Category Archives: Advent

24 December, Tuesday – Shalom

24 Dec 2019

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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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 And to guide our feet into the way of peace

I have just returned from a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was blessed to have walked in the land where Jesus lived, preached, died and then rose and ascended into heaven. Celebrating daily mass at the many holy sites was truly all I wanted and, particularly so at the Holy Sepulchre (on Golgotha) and in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, I felt His presence strongly.

We also had an hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament one evening, in the chapel within the convent where we were staying in Jerusalem, and as I struggled to understand His supreme sacrifice (we had visited the home of Caiaphas and prayed Psalm 88 in the very dungeon Jesus spent the night before his crucifixion), I asked in my heart how is it that God would have put his only son through all that pain, torture and misery. As the days wore on, and as I understood more about the situation in the region, I found myself marveling at how, in spite of all the ridicule, persecution and deep-seated doubts among the people, Jesus trusted in His Father and simply carried on preaching and performing miracles.

I don’t think anyone of us would ever be able to fathom the depths of His love for us. And that is the point for me – Jesus, Son of God, brought into this world in the form of an infant in a manger (it is a trough used to feed animals in a barn) – went through so much just so that we, you and I, could be saved and by believing and trusting in Him (“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” – Jn 14:6), enjoy an eternity filled with peace, love and joy.

Our journeys each day around Bethlehem, Galilee, Tiberias and Jerusalem itself were certainly ‘peaceful’. But I could also sense the tension and conflict around us. It was something that gnawed on my mind each day, especially as we went past walls and through checkpoints manned by troops with machine guns. Why, in this holy land, should there be a need for such ‘war-like’ measures? It was obvious that the peace on the ground was a ‘managed’ one, which should not be taken for granted. There is a tolerance among the inhabitants (I would be hard pressed to identify each race, except for the Jews) and all it would take it a seemingly minor infraction to set off a violent reaction.

And so, I can only imagine what it would have been like in the time of Jesus. Literally, one would need all the patience of a saint to navigate through the land. Who else but Jesus could have journeyed from Nazareth, through the Valley of Arpel, to Capernaum via Magdala. Who else but Jesus could have endured the temptation of the devil in the dry land of Jericho, to then journey to Jerusalem and to his eventual slaughter? For us to have such a ‘guide’ brothers and sisters is truly a blessing and a privilege.

I left Israel filled with new thoughts and certainly a deeper appreciation of the significance of that appearance of the star above the fields where the shepherds were grazing their flock. A star that hovered over where the Church of the Nativity now stands, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the spot where our Saviour was born. It is where salvation began for us…and continues today in our hearts. Let us eschew the trappings of Christmas for once, and focus on the birth of little child to a young virgin called Mary, and her betrothed, a carpenter named Joseph.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we await the birth of your Son tonight with expectant faith. Give us the courage to open our hearts so that He can be born within us again.

Thanksgiving: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

23 December, Monday – God’s Promise

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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All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts…And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

Today we read of God keeping to His faithful promises throughout the generations. We see how Elizabeth, even in her old age. was able to bear a child — the child being named John and how the power of speech returned to his father.

God continues to work in our present lives, even in our busyness and neglect of Him, He is still with us –Emmanuel.

God has a plan and it is that of salvation, of each and every one of us returning to Him in paradise, for eternity.

As we approach Christmas, Christ is once again calling out to us to open the door of our hearts for it is there that He desires to dwell, even if it is dark, cold and doesn’t seem to have any proper space. Christ still chooses, just as He chose the manger, to be born again into our lives. He desires to keep His promise of forgiveness, mercy and grace and this eternal victory and salvation that He has won for us. We, however, need to make the first step to choose to receive Him and allow Him to transform our lives, just as He did towards the wise men, leading them off in another direction.

It is already so hard to trust man nowadays, and now we are called to trust a spirit? Or even ‘something’ that’s seemingly not tangible? That I don’t even know if what the scriptures say is true? Indeed, this is why we proclaim that this is our faith — we will never fully understand until we see Him face to face, but we are called to be like St John the Baptist, or like the wise men; to trust in God’s Promise, whether to make a way for the Lord or to follow the star.

It is indeed a journey that cannot be qualified nor quantified. A journey that may take us to many places and through many various trials and joys in life; but, it is the destination that we need to be sure of.

The question we usually ask is, “Lord, where do you want me to go? Where do I need to go?” Brothers and sisters maybe, just for today, we can say Lord come, let me adore.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to listen to your voice, to know that you have been, that you are and that you always will be with me. Help me to trust in Your promise. Come Lord Jesus, I want to adore you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the many signs and people that you have blessed me with. Thank you for helping me understand the true gift of Christmas is in giving you to all. Amen.

22 December, Sunday – Love

22 Dec 2019 – 4th Sunday of Advent

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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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Look! The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.

As we welcome the 4th week of Advent, we are ever much closer to welcoming the birth of Christ once again in our lives and in our hearts. Today’s readings give us the insight of who Christ is and how he came to be, but especially in our lives today, what are we truly celebrating this Christmas? Who is this Christ that we are welcoming?

Recently, I had to do some research about a mental disorder. I had the opportunity to reflect on how we would type in our Google searches along the lines of how to cure/cope/overcome this mental disorder. We want to quickly see if there’s any chance that we can get rid of the thorn in one’s flesh that is becoming a thorn in our own. But before I could complete typing out the search, the suggested searches appeared and I was quick enough to see the notion of how it was more towards how I could love that person with this mental disorder.

For me, this is what this welcoming is all about, what the preparation of the coming of Christ is all about. Christ was born to us, not to lead the smoothest and happiest life that He could, but He had a mission — a calling, a purpose. Paying the highest price and his life, the sacrifice, He did it with love.

As we celebrate this week, dedicated to the theme of love, we want to realign our focus of Christmas and put Christ back into Christmas, that His love will reign in our hearts and families and that He will always be the symbol and definition of the love that we should share with one another.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that our hardened hearts may be opened, our eyes of judgment become that of love and understanding, our actions of hurt and pain be that of support and encouragement, and our minds of lust and fear become that of truth and wisdom. As we prepare to welcome You, help us to prepare the many aspects of our lives and our families that haven’t been reconciled, help those who may not know the true meaning of love encounter you. Make our hearts like yours.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for helping us to see as you see. Thank you for your constant assurances of your presence among us. Thank you for giving us our Saviour, your Son, Jesus Christ.

21 December, Saturday – True Joy

21 December – 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 at that time 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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Filled with the Holy Spirit

Christmas is truly my favorite season of the year; it has always been since I was a child, even though my family were non-Catholics in my growing up years and they never really celebrated Christmas. Somehow it has this magical spirit that was so captivating to me. Only years later, when I received Christ, did I truly comprehend its significance!

It was also during this season that my husband and I met (over caroling practice) and this year, we celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary. What makes it even more special for me as I reflected on today’s first reading in Song of Songs, it was one of the readings chosen for our wedding mass and he sang these verses as I walked down the aisle.

There is such an atmosphere of joy and good cheer during Christmas and today’s readings remind us of his triumphant coming. So what is joy really? To me joy is not the absence of pain and suffering but to have joy in spite of it. 22 years of marriage has its fair share of ups and downs. We have gone through many trials, but through it all, we never felt abandoned by the Lord. These difficulties strengthened us and our marriage and it is because Jesus has been with us through it all, and He still is! When Mary visited Elizabeth carrying the child Jesus, the baby in Elizabeth leapt for joy and “she was filled with the Holy Spirit.” So it is in our marriage and in our lives, wherever we go, as long as we have Christ in us, joy follows! True joy is not found in the future or the often mistaken view that we will be happy “only if” …  only if we live in a bigger house; only if we have that promotion; only if we get to go on that holiday etc. True joy is found here and now for His spirit lives in us!

 (Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to see the joy that is around us in our everyday life; to see the joy that is within us, and to celebrate being alive in the Spirt. For you are with us and nothing else matters.

Thanksgiving: Our Father in Heaven, we are grateful for your unyielding love and for giving us Jesus to redeem our sins and for the Holy Spirit that lives in us.

20 December, Friday – God is with us

20 Dec 2019

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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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Immanuel

God is with us. Just pause for a moment and let these words sink in slowly — GOD IS WITH US.

I am guilty of keeping this at the head level and not hold this dear to my heart. In the busyness of everyday life, worrying about my business, worrying about the children and what is ahead of me, I have often relied on my own strength and understanding. Even in times of joy and happiness, I have often neglected to stop and ponder on this beautiful mystery. And yet, and especially when life becomes overwhelming, it is important to slow down, to pause and remind myself of His presence.

Our family took a trip to Hokkaido recently and were exposed to subzero temperatures. The silence was deafeningly beautiful and, in that moment, standing in the snow with the wind blowing, I found God once again. This reminded me of Saint Teresa’s quote: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass — grow in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Just like our beautiful Mother, her purpose in life was fulfilled when she was deep in prayer, during the silence of the night. As in today’s Gospel, when she said those famous words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.” None of this would have happened if not because of Mary’s devotion to God and seeking him in the silence.

I am reminded today to persevere in my quiet time with the Lord, so as to hold dear in my heart that God is with us, as Saint Teresa said that nature grows in silence, and we need silence to be able to touch souls. I am part of nature and his creation and I grow and move in silence.

(Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, let my soul be touched by you in silence. Help me to remain faithful to you throughout my day. Even in the busyness of the season, I can find silence; to reach into my heart and soul to encounter you in every moment and hear the whisper, “I am with you.”

Thanksgiving: Our Father in Heaven, thank you for blessing us with nature and the changing of seasons, for in these encounters with your creation, we are reminded of your presence here on earth.

19 December, Thursday – Faithful and Dutiful

19 Dec 2019

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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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Worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all commandments and observances of the Lord

It has been 2 years since leaving my corporate job to start something on my own. At times, it has been unnerving, not knowing when I will land the next assignment, or how I am to provide for the family. These difficult times have taught me to rely on His providence completely. The decision 2 years ago was a prompting to do something purposeful; to heed His calling. So, I did the one thing I could during turbulent times, that is, to turn to him fully and completely — “God, this is what you asked of me, so I did and now I look to you to help me through.”

And He did; He saw me through! And continues to do so.

This whole experience taught me to remain faithful and dutiful; remaining faithful to God and His promises, at the same time doing what is required of me at any given moment; this was really the only thing I had control over. No amount of planning or looking into the future nor lamenting on things past helped. On the contrary, I felt more stuck and powerless. When I let go, and let God, miracles happened.

Just as it is written in today’s gospel, both Zechariah and Elizabeth “… were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all commandments and observances of the Lord.” And, in the case of Manoah’s wife in the first reading, there have been accounts of her obedience and faithfulness in the bible as well. In their simple everyday life, through their struggles, their deepest desires were granted while they were dutifully carrying out God’s work. Today’s reading reminds me to stay present and lift up my work daily to Him and to not fret about what is to come, trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled through me, when the time is right.

Miracles, not just in the bible, are happening around us every day. Do we pay attention to these miracles around us? Do we play our part in our faithfulness and dutifulness and allow God to do His work through us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, it is not always easy to let go of our ego and our tendency to control events, things, or people around us. Help us to stay faithful and dutiful to the work that you have blessed us with this very moment, trusting that you have your divine plan and we are but your instruments. Use us the way you know best, teach us to surrender to the Holy Spirit, to surrender to your Will.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for all the miracles you have worked in our lives. You are the good good Father who always gives us the best, and takes care of us. You know our deepest desires and we know that nothing is impossible with you.

18 December, Wednesday – Where are you, God?

18 Dec 2019

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –
when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David,
who will reign as true king and be wise,
practising honesty and integrity in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel dwell in confidence.
And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.

So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.”

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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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God-is-with-us

Whenever we hear of the terrible and tragic news around the world, such as the hostage situation and deaths striking the Lindt Cafe in Sydney; the massacre of students in the Peshawar military-run school by the Pakistani Taliban; the Sewol ferry tragedy in Seoul; the victims of Super Typhoon Hagupit in Philippines, it is hard to believe that God truly is with us. Recently, a very dear friend of mine lost her beloved husband to an unexpected sudden death, and I could not help but share in her grief and tears, myself asking – God, are you there? In times like these, I ask God: did you show your glorious face to them in their final moments? Do they know You are real, did they know You as Love as they passed through this life?

On this side of life, we struggle to understand, give, receive, experience love. What is love to those of us who have experienced heartbreaks, growing pains, mental-, emotional-, sexual-abuse, loss and grief? How can we make sense of this constant falling short of true joy and fulfilment in life… this almost-but-not-there-yet-ness of many endeavours we put ourselves through? God seems so far from us in these desperate moments. It is cold, dark, lonely, and terrifying to find ourselves trapped in this valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) – living in this moment of the absence of God. But God is with us even in this very valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Psalm 23)

How do we see God in this pitch-black night of sorrow and fear? The reality of our understanding of darkness is testament to our existent experience and knowledge of light. As darkness is not a level of brightness, but the absence of light, we need to trust that we have once seen and experienced Pure Light. This is the prior knowing of our soul. We have been kissed and visited by the Light of God when God had knitted us in our mother’s womb – and this imprint of Love and Light is carried deep inside of our soul throughout this life. Our constant realisation of the falling-short-of joy and fulfilment in this life, the frustrating incompleteness of life’s endeavours, serves to point us to the light of Eternal Truth, Way and Life.

The secret is to ‘walk through’ this valley of the shadow of death as Psalm 23 tells us. It is not enough to stand at the mouth of the valley staring into darkness and fearing the worst. As consuming as whatever darkness we experience can be, there is always an imperceptible glimmer of brightness by which our eyes eventually acclimatise to see. We can still discern the edges of this shadowed valley and fumble through. And God-is-with-us in each present moment.

The Word proclaims His promises of rescue and shelter for us. His Promises are the rod and staff by which we steady our gait. This is what we need to cling onto in times we feel shattered by fear and grief, hatred and injustice.

Baby Jesus was himself pushed through the darkness of Mary’s birth canal. Our Lord was born unto us after much human struggle. His first sounds were cries of fear and confusion, turned to relief and comfort of Mary’s breast. The God Almighty allowed Himself to experience the necessary human passage through time and shadow in order to be one with us and share in our human passions and sufferings and ultimately, death.

May we realise that this, is how God-is-with-us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: Jesus, you have gone through everything we will ever go through in our lives. Your first infant cries; your playground scuffles; the frustration of learning the ropes of carpentry; the betrayal of friendships; the humiliation of slander; injustice for innocence; and cruel death on Calvary. For Your companionship in all that I fear and suffer in, I thank You Lord.

Prayer: We pray for the innocent departed souls of all we hear in the news and of our loved ones. May our Lord shine His Divine Mercy and Love upon them and grant to them Eternal Peace and Rest.

17 December, Tuesday – God’s Perfection

17 Dec 2019

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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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Of her was born Jesus who is called Christ

The genealogy of Jesus shows forty-two (42) generations; fourteen (14) from Abraham to David, fourteen (14) to the Babylonian deportation and fourteen (14) from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

When I first looked at Jesus’ lineage, I saw the faith of Abraham at work. This faithfulness can be seen in his leaving Ur for Canaan, and when he almost sacrificed his only son Isaac, in obedience to God.

This lineage looked perfect to me, until I read that there were interesting characters within the line. For example, Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar. This doesn’t sound extraordinary until we learn that Perez was conceived when Judah slept with Tamar believing that she was a prostitute. In fact, Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law! Tamar was the widow of Judah’s eldest son, Er, who subsequently married his second son Onan (according to tradition). Onan, too, died prematurely.

Two other examples I can see is that of Ruth, who came from the tribe of Moab, this tribe came about when Lot’s daughters slept with him! Finally, Solomon, who was a product of King David and Bathsheba, whom David married after arranging for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, death in battle.

Knowing these three stories gave me a new perspective.

While I had originally thought that Jesus had been born into a “pure” and “perfect” bloodline, I realised that this lineage had been less than perfect. To me, God had perfected the imperfect! This was a powerful lesson; that no matter He, too, perfects us when we do His work and live according to His will.

Actually, in preparing for this reflection, I learned something else.

Because of the virgin birth, Jesus actually did not come Joseph’s lineage. Instead, He came from Mary’s! As much as it is that Joseph had adopted into his lineage, God had adopted Abraham’s lineage as His.

How powerful it is when we walk in the path has God has chosen for us!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, teach us to be open to Your will. Help us to always trust in You!

Thanksgiving: Thank You for guiding and protecting us, and for making us perfect despite our imperfection.

16 December, Monday – Desiring To Know God

16 Dec 2019

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Numbers 24:2-7,15-17

Raising his eyes Balaam saw Israel, encamped by tribes; the spirit of God came on him and he declaimed his poem. He said:
 
‘The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of the man with far-seeing eyes,
the oracle of one who hears the word of God.
He sees what Shaddai makes him see,
receives the divine answer, and his eyes are opened.
How fair are your tents, O Jacob!
How fair your dwellings, Israel!
Like valleys that stretch afar,
like gardens by the banks of a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters!
A hero arises from their stock,
he reigns over countless peoples.
His king is greater than Agag,
his majesty is exalted.’
 
Then Balaam declaimed his poem again. He said:
 
‘The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of the man with far-seeing eyes,
the oracle of one who hears the word of God,
of one who knows the knowledge of the Most High.
He sees what Shaddai makes him see,
receives the divine answer, and his eyes are opened.
I see him – but not in the present,
I behold him – but not close at hand:
a star from Jacob takes the leadership,
a sceptre arises from Israel.’

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Matthew 21:23-27

Jesus had gone into the Temple and was teaching, when the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him and said, ‘What authority have you for acting like this? And who gave you this authority?’ ‘And I’ replied Jesus ‘will ask you a question, only one; if you tell me the answer to it, I will then tell you my authority for acting like this. John’s baptism: where did it come from: heaven or man?’ And they argued it out this way among themselves, ‘If we say from heaven, he will retort, “Then why did you refuse to believe him?”; but if we say from man, we have the people to fear, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ So their reply to Jesus was, ‘We do not know.’ And he retorted, ‘Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this.’

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“And I… will ask you a question, only one.”

I have always desired to experience God in a similar way Moses did. I have a whole list of questions about life, about heaven, and how eternal life would look like. I would ask about what He desired me to do with my life, and about the choices, He would like me to make. All to know and to learn.

I wonder, however, how God would interact with me if my desire for “perfect knowledge” was not so much for His glory, but for my own. What if I wanted to have some winning numbers for the lottery so that I could enjoy life as a rich man? Or to use this knowledge so I could gain an advantage over others?

In today’s Gospel reading, we read about some chief priests and elders coming to Jesus to ask Him as to the source of His authority. Jesus was aware of the intention behind this; which was the hope to use His words to trap Him.

Jesus knew their intention and instead of answering their question, returns with another question. The elders and the chief priests run through their minds the possible responses Jesus could have to their answers, chose to give a totally different answer.

I can see parallels to how I speak with God. While I have no intention of trying to trick God, I (unknowingly, of course), “force” God to choose His answers from the list of choices I have. I remember how, years ago, I had been praying hard for God to give me a job I wanted. In my heart and mind, I was trying to twist God’s arm into making it happen to me.  However, what finally happened was totally unexpected. It was not apparent to me then, but God did answer my question.

Let us learn to approach our God with pure hearts and with pure intentions. Only then will we be able to hear His answer.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Teach us, Lord Jesus, to be open to You. Help us learn to approach You with pure and clean hearts.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful, Father, that You alone can know our hearts. Thank You for loving and guiding us despite our iniquities.

15 December, Sunday – Love for God As the Basis for Everything

15 Dec 2019 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 35:1-6,10

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.
The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they shall see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.
Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees
and say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.
‘Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy
for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.
They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.

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James 5:7-10

Be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You too have to be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon. Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgement yourselves; the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates. For your example, brothers, in submitting with patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

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Matthew 11:2-11

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
  As the messengers were leaving, 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 wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:
‘Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way before you.
‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

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And happy is the man who does not lose faith in me

The book of Revelation in the bible talks about heaven. It details how, in heaven, everyone stands and gives glory and honour to God.

I must confess that I was not impressed.

I did not find it appealing that what I would get out of eternal life was to stand around praising God; I felt that we were mere subjects of a King, and our role was purely to serve. What was in it for me?

This, however, changed for me only recently.

I was speaking with some people in the office and I was remarking how blessed I was to have met and married my wife. I was sharing about how despite being together for over twenty years, I enjoy spending time with her. In fact, I had hoped to be able to deepen my relationship with her.

This realisation was really very important to me. Our role is NOT just to stand and sing praises to God. If we walk closely with God, we cannot but help praising Him. It is not the chore we imagine it to be. Instead, we are invited to build this deeply personal relationship with Him. God knows us intimately and as we grow in love for Him, we desire to praise and honour Him.

When I first read Revelations, I had failed to understand this important element and looked at the songs of praises and honour by themselves. Without this love and relationship, all the praising and honouring will just be an empty show.

We do not even need to wait for heaven. I remember years ago, before I developed any real relationship with our Lord, I used to look at my watch while attending mass. In fact, I used to excuse myself to go to the washroom, in order to make the time go faster!

It is clear, in today’s Gospel, of Jesus’ relationship with St John the Baptist. The latter had been preparing the way for Jesus and John was the “servant”. Despite this disparity is statuses, Jesus talks about John in glowing terms, and calls him the greatest of all children born of women. Far from being a one-sided relationship, we see a mutually loving and respectful relationship.

Similarly, let us use our time here on earth to try and strengthen love for our Lord; to the level He loves us. Instead of it being a chore, I look forward to an eternity of desiring more time with our God!

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, we pray that we may always have the desire to know You better and to love You more each day.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father for being faithful to us, even before we are faithful to You. We are grateful for Your love!