Category Archives: Easter

24 May, Wednesday – The Importance of being a Child

24 May 2017

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Acts 17:15,22-18:1

Paul’s escort took him as far as Athens, and went back with instructions for Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as they could.

So Paul stood before the whole Council of the Areopagus and made this speech:
‘Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.

‘Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shrines made by human hands. Nor is he dependent on anything that human hands can do for him, since he can never be in need of anything; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone. From one single stock he not only created the whole human race so that they could occupy the entire earth, but he decreed how long each nation should flourish and what the boundaries of its territory should be. And he did this so that all nations might seek the deity and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. Yet in fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist, as indeed some of your own writers have said:

“We are all his children.”

‘Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

‘God overlooked that sort of thing when men were ignorant, but now he is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because he has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged, and judged in righteousness, and he has appointed a man to be the judge. And God has publicly proved this by raising this man from the dead.’

At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’

After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

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John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.’

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Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

It can be said that we begin to age the moment we are born.

As we grow in age, stature and knowledge, we slowly begin to lose the child-like wisdom of the idea of eternity. An adult is really no wiser than a child in the eyes of God.

A baby, an infant, already knows God. This moment can be revealed so clearly when you stare deep into the eyes of a baby and watch them gaze back, or afar, in a sort of glazed wonderment and serenity. Have you seen that look before? We never say, “Babies have a ‘stoned’ look” when we catch those glassy-eyed gazes of theirs. I believe it is because we intuit that they are not actually staring blankly, but discovering and uncovering something mysterious, awesome, and amazing through their newly-realized gift of sight. This wonderment and innocent gaze is truly the eye with which we need to know our God as Creator and Father.

When Paul sees a sacred altar in Athens inscribed with “To An Unknown God”, he tells the Athenians: “Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it… Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth… it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone.”

I appreciate that Paul does not trash the Athenians’ way of pagan life and numerous sacred monuments from the get-go. Instead, he uses what they already seem to know dimly, to point them towards the Truth and Light of God. We surely can note from Paul’s way of sharing the faith and existence of God. We need to refrain from putting down, denigrating, nor mocking the beliefs (or lack of belief) of others.

I would like to suggest that Paul’s acknowledgement that the altar to the Unknown God connected with the One True God reveals three important things to us.

First — a great humility. Coming from his moral ‘high horse’ of before, his fall triggers a deep conversion to humility in connecting with the other, to people different from him.

Second — a deep wisdom. His sight was not obscured by (self) righteousness, and so his gaze penetrated the mere appearances of a possibly pagan altar to see deeper truths beyond the Athenians’ ignorance.

Third — a child-like simplicity in seeing and connecting with others. He sees their innocence and appeals to this innocence that is shared by all of God’s children by pointing out to them that the One True God is “the one whom you already worship without knowing it.” He alludes to their heritage and tradition of writers who had already written: “We are all his children.”

Indeed, to know God might come more from a purity of heart and soul, and an emptying out of a whole baggage of misconceptions, presumptions, and pride. It is to return to not just a spiritual childhood, but also a return to the wide-eyed wonderment of a baby who looks out into the world for the very first few days and months!

When we do this very simple but intentional exercise of emptying out our subconscious and unconscious ‘gold, silver, or stone’ of images, ideology or preconceptions that we have constructed out of hardened life experiences, we will more readily invite the Holy Spirit to burn a new fire of joy and love in our hearts. Indeed, it is not easy to be a child of God!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, help us to become child-like and youthful again in our gaze and ways – to love and give to others as God has loved and given to us.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the gentleness of those who point our dimly-lit vision towards the Truth, Way and Light of Christ – and challenge us to humility and innocence again.

23 May, Tuesday – Outside my comfort zone

23 May 2017

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Acts 16:22-34

The crowd joined in and showed their hostility to Paul and Silas, so the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be flogged. They were given many lashes and then thrown into prison, and the gaoler was told to keep a close watch on them. So, following his instructions, he threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Late that night Paul and Silas were praying and singing God’s praises, while the other prisoners listened. Suddenly there was an earthquake that shook the prison to its foundations. All the doors flew open and the chains fell from all the prisoners.

When the gaoler woke and saw the doors wide open he drew his sword and was about to commit suicide, presuming that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Don’t do yourself any harm; we are all here.’ The gaoler called for lights, then rushed in, threw himself trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, and escorted them out, saying, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

They told him, ‘Become a believer in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and your household too.’ Then they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all his family. Late as it was, he took them to wash their wounds, and was baptised then and there with all his household. Afterwards he took them home and gave them a meal, and the whole family celebrated their conversion to belief in God.

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John 16:5-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Now I am going to the one who sent me.
Not one of you has asked, “Where are you going?”
Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this.
Still, I must tell you the truth:
it is for your own good that I am going
because unless I go,
the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I do go,
I will send him to you.
And when he comes,
he will show the world how wrong it was,
about sin,
and about who was in the right,
and about judgement:
about sin: proved by their refusal to believe in me;
about who was in the right: proved by my going to the Father and your seeing me no more;
about judgement: proved by the prince of this world being already condemned.’

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Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you.

As I write this reflection, I am sitting in a wooden cabin library, connected to the rest of the outside world by a sole source of internet in order to send this out to the Oxygen editorial team for posting on our website.

These past three days have been an adventure and exercise in the extraordinary for my husband and I. We are at a conference called ‘Architecture, Culture, Spirituality’ in Maine, USA – out on a far tip of Deer Isle facing the North Atlantic Ocean. This is a completely remote and back-to-nature setting where we sleep in unheated wooden cabins poised on the slopes of a mountain facing a serene body of water. This all sounds so incredibly relaxing, but frankly, I spent my first night here, pregnant and sleepless, even though I could have been lulled to sleep with the constant gentle lapping of waves upon rocks.

We experienced an unexpected storm upon arrival that saw a full day of rains, and 0 degree Celsius nighttime temperatures. Without a warm room, some mindless scrolling through my phone’s newsfeeds and chat groups, I felt completely miserable shivering under 3 layers of blankets. I whined even though I knew it would not help.

However, it was in this moment that I became acutely aware of how I had taken my creature comforts for granted, how blessed I have always been! My thoughts went out to the many homeless men and women I saw sleeping on the sidewalks around the city and around the Harvard University campus. In that kind of cold, how could anyone have a night’s rest, even if they were bundled up in the warmest of sleeping bags? They were at the mercy of the elements. As I shivered in my bed, I prayed to offer up my own discomfort and misery for those I recalled – that in a way, our solidarity with them could be somehow redemptive.

In this way, I recognize the Holy Spirit had come to dwell with us in our cabin. Though we were not the warmer for it, we knew that our momentary suffering was meaningful simply because we were able to see beyond its material appearance and enjoin it to a transcendent suffering that is larger than us.

The gospel account of John reveals to us this same truth. Jesus told his disciples that the Advocate would come to dwell with them – but first, he had to leave them. In reality, it was really the disciples who had to first let go of their familiarity and comfort of holding on to the resurrected Christ in the form of Jesus, their mortal friend and teacher, before they would be ready to accept and receive the transfigured form of God’s love that would be given to them through the Holy Spirit.

All of us experience certain material or emotional comforts that we may not recognize and be willing to forsake. But following Christ, claiming this Christian faith requires of us to attempt a radical way of re-seeing and re-experiencing the mundane aspects of our daily lives. Just as the prison guard in the first reading risked his life, livelihood and entire household to embrace the faith that Paul and Silas proclaimed, are we willing to be challenged to a radical way of living and seeing which God may be asking of us? What if this entails an entire change of plan, environment, lifestyle, or level of comfort?

Even if it is a radical way of perceiving a short term suffering or trial, or a long-drawn struggle, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to help us transform our experiences for a vision that transcends the finitude of our reality and constraints. What really touched me in the first reading was the complete turnabout of the prison guard who, with his new eyes of faith and charity, humbly washed their wounds, sought baptism, and received Paul and Silas into his household to share a celebratory meal as fellow Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray that I can commit to greater acts of warmth and charity in the face of the many suffering men and women whom I witness in the city. I pray that the Holy Spirit gives me the courage and wisdom to act with love and compassion.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for these gifted moments when the scales fall off our eyes and we can see and experience humbly, the graces and blessings God has already poured into our lives.

22 May, Monday – Faith – Relationship – Love – Charity

May 22 – Memorial for St. Rita of Cascia, Religious

Rita (1386-1457) was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti, a couple known as the Peacemakers of Jesus; they had Rita late in life. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was 12, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s abuses for 18 years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of St. Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

She was confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything. Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Among the other areas, Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 16:11-15

Sailing from Troas we made a straight run for Samothrace; the next day for Neapolis, and from there for Philippi, a Roman colony and the principal city of that particular district of Macedonia. After a few days in this city we went along the river outside the gates as it was the sabbath and this was a customary place for prayer. We sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting. One of these women was called Lydia, a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptised she sent us an invitation: ‘If you really think me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said ‘come and stay with us’; and she would take no refusal.

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John 15:26-16:4

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘When the Advocate comes,
whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father,
he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the outset.

‘I have told you all this that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you
will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
They will do these things
because they have never known
either the Father or myself.
But I have told you all this,
so that when the time for it comes
you may remember that I told you.’

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… will think he is doing a holy duty for God. They have never known either the Father or myself.

How will we know if we truly believe in God and in Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son? It is not only by faith that we will hear, see, and believe. It is more enduringly known through the cultivation of relationships. The scriptures today reveal to us that faith in God, to claim to know God, is to therefore conduct myself in a particular way.

It is the way of love and charity.

In the first reading of Acts 16: 11-15, we read of Lydia, a devout woman, who was open to listening and hearing about the Lord through the sharings of Paul. While the account summarises her conversion, as the work of the Lord who ‘opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying’, we know that it was not merely that of speeding down a one-way street. In her reception of the gift of faith, we witness that she responded in two ways. First, she and her household requested to be baptized. That was the first step in choosing to be a follower of Christ.

However, she goes on to send an invitation to Paul and Peter and the other disciples, extending her generous hospitality to them to visit and stay with her household – knowing that they were all pilgrims and simply living from hand-to-mouth and traveling on from place to place.

This openness to love and participate in loving is one very important aspect of being and becoming truly Christian. We may be Christians by birth or by choice (later in life), but to ‘become’ true Christians is a humbling, ongoing process that requires intention, child-like trust, and a constant effort to be charitable.

Not all of us have grown up witnessing examples of hospitality, generosity, or effusive acts of warmth and love within our families. So it should come as no surprise, that becoming all of these qualities does not come naturally for some. But we can learn to be, and desire to become. This is a grace freely given by God, and which we should always seek the Holy Spirit for the courage and inspiration to be so.

In this same vein, Jesus tells his disciples that they will encounter people of all kinds who may claim to believe in God, yet commit sins or behave in ways that completely oppose the love and charity and sacrifice that Christ came to demonstrate. Jesus says that these people do exist, and will walk amongst us, but it will be possible to see through their works and actions that “they have never known either the Father or Christ”.

How do we reconcile these encounters with our own choice to remain Christ-like? Well, Jesus reminds us that we have His example and His Holy Spirit has been sent to us to be our Advocate and Paraclete. The Holy Spirit is the friend we can call upon for help and wisdom in these times.

When we struggle with being loving and charitable, when we tussle with the desire to just retaliate at the ones who do us wrong or commit grave sins, may we remember that Jesus has provided us with the Holy Spirit to impart us wisdom and truth to know how to respond in a way that all men may know we are truly Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to the Holy Spirit for help in all times of need, for divine wisdom and courage in our daily affairs.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the people around me who have demonstrated to me the conviction of being Christian through their generosity and charity, even in the face of difficulties.

21 May, Sunday – Uber Evangelisation

May 21 – Saint Christopher Magallanes and his Companions

Cristóbal Magallanes Jara was born in the state of Jalisco, in Mexico, in 1869. He was ordained priest at the age of 30 and became parish priest of his home town of Totatiche. He took a special interest in the evangelization of the local indigenous Huichol people and founded a mission for them. When government persecution of the Catholic Church began and the seminaries were closed, he opened a small local ‘auxiliary seminary.’ He wrote and preached against armed rebellion but was falsely accused of promoting the Cristero rebellion. He was arrested on 21 May 1927 while on the way to celebrate Mass at a farm. He was executed without a trial, but not before giving his remaining possessions to his executioners and giving them absolution.

With him are celebrated 24 other Mexican martyrs of the early 20th century.

-Universalis

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Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

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1 Peter 3:15-18

Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring. And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

Why, Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.

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John 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth
whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him,
because he is with you, he is in you.
I will not leave you orphans;
I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.
On that day you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.
Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

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The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth

In the past few months of living in Boston, I have had several encounters with Uber drivers who ventured into conversations with me about my faith. This is the strangest thing to experience coming from Singapore, where the topics of conversation in taxis tend to range from politics to the rough economy, or how bad other road users are. My encounters have all happened when I am traveling to church for Mass.

In this city and country where topics of faith and religion tend to be highly polarizing for casual conversation, and with a declining church-going population, I believe that my destination fascinates the Uber drivers I ride with. It is usually this information that sparks off these anointed conversations.

During one ride, my driver shared about his period of depression in trying to get back to regular work after his back surgery. He shared of his struggle to believe that God cared about his difficulties. As I listened, I silently prayed that I would have the wisdom to respond with charity. I empathized as I had undergone a back surgery years ago that put me out of work for several months. From the memory of my own struggle and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I was able to speak some words of hope. I encouraged him to keep on trusting in God’s goodness and timing in his recovery. As I got out of the car outside the church, he said to me, “Will you please say a prayer for me inside?” I assured him I would, and we wished each other well. When I settled in the pews, I prayed for him.

On Good Shepherd Sunday evening, I rode with another driver who, upon hearing I was heading to church asked me, while pointing at the building, “Is this a Catholic church? So are you Catholic?” In the brief minute it took for us to reach, he shared that he had lost count of when he last entered a church. It was one of my tired and distracted days, but a part of me tried to find the right words to say to this friendly man. As we turned into the car porch, he joked, “Oh I am sure if I were to go inside, the priest would feel something strange and know, and he would ask me to get out.” In a split second, I was caught unprepared to welcome this man back into the fold.

With only the wit and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I assured him otherwise. “No, that will not happen. Well, if that were the case, then a lot of people would have to get out too!” The both of us burst out laughing. In that brief moment – it is both a mystery and wonder – the fullness of God’s mercy and forgiveness was somehow shared in that tentative joke. Because almost immediately, he muttered in a moment of private reverie that he knew, that He does not keep score for what had been committed the day before – “tomorrow is a new day”.

I wonder if I had spoken enough of my Lord’s goodness. If I had, in Peter’s words, “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” (1 Peter 3:15). While I do not know exactly how each of these conversations has touched them, I am humbled by the knowledge that the Holy Spirit had been with us in the car and inspiring me with just the right words in the right way, to help point these fellow pilgrims back to God.

I whole-heartedly believe that our strongest witness for God’s existence and goodness is our deep-seated Christian joy. Even if our evangelization may be confined to two obscure minutes in a car journey, it is our palpable joy, hope, openness, and lack of taking petty offences that point towards God’s wide mercy. Mercy and welcome is what almost every weary fellow traveller needs to hear most today.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, anoint me with wisdom and wit, joy and welcome, to share the reason for my faith when the opportunity arises. Please make me a channel of your peace, love and mercy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for these privileged moments of being a laborer in your vineyard. Thank you for being the reason for my great joy and renewed life.

20 May, Saturday – Strength to walk the talk

May 20 – Memorial for St. Bernadine of Siena, Priest

Bernadine (1381-1444) was a Friar Minor, a priest, an itinerant preacher, and a theological writer. His preaching skills were so great, and the conversions so numerous, that he has become associated with all areas of speaking, advertising, public relations, etc.

Bernadine’s charismatic preaching filled the piazze of Italian cities. Thousands of listeners flocked to hear him and to participate in dramatic rituals, which included collective weeping, bonfires of vanities, and exorcisms. He was a renowned peacemaker, in the Franciscan tradition, who tried to calm feuding clans and factions in the turbulent political world of the Renaissance. His preaching visits would often culminate in mass reconciliations, as listeners were persuaded to exchange the bacio di pace, or kiss of peace.

Bernadine was sensitive to the demands of secular life, and tried to negotiate between Christian ethics and a conflicting code of honour that stressed retaining face in a public world. He argued that the catalyst of civil discord in the urban setting was malicious gossip, which led to insults, and, too often, vendetta by aggressive males. His surprising allies in his peacekeeping mission were the women who comprised the majority of his audience.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 16:1-10

From Cilicia Paul went to Derbe, and then on to Lystra. Here there was a disciple called Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess who had become a believer; but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy, and Paul, who wanted to have him as a travelling companion, had him circumcised. This was on account of the Jews in the locality where everyone knew his father was a Greek.

As they visited one town after another, they passed on the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, with instructions to respect them.

So the churches grew strong in the faith, as well as growing daily in numbers.

They travelled through Phrygia and the Galatian country, having been told by the Holy Spirit not to preach the word in Asia. When they reached the frontier of Mysia they thought to cross it into Bithynia, but as the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, they went through Mysia and came down to Troas.

One night Paul had a vision: a Macedonian appeared and appealed to him in these words, ‘Come across to Macedonia and help us.’ Once he had seen this vision we lost no time in arranging a passage to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to bring them the Good News.

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John 15:18-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If the world hates you,
remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because my choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too;
if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on my account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the one who sent me.’

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“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.”

I have always found it fascinating that from the time of Jesus to current times, there is a very consistent reference to ‘belonging to the world’ as opposed to not belonging to it.

This applies whether it is in a Middle-Eastern or Western culture. There is no escaping this. Such is the strength of our selfish human nature. ‘Belonging to the world’ somehow means being self-centred and unloving.

It is clear to me, when we look at it this way, that there is simply NO middle ground. One simply ‘belongs’ to this world, or one does not; we cannot be a good Christian and still be a part of this world; the Bible is clear on that.

I have struggled with this my whole life. For many years, I had lived a compartmentalised life –having a ‘worldly’ compartment for work and other pragmatic situations, and a ‘Christian’ compartment for other areas such a ‘faith’ and parts of family and other Christian interactions. This situation causes constant conflict and much effort and energy is spent on deciding which compartment to place our interactions in.

Over time, I realised that such a situation resulted in me not being able to lead an authentic Christian life and faith coming out of such a compartmentalised life was at most lukewarm. Lukewarm!

This troubles me because we are warned against having lukewarm faith in Revelations 3:15-16, where possessing lukewarm faith, where we are neither ‘hot’ nor ‘cold’, will cause us to be ‘spit out’ from God’s mouth.  Such lukewarm faith will lead us to live under the illusion that we are doing well when in reality we are not.

May we be able to draw upon the Lord’s strength to decide to lead a life full of ‘hot’ faith.  May we have the courage to do so, and recognise that our time on earth is short and that we ultimately belong to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Help us Father to always keep our eyes on You. Help us to have eyes of faith to discern the right path to take. Be with us Lord Jesus, as we seek to do the right thing.

ThanksgivingJesus Lord, thank You for showing what it means to walk in Your path. Thank You for helping us realise that we are not alone in our daily journey.

19 May, Friday – Christian Respect and Love

19 May 2017

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Acts 15:22-31

The apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them:

‘The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us; and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter. It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.’

The party left and went down to Antioch, where they summoned the whole community and delivered the letter. The community read it and were delighted with the encouragement it gave them.

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John 15:12-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘This is my commandment:
love one another,
as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants any more,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.
You did not choose me:
no, I chose you;
and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit,
fruit that will last;
and then the Father will give you
anything you ask him in my name.
What I command you is to love one another.’

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“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”

In 2006, I received a call from my father. He had been living in Taiwan for about 30 years and had not been a frequent participant in my life. He had asked me to visit him in Taiwan.

I saw my father some time later when I visited him and he finally told me the purpose for his wanting to see me; he was dying and asked if I could take care of my half sister when he finally passed on.

Unbeknownst to him, my father’s friend had spoken to me much earlier, and had asked me the same question before that. Because of this particular call, I could not sleep for a few weeks as my wife and I pondered the question.

Ultimately, it was difficult for me to turn down his request. You see, when I was a month old, my grandaunt had been asked the same question. Only thing is, I was the one whom she had been tasked to take care of. Despite the fact that our biological relationship was so distant, she did not hesitate when asked, and I ended up living with her for over 30 years. In fact, she did so much more for me; becoming both father and mother to me in my growing years.

In the same vein, by dying for us, Jesus paid the ultimate price and made the ultimate sacrifice, and paid it forward for us to do the same. How can we not do that? If we choose not to do the right thing, do we not become somewhat like the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:24-25?

Because of the precious gift of salvation and love from our Lord, our lives are no longer our own. The challenge is in recognizing and fulfilling this in our daily walk. We pray that our Lord may give us the eyes and spirit to recognize the opportunities for us to do so.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer In choosing to die for us dear Jesus, You have shown us the way we should live and treat each other. Help us to be open to the opportunities to share this same spirit with others.

ThanksgivingThank You for being our model, Lord Jesus. No matter what kind of personal history we each possess, thank You for the infinite love that You have for us

18 May, Thursday – Being Truly Loving

May 18 – Memorial for St. John I, Pope and Martyr

John (d. 526) was a priest in Rome, and became the 53rd pope in 523. Italy’s ruler then, Theodoric the Goth, was an Arian. For a while, he left the Catholics alone, but in later life he became suspicious of everyone, imagining conspiracies and attempts to seize his throne. He tried to involve Pope John in his political machinations. John led a delegation to Constantinople to negotiate with Emperor Justin I; he was the first pope to travel to Constantinople, and while there, crowned Justin. The mission was successful, but Theodoric, thought John and Justin I, had plotted against him. While returning to Rome, John was kidnapped and imprisoned by Theodoric’s soldiers. He died of thirst and starvation while in custody in Ravenna, Italy.

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Acts 15:7-21

After the discussion had gone on a long time, Peter stood up and addressed the apostles and the elders.
‘My brothers,’ he said ‘you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the pagans were to learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.’

This silenced the entire assembly, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans.

When they had finished it was James who spoke. ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say:

After that I shall return
and rebuild the fallen House of David;
I shall rebuild it from its ruins
and restore it.
Then the rest of mankind,
all the pagans who are consecrated to my name,
will look for the Lord,
says the Lord who made this known so long ago.

‘I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath.’

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John 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.’

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“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

I was at Mass a few days ago and there was this family of 3 seated some pews in front of me. The son was not quite tall enough to see the altar. The boy struggled to do so, and after some time, the father put down the (brand new) kneeler and the boy stood on it.

I found myself getting irritated. I looked at the newly-wrapped kneeler and all I could think about was it could get torn or damaged.

And then I took a look at the family. I saw how excited the boy was at being able to look at the priest and altar boys carrying out the rites. I saw the pride in the eyes of the parents as they looked at their son belting out the hymns.

I reflected on this as the mass was going on and realised that I was having a ‘Pharisee’ moment; I had placed what I thought was right above the love for a neighbour. While this does not mean that we do not correct our brother or sister, it also means that we need to look at all situations through the lens of brotherly love.

In the first reading today, the first Christian community was deciding the rules that the pagans needed to follow. Rather than putting them under the same rules the original Jewish community were under (who also found the same rules difficult to follow), the community decided that the new members would follow a set of simpler rules. The lesson for us is that the early Christian community came to that decision through eyes of love and without judgement.

Let us always remember that we too, should be guided to do the same in all our dealings with others. And to look at every one we encounter through the eyes of love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, may we always be guided in our thoughts and actions by love. May we always be open to Your Spirit.

ThanksgivingLord Jesus, thank You for showing us what it really means to love and to not be judgmental of others. Thank You for being our role model of how to treat and be with others.

17 May, Wednesday – The Importance of Being Connected to God

17 May 2017

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Acts 15:1-6

Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.

All the members of the church saw them off, and as they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders, and gave an account of all that God had done with them.

But certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers objected, insisting that the pagans should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’

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“You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.”

There was a period of about 2 years when I stayed away from church. I was going through some personal issues and had wanted to be left alone. Till then, I belonged to a church choir, playing the guitar, and I also occasionally stood in as a conductor.

During the period away from the church, I found myself being slowly isolated. My prayers moved from daily, to occasional, then almost never. I felt increasingly distanced from God. To me, He became someone who did not care, and was almost never on my mind.

After a period of time, a few good friends started calling me and gently cajoled me to go back to the Church. While I did not feel any motivation to do so, my friends ultimately convinced me to go back.

It was a slow start, but once I did, I felt God’s hand in my life again. Like the son in the parable of the prodigal son, I felt God’s embracing love.

In addition to a closer intimacy with God, I also felt the re-entry of God’s counsel in my life. While it is likely that it never left in the first place, I sense the guidance of the Holy Spirit and sense the soft promptings. The experience of being ‘plugged in’ allowed me to understand where He wants to bring me.

Let us always be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and always strive to be connected with God.  It is only through this connection that we would continue to learn His will.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, help us to be open to Your pruning and Your guidance. Help us to be willing to shed what is not helpful or good for us and help us to remain in You.

ThanksgivingThank You for loving us as Your children, and for never giving up on us.

16 May, Tuesday – Faith without Fear

16 May 2017

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Acts 14:19-28

Some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium, and turned the people against the apostles. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the town, thinking he was dead. The disciples came crowding round him but, as they did so, he stood up and went back to the town. The next day he and Barnabas went off to Derbe.

Having preached the Good News in that town and made a considerable number of disciples, they went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. ‘We all have to experience many hardships’ they said ‘before we enter the kingdom of God.’ In each of these churches they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

They passed through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. Then after proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia and from there sailed for Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.

On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans. They stayed there with the disciples for some time.

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John 14:27-31

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give,
this is my gift to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return.
If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father,
for the Father is greater than I.
I have told you this now before it happens,
so that when it does happen you may believe.
I shall not talk with you any longer,
because the prince of this world is on his way.
He has no power over me,
but the world must be brought to know
that I love the Father
and that I am doing exactly what the Father told me.’

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid”

One of the benefits of being educated in Catholic schools for 12 years is the regular exposure to the Catholic faith. Based on oral tradition and, from passages in the bible, we learn how almost all of Jesus’ disciples (with the exception of John) died violent deaths for their faith.

We see a similar situation in today’s first reading, where, despite being almost beaten to death, the apostle Paul returns to his work at the earliest opportunity and with extra vigour as well, encouraging the disciples that they should expect to experience hardships before entering heaven.

I have often wondered what many of us would do under similar situations. Would we have the same strong belief and faith to do what they did?

We find the reason behind such faithfulness, where Jesus promises His disciples peace and assures them of His return. Because they were there and they knew and experienced what it was like to be TRULY in the presence of God. This faithfulness demonstrated by the disciples clearly proves to me that our Lord and God is real. Putting myself in their situation, I would never sacrifice myself for something or someone whom I thought was not authentic. Why would they have done otherwise?

Living now about 2,000 years after Jesus’ time on earth and, not having the benefit of knowing our Lord in person, we need to spend time to develop a strong relationship with our God, so that like the disciples, we too will not be afraid to stand up for Him, regardless of the consequences.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer May we learn to be close to You, Jesus, as Your disciples were as close to You. Help us to experience Your love intimately.

ThanksgivingThank you Jesus, for reaching out to us and showing us what it means to be loved. Thank You for always being there for us.

15 May, Monday – Keeping Focused on God

15 May 2017

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Acts 14:5-18

Eventually with the connivance of the authorities a move was made by pagans as well as Jews to make attacks on the apostles and to stone them. When the apostles came to hear of this, they went off for safety to Lycaonia where, in the towns of Lystra and Derbe and in the surrounding country, they preached the Good News.

A man sat there who had never walked in his life, because his feet were crippled from birth; and as he listened to Paul preaching, he managed to catch his eye. Seeing that the man had the faith to be cured, Paul said in a loud voice, ‘Get to your feet – stand up’, and the cripple jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done they shouted in the language of Lycaonia, ‘These people are gods who have come down to us disguised as men.’ They addressed Barnabas as Zeus, and since Paul was the principal speaker they called him Hermes. The priests of Zeus-outside-the-Gate, proposing that all the people should offer sacrifice with them, brought garlanded oxen to the gates. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening they tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings like you. We have come with good news to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that these hold. In the past he allowed each nation to go its own way; but even then he did not leave you without evidence of himself in the good things he does for you: he sends you rain from heaven, he makes your crops grow when they should, he gives you food and makes you happy.’ Even this speech, however, was scarcely enough to stop the crowd offering them sacrifice.

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John 14:21-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

Judas – this was not Judas Iscariot – said to him, ‘Lord, what is all this about? Do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied:

‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
And my word is not my own:
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all I have said to you.’

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“If anyone loves me he will keep my word”

Having been in sales for my whole banking career, I am struck by how superstitious many well-educated people are. I remember being very surprised the first time I realised this; I had patted a colleague’s shoulder and he had gotten very upset with me. I later found out that in doing so, I would affect his ‘sales luck’. The remedy? It WAS a long time ago, but I believe it involved walking around his chair a certain number of times.

Something similar happened to me many years ago. A good friend of mine had taken a course in a certain new-age type healing technique and had volunteered to help me. I subsequently went through the session and strangely found myself very much at peace and found that things in my life started going well. I began to attribute those good things to the healing session with my friend. To cut a long story short, with some spiritual direction, I realised that I had begun holding something else in place of God and my faith in what He does for me in my life.

The temptation in this modern world of ours is to forget about God, attributing both good and bad to himself. Like the first reading in Acts today, despite God’s presence in our lives, and the fact being proclaimed in our faces, we resist recognising the important role God plays.

Jesus, in today’s gospel, asks to receive His commandments and to keep them in our hearts. Through the temptations we face everyday, we need to keep God in our hearts, listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in guiding us on our journey.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we may always keep You and Jesus in our hearts.  May we always remember to turn to You in all our times of need and celebration.

ThanksgivingWe thank You Father, for loving us in spite of our lack of faith and gratitude.