuit house in the city. He was ordained in 1546. He was theologian of Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Bishop of Augsburg in 1547.

He travelled and worked with St. Ignatius of Loyola who was his spiritual director in Rome, Italy. He taught rhetoric in Messina, Sicily in 1548, preaching in Italian and Latin. He was doctor of theology in 1549. He began teaching theology and preaching at Ingolstadt, Germany in 1549, and was rector of the university the following year.

In 1552 he began teaching theology, and preaching in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, Austria. He was the royal court confessor even as he continued to work in hospitals and prisons. During Lent in 1553 he travelled to preach in abandoned parishes in Lower Austria.

During Mass one day, he received a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and ever after offered his work to the Sacred Heart. He led the Counter-Reformation in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland, and his work led to the return of Catholicism to Germany. His catechism went through 200 editions during his lifetime, and was translated into 12 languages. In some places catechisms were referred to as “Canisi”.

He attended the Diets of Augsburg (1555), Ratisbon (1556, 1557), and founded Jesuit colleges in Ingolstadt, Prague, Dilingen, and Fribourg. Everywhere he worked he became a noted preacher, and often worked with children, teaching them and hearing their confessions.

He represented Pope Paul IV at the imperial Diet of Pieternow. He addressed the Council of Trent on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He recommended St. Stanislaus Kostka for reception as a Jesuit. He was court preacher to Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria.

While in Fribourg, Switzerland, he received a message from the city’s patron saint, Nicholas of Myra, that he should stop travelling. Canisius spent the rest of his life there. He taught, preached, edited books, and worked to support the Catholic press and printers in many cities. His advice was sought by St. Francis de Sales, and by his friend St. Charles Borromeo. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Song of Songs 2:8-14

I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.

See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’

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Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come… for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.’

How many of us have been spoken to so gently before? Close your eyes for a moment as this writer asks us to picture:

See where he stands

Behind our wall.

He looks in at the window,

He peers through the lattice.

My initial response was to question: why this detail? But as I rested my gaze, not on ‘Why’ but ‘Who’, that I began to appreciate the tenderness of this moment. Some of us think of God as all-powerful, strong, and fearsome. Yet here is an image of a lover ‘like a young stag’, bounding over mountains with an unbridled joyful natural force – who pauses just before your house and does not barge in. Despite all that energy, the young stag chooses to wait with gentle invitation. Not too close that you would feel overwhelmed. Not too far that his gaze is uncertain. It is you whom He longingly and lovingly peers at through the window lattice.

Our Advent season of waiting promises us that this dream of love will come. The flutter-hope in our hearts will be answered. And the voice with which our Beloved calls to us will speak infinitely deeper to our souls than the passing pleasures of life’s material things.

I had the opportunity to witness to joy over Gaudate Sunday in this freezing Boston winter. My husband and I attended a Christmas concert put up by the Daughters of St Paul. It was a beautiful evening with their sweet voices and actions animating classic Christmas carols. I teared several times as I was moved deeply by their joy, unique talents, and beautiful personalities.

One sister was goofy; another had heaps of dancing grooves in her; some were gifted soloists or musicians, and others who completed the music with the fullness of their harmonies. God’s love flowed from these amazing women who had given their lives to Him and their mission of evangelizing Christ through books and media.

The night spoke to me at a far deeper level that I have only slowly come to unpack. I once considered if religious life was a path God was calling me to. I had recognized His voice from the window. I was filled with a mix of courage and confusion then. It took time and prayer to discern His loving words to me.

The knowledge that God calls us to life-giving choices in order to bring us to the fullness of life only melted into the sea of understanding in my heart this Christmas concert, when I saw the joy reflecting from the sisters’ radiant faces. One sister in particular, seemed to be the mirror to my soul. I recognised my own laughter in her eyes.

I understood, and I rested in peace and trust in my Beloved who continues to woo me from behind the windows; the mountains, valleys, and depths of trenches. He calls to my soul from everywhere and all the time. And every moment that His gaze rests upon me, He is filled with joy.

Perhaps, this is the sheer joy in the meeting between Jesus in Mary and John in Elizabeth. Our souls are made for so much love that only God can meet. In every station or vocation of our lives, we can experience a consummation of deep joy when our souls respond to the call of our Beloved. It is His Love that genuinely desires and pursues, patiently waits, honours, and dignifies us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you sent a vulnerable baby Jesus to earth to woo us from our hiding places. Help us to draw back our curtains and unlatch the door to receive You who has loved us with an everlasting love. 

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the gift of recognition. By this grace, we are able to perceive what our souls already know.

20 December, Tuesday – Angels

20 December 2016

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Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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The angel….sent by God

In the readings over these past 3 days, an angel appeared to Joseph, Zechariah and in today’s gospel reading, to Mary. Although the angel that appeared to Joseph was not named, it could well have been the Angel Gabriel – he was the chief messenger of the Lord. On several occasions, he is given the job of giving important announcements and tells of special events.

Isn’t it just so wonderful that God sent these angels to earth? That people in biblical times actually experienced angelic appearances? Sometimes, I wish that God would also send angels my way, so that I know for a fact that a message is from God and not some mumbo jumbo I made up in my own head. But God is still active in today’s world, just has He has been in the past. And His angels are certainly still at work. We may not come face to face with one, but they are certainly all around us.

At a retreat some time ago, someone shared that during one of the praying over sessions, she sighted very large and tall angels surrounding the entire room. And next to each retreatant, there were other smaller angels standing right next to them. She said she knew instinctively that these angels were family members of each retreatant who have passed on. I am not sure if our loved ones become angels when they pass on. Though I didn’t see these angelic beings myself (being in that same room), I choose to believe that it is true. That God sends angels to watch over us, and sing and praise with us.

Is it possible that you have met an angel face-to-face without realising it? “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2.

Angels do not necessarily appear as beautiful winged blazing-white beings. They can appear in the most ordinary form as humans. I do believe, with all of my heart, that although I may not immediately know or see someone as an angel, they are there at God’s direction.

A few months ago, I was on a Camino walk, hopelessly lost a few times. I would mutter under my breath “Jesus, ok…. I am hopelessly lost, show me where I should go?” And the Lord never failed to send angels to show us the way, more than a few times. Out of nowhere, they would appear, and then disappear – the lone pilgrim, the cyclists, two old men standing in front of the church, and a little old lady who suddenly appeared out of a window and directed us on a less travelled but shorter route to a pilgrim’s cafe. All angels indeed!

God loves us so much that He would send angels to answer our prayers. As we approach Christmas, can we be God’s earth angels? When God sends us to bring cheer and happiness to someone who may be alone this season or feeling a bit down, can we be like Mary and respond with a heartfelt ‘Yes!”?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, just as you have so often sent people our way to help us and comfort us in times of need, give us merciful and loving hearts to be your angels, sent to our fellow brothers and sisters who need a little encouragement this season.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for loving us so much that you would send your multitudes of angels to watch over us, fight for us, encourage and protect us.

19 December, Monday – Fearless

19 December 2016

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Judges 13:2-7,24-25

There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman and said to her, ‘You are barren and have had no child. But from now on take great care. Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb. It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went and told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me; his presence was like the presence of the angel of God, he was so majestic. I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not reveal his name to me. But he said to me, “You will conceive and bear a son. From now on, take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day.”’

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.
Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear.

But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them, and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

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Do not be afraid

Today’s readings shows us how God made the seemingly impossible, possible. Barren women were gifted with child. The wife of Manoah (who remained nameless), Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth in today’s scripture, Sarah who was Isaac’s mother, and also his wife Rebekah were all seemingly barren women. I often wonder how it is scientifically possible given that most of these women were in their twilight years. But with God, these miracles cannot be explained scientifically. It’s faith that helps us know in our hearts that everything is possible with God.

Imagine what it must have been like when the angel of God appeared to Zechariah telling him his wife was about to be pregnant. If I had been him, I would probably have said “Ya, right! Are you out of your mind?”

In today’s modern world, with advancement of science and technology, we are able to do things that weren’t possible before. So much so, we have become nonchalant, almost blasé about some of the amazing new discoveries. How is it so then when God prompts us to do something or reveals a situation in our lives – we find it so hard to believe? Is it because it cannot be explained to our intellectual minds? Or is it out of fear that we refuse to believe.

“Do not be afraid” are words we need to hear today. A quick Google search reveals that these words appear 365 times in the bible. How awesome is that – a daily reminder from God that we should live our lives fearlessly!

Recently, a family situation called for some changes to our lives. Some, more than others. For some, our lives will be irrevocably changed. I personally felt that God was pushing me to do something that I am uncomfortable with, something I absolutely didn’t want a part of. I was angry and feared that immense responsibility. And as I reflected on why I was feeling so strongly about it, I realised that it is simply because it didn’t fit my own plans. I am then reminded of our Mother when she said ‘do unto me according to thy word.’ She had deep faith and trust in God and His plans, despite the fact that being a young, unmarried pregnant woman was terribly ‘inconvenient’. While I still fight against what God is calling me to do, I am slowly learning to let go and let God take me along this journey. And the words ‘Do not be afraid’ are the words that carry me though each day.

Can you let go of fears in your own life situation and let God lead you today? Can you get past your own notion of what your life should look like and let God’s miracle reveal itself?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, often we feel the need to be in control of our lives. When in fact, you have the blueprint to our life stories. Grant us deeper faith to trust that your plan for us is perfect, your timing perfect. Unconventional your ways may be, teach us to always remember that you know what is best for our lives today.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your daily reminder that you are with us. And that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

18 December, Sunday – Are you there?

18 December 2016

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Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’

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Romans 1:1-7

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.

This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead.

Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name. You are one of these nations, and by his call belong to Jesus Christ.

To you all, then, who are God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace.

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Matthew 1:18-24

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

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Emmanuel…..God is with us.

December is the most magical time of the year. It was for me as well. The one time in the year I really looked forward to. But in the last few years, somehow things changed. I look upon December with much apprehension. It’s the time of year when people start to take stock of what they have accomplished. If the goals set out in the beginning of the year have been met. I keep asking myself – so what huge accomplishments have I achieved this year? I struggle to find something.

The year has been extremely busy for me – I have been co-chairing several parish projects, in addition to my music ministry responsibilities. I said ‘Yes’, when Jesus called for us to be involved in parish work, having absolutely no previous experience in what we were called to do. It was very fulfilling at the onset, and we could really see His hand in our work, every step of the way. The results were nothing short of amazing. And I remember telling our committee (especially when we hit roadblocks), that Jesus would take care of it all. After all, it was His project. And He did.

However, by end October, the ‘work’ was beginning to take its toll. And I was getting frustrated. One project had barely completed, and the next committee was already setting up meetings for the next project in 2017. To add to this, our music ministry had a restructure and we were expected to ‘serve’ more. Everyone wanted a piece of me and I just wanted to just get to the end of our term as co-chairperson, complete the task, KPIs met.

Just last week, I had one of those ‘low’ days. I was feeling sorry for myself and a bit frustrated with a situation that had been bugging me for a while. I struggled to find reasons to thank Jesus.

I was suffering ‘the glass is half empty’ syndrome. I found myself asking Jesus, “So I have done all these things for you, what am I getting in return??” I was getting impatient and frustrated with Him.

Recently, I was at a weekday mass. And the priest said “Emmanuel, God is with us!” That day, these words suddenly hit me. God is indeed with me. Except that, having been caught up in the goind, I have failed to see Him present in my daily life. I have closed my heart to being loved by Jesus. How quickly I have forgotten to see how He had been with me every single day of the year. How He had taken me out of my comfort zone and taught me that I could do things I’d never imagined or cared to do. How He has sustained me through very trying periods this year. And today, in mid-December, I am still in one piece!

During this season of Advent, are we filled with hope, peace, love and joy? Can we recognize God’s presence in our lives and His hands in everything that happens to us today? Like Joseph, can we open ourselves to where the Lord is taking us? Or are we too caught up in our own ‘doing’?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: During this time of Advent, help us to be open to the actions of God in our daily lives. God is indeed with us. Help us to be available to Him.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being with us, even during the times when we stray far away from you. For the times when we insist on doing things our own way and seeing situations with or own eyes, that we fail to see that you are right there with us. Thank you for being loving and patient with us.

17 December, Saturday – Family Heritage

17 December 2016

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Genesis 49:2,8-10

Jacob called his sons and said:

‘Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you:
you grip your enemies by the neck,
your father’s sons shall do you homage,
Judah is a lion cub,
you climb back, my son, from your kill;
like a lion he crouches and lies down,
or a lioness: who dare rouse him?
The sceptre shall not pass from Judah,
nor the mace from between his feet,
until he come to whom it belongs,
to whom the peoples shall render obedience.’

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Matthew 1:1-17

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

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The sum of genearations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

During my recent visit to my grandmother, I cheekily asked her about her love story with my grandfather who, sad to say, I never met. I was hoping to hear a romantic courtship story, because the dating that we know now was not the norm then. Before, the courtshp included serenades from outside the maiden’s house and longing to be alone together since unmarried couples had to have a chaperone when they went out. She shared a story that I had not imagined but was much better. She shared that it was her brothers who arranged for them to get married but she was blessed with a good husband who was a doting father. He was also very patient as he was able to put up with a strong-willed and strong-minded woman like my grandmother. Though they did not go through a long courtship stage, my grandmother was showered with affection.

I know today’s Gospel must be one of those we tend to skip to the last line but having that conversation with my grandmother made me look through all these names. I know we learned a lot from Jesus, but I’m pretty sure there is something to learn from all those names in Jesus’s genealogy. Even though some of them have done horrible actions, they still mattered in Jesus’s family tree. They still had a part to play. I may not have met my grandfather but he was instrumental to forming my mother’s, uncle’s and aunt’s characters. Also, I had a clear and personal example how love may not be present at first sight, but it can flourish. So even though I have not met him, he has already given me a lesson.

All of us have family members we can’t stand, but they still matter. Perhaps God is calling us for a deeper appreciation of our family members today, be they alive or not. Maybe we can ask our parents about our grandparents, we can learn a thing or two. Or maybe we are just asked to stay still for a moment and be aware of how connected we are to many people. We are not alone. Our family heritage speaks of our community. We belong to God’s community.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes I may forget and under-appreciate the gift of family. Help me become an instrument of your love to my family.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for my family heritage, for every single one before me. Without any of them, I’m not sure what I would be.

16 December, Friday – The Testimony of our Habits

16 December 2016

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Isaiah 56:1-3,6-8

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.
Blessed is the man who does this and the son of man who clings to it: observing the sabbath, not profaning it, and keeping his hand from every evil deed.

Let no foreigner who has attached himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ Let no eunuch say, ‘And I, I am a dried-up tree.’

Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

It is the Lord who speaks, who gathers the outcasts of Israel: there are others will gather besides those already gathered.

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John 5:33-36

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.’

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These same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. 

Let me share with you one of my favorite quotes. It is from Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World)

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

I always keep this phrase in mind when I prepare and deliver my Catechism classes since I know that my witnessing will carry more weight. Jesus did not limit his testimony to words, it was accompanied with prayer and with works. It is through our actions that we give truth to our words. I know that when we are intentional about our actions, we can easily witness to the truth. When we are in Church, we tend to act more patient and with more decorum. When we are in front of children, we regulate the words we use. When we are mindful of where we are, we can choose what we can witness for.

However, let’s think of those times when we are not mindful, when we act on instinct, or when we act on habit. These habits of ours also carry testimonies, sometimes, these little habits carry a greater testimony than others that we do. Think for example, of a time when you heard someone swear. Now I know it’s common nowadays, some treat it just as an expression. I’m not sure about others but whenever I hear someone swear, I feel a tinge of uneasiness. If I can describe it, it’s like a pea that was put under many layers of mattresses and it makes me feel that something is not that right (Check out the story ‘The Princess and the Pea’ if you want to know what I’m refering to). It’s a small action, but it is witnessing to something.

For today, I’m not going to ask that we reflect on our ‘big’ actions but for us to reflect on our habits. Is there a habit that doesn’t communicate or witness to the love of God? Maybe we leave our shoes haphazardly for others to clear, and we communicate a lack of consideration. Maybe we use too many disposables and this action communicates a lack of care for our environment, which God has created.

What do your habits witness to? It takes a long time to break out of a habit so let’s start now.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, I have been so used to doing many things in a certain way I may not even know what kind of message I give others when I act in that manner. So I pray that you reveal to me a habit you want me to change, so I can be a better witness to you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for all those people who were mindful of even how the small things they do could affect others.

15 December, Thursday – Do we hang our Christmas Socks?

15 December 2016

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Isaiah 54:1-10

Shout for joy, you barren women who bore no children!
Break into cries of joy and gladness, you who were never in labour!
For the sons of the forsaken one are more in number
than the sons of the wedded wife, says the Lord.

Widen the space of your tent,
stretch out your hangings freely,
lengthen your ropes, make your pegs firm;
for you will burst out to right and to left.
Your race will take possession of the nations,
and people the abandoned cities.

Do not be afraid, you will not be put to shame,
do not be dismayed, you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth
and no longer remember the curse of your widowhood.
For now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

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

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

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

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

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Luke 7:24-30

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to talk to the people about John, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Oh no, those who go in for fine clothes and live luxuriously are to be found at court! Then what did you go out to see? A prophet?

Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:

See, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare the way before you.

‘I tell you, of all the children born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is. All the people who heard him, and the tax collectors too, acknowledged God’s plan by accepting baptism from John; but by refusing baptism from him the Pharisees and the lawyers had thwarted what God had in mind for them.’

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Break into cries of joy and gladness, you who were never in labour!

When I was young, I would hang up socks on the eve of Christmas Day, hoping for Santa Claus to fill them up. The following morning, I would wake up to find local currency bills in my socks. I’m sure I was curious why a North Pole dweller had local currencies but I swept the thought aside as I thought of what to buy with my gift. The first two lines of the first reading struck me because the ladies were preparing themselves to receive blessings by breaking into ‘cries of joy and gladness’ even before the gift was received. They already prepared their praises! Their faith reminded me of how I would prepare to receive Santa’s gifts by hanging my socks even if I was not sure what gift I would receive, but I know that the gift will be good. If I did not hang my socks, where would Santa put my gifts?

I have always heard about the need to prepare because God will come like ‘a thief in the night.’ However, the reading reminded me that I should not just prepare myself for judgement; I should also prepare myself to receive God’s blessings. This thought really made me happy. I’m not looking at it from a prosperity gospel point of view but sometimes but we forget that God desires to give us gifts of joy and peace. So it’s not a thief sneaking in but Santa Claus. Sadly, sometimes we are not ready to receive them, because we have not hung our socks. How does this look in our life? Perhaps, we have not really forgiven a friend who has hurt us, and God can’t give us peace. Or maybe we were so scared to try something new, to learn a new skill, and God could not really send us to the vocation he had in mind for us. Sometimes, God’s dreams are different from our own that we overlook the preparations God is sending along our way.

We may not know why certain things are happening now, or why we have to do certain things to unbearable repetitions, but if we could look at it as a preparation time for something, then we should do it with our best effort. Let’s think of it as putting our socks out, ready to be filled with God’s blessings.

If you knew when the thief was coming, you would have stayed up. If you knew when Santa was coming, I bet you would also stay up. So let’s be prepared.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me have that child-like faith to hang my socks everyday so I can receive your love.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for the witnesses of hope of children who are always confident that they will be showered with blessings, even in what I think are simple thingshope