Category Archives: Holy Week

14 April, Friday – Appreciating Jesus Humanity

14 April 2017

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.
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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
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John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
‘I am thirsty.’
A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.
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Like a sapling he grew up in front of us

Today marks the first day of week 38. My husband and I are both nervous because we don’t know what to expect. It feels like I’m walking around with a ticking time-bomb, waiting for ‘the moment’ our little one will arrive. The past month has been an overwhelming flurry of activity – getting the nursery in order and the hospital bag packed, reading up on labour, episiotomies and post-natal care. But amidst all the hurry, there are moments of quietness when I start to question myself, “Will I ever be a good Mum? Will I be able to bring up my child with patience?” And then there are other worries, like, “Will he be healthy?” and “Will everything be alright?”. Attending mass every Sunday helps me to surrender my burdens to God.

What strikes me most about Holy Week is the focus on Jesus’ humanity. It begins with Passion Sunday, when we relive and participate in the Last Supper and Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane. It strikes me that he had to pray three times to his Father. Not just once, but thrice. And in between each prayer, he would look for his disciples, desperately urging them to pray. However, none could stay awake. I can only imagine the fear and anxiety that Jesus must have felt. He eventually submits himself to God’s will – but not without inner turmoil. It then culminates in the events of Good Friday.

The first reading reminds us that “like a sapling he grew up in front of us”. Imagine watching a little child grow up in front of you — innocent, loved and hopeful of the future ahead. Jesus too was somebody’s child – held dearly and deeply loved by his mother, Mary. Having watched him grow, she probably knew how he fussed at night, what foods he liked and what made him laugh or cry. He was as ordinary as any of us or our children. Yet, “ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrow he carried… on him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed”.

The reason why we can find peace in the presence of God is because of the price that Jesus paid through his humanity. He is the reason why we can find healing and comfort, grace and mercy, strength and hope through our trials and adversities when we are in need. It is through his humanity that we are made whole again in his divinity.

As we participate in the Gospel reading today, let us appreciate fully how Jesus had suffered in his humanity so that we may rejoice and partake in his divinity.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the patience to carry my cross with humility and love.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the gift of Jesus, your Son. 

13 April, Thursday – Remembering the Lord’s Supper

13 April 2017

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Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal.

It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord.

That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

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John 13:1-15

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

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If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Holy Thursday has always held a special place in my heart. I remember first attending Holy Thursday as a Cathecumen, marveling at the humility of Jesus, who would kneel before His disciples to wash their feet. Furthermore, He washed their feet not for His own good, but for theirs. Like many of the things that God has done for us, it is always for our own good, for there is nothing that anyone can do for the good of God, who is Himself the personification of all goodness.

It is this humility and self-giving that continues to touch and amaze me every Maundy Thursday, as I watch the priest re-enact the washing of the disciples’ feet during mass. As we have seen on Palm Sunday, the Lordship of Jesus is one that defies all conventions and human understanding. While kings (and indeed, even our modern day leaders) desired to be served, Jesus chose instead to serve others. While a king would encourage his subjects to serve him, Jesus encouraged us to serve each other. This is why He said in today’s gospel, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do”.

More importantly, today’s gospel is a timely reminder, as we prepare for Good Friday, that Jesus suffered death on the cross not just for His disciples, but for all humanity. Indeed, Jesus has already called us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:31). He did not say ‘love your Christian neighbour’, but to love all our neighbours, regardless of who they are. In a world that is rife with conflict and divisions, it is sometimes difficult to do so, especially when we face persecution for others.

But as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday, we remember that Our Lord has suffered even more persecution for us. What is a hostile glare or a nasty comment, compared to what He had gone through for us? Like Jesus, we have to focus on living and doing the will of God, even when doing so involves going against the grain of societal expectations. Yet we also know that it is so difficult and tiring to be swimming against the tides of the increasingly secular and materialistic societies that we find ourselves in.

Thankfully, we have been given a gift and a sacrament that can refresh our souls whenever we find ourselves weary from having to live our faith in a hostile world — the Holy Eucharist. On this night, we should keep in mind of the body and blood of Christ that was given to us on the last supper. As St Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes”. Let us never forget to proclaim His death, for He died not for Himself for for the salvation of our souls.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace and humility to continue serving each other, especially those who are most in need, whether physically or spiritually.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for giving us the Sacrament of the Eucharist, for continuing to give Yourself to us, so that in these troubled times, we may continue to receive Your love and graces.  

13 April, Thursday – Call to Holiness

13 April 2017

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Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

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Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

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Luke 4:16-21

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

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This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”

The readings of today remind us of the priestly role which all of us are called to answer. It may appear that such duties are meant for those who have received Holy Orders but all of us are called to a life of holiness. The manner in which we go about doing so is not found buried in the Scriptures, but can be found in the readings of today and the significance of the priests renewing their vows before the local Bishop.

The priests today renew the vows which they have made on their priestly Ordination to remain in the service of the Lord and to remain obedient to the local Bishop and his successor. This is a continued renewal and conversion towards Jesus Christ. All of us are in need of reminders in our lives and some of us do so by having a diary or updating our calendars. Today’s Mass is, in a special way, allowing the priests to remember the reasons why they joined the priesthood and to rekindle in them the fervour which they first had on the date of their Ordination.

For those who are lay-people, this renewal is just as relevant. We are called to be the salt and light of the earth. There are people in this world who have been blinded by the pursuit of material goods, deafened by the music of a secular world and bound by chains of despair and darkness. As Christians, we are reminded of our common priesthood to reach out to these people and to share with them the joy of living the Christian Faith. In doing so, we continue to do the work of God by being the leaven in a world hungry for God’s touch.

The priests who are ministers of God nourish us in the Liturgy of the Word with the homily and our souls in the Liturgy of the Eucharist through confecting the Holy Eucharist. Having been strengthened by the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we can then carry out the command made by the priest at the end of Mass to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to remain faithful to you and allow us to discover what your plan is for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all priests in the world.

12 April, Wednesday – Not knowing the Day or Hour

12 April 2017

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Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

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Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

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The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”

As I reflect on Jesus’s words: “My appointed time draws near”, I realize that it is something that He has said from the beginning of His public ministry. We often hear Jesus telling us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2) or “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17). Indeed, Jesus has long been telling telling us that the time for His Passion is near, for the Passion can also be seen as the fulfilment of scripture, as Jesus, through His death and resurrection, becomes for us, the gateway into heaven.

Yet we also know that these are words have often fallen upon deaf ears, both during Jesus’s public ministry and in our time today. Indeed, it is often easy to procrastinate when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. How often have we put off our nightly prayers because we are tired and worn out from the day? How often have we told ourselves: “It’s okay, prayer can wait. It’s okay, God will also wait. I am just so tired and busy”? It is most certainly the case for me, as I wrestle with the day to day hustle and bustle of life in academia.

But we also know from scripture that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Ths 5:2). Taking our cue from the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, we do not want to be found asleep when the Lord comes to find us. Similarly, in the parable of the ten virgins, we do not want to be like the five unfortunate virgins who did not have oil for the lamp and were hence locked out of the wedding banquet. In that parable, Jesus has told us to “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mt 25: 13).

In the modern parlance of today, we should strive to be ‘safe rather than sorry’. Indeed, there is much safety to be found in the love and protection of the Lord. Our safehaven is in the kingdom of heaven, in the presence of our Lord. We should therefore keep praying and hoping, so that we will be ready when our Lord comes for each of us, rather than sorry and left out of the kingdom, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:42). In a way, our not knowing the day nor hour is a bit of a blessing. For this keeps our hearts ever ready and focused on the kingdom of heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: As we await the coming of Your Kingdom Lord, keep us ever steadfast in our faith and prayers, so that at Your appointed time, we will not be found wanting. 

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His loving patience in always tolerating and forgiving our human waywardness.

11 April, Tuesday – Following our Lord

11 April 2017

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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

_________________

John 13:21-33,36-38

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,
where I am going, you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’

_________________

Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later”

In today’s gospel, we are shown the beginning of Jesus’s Passion. Indeed, we are told of the very moment that Satan entered Judas, and the betrayal began. This image of Satan entering Judas is particularly salient to many of us who have struggled with sin. How often have we sensed the beginnings of a sinful act – whether it is an angry thought that has entered our mind or a little excuse we give ourselves for turning a blind eye to a personal transgression – but done nothing about it?

We are often told that it is far easier to nip sin in the bud before it can take root, to deny the words of the evil spirit before they make us do something we may regret. But in reality, we know how hard it is. Like in the movie ‘Inception’, the seeds of sin and doubt can take root so quickly and innocuously, and the consequences of these seeds are often painful not only to ourselves, but to our loved ones as well. Furthermore, we are told that Judas is not the only one who was susceptible to the evil spirit. Even Peter, the chosen ‘rock’ of the church, was plagued with doubt and fear. While he did not betray Jesus, Peter nonetheless denied Him when faced with the fear of persecution.

Such is our human nature, plagued by original sin and often filled with fear and anxiety, that it often does not take a lot for Satan to push us down the wrong path. But such is also the grace of God, that it is not difficult to fight our ways back to sanctity and holiness. All we need to do, as Jesus has told us time and again, is to repent and denounce sin. And should we, having repented, continue to fall into sin, all we need to do, again, is simply to repent once more. Being fully aware of our human nature, Jesus nonetheless chose to love and save us. Indeed, He continued to love Peter and Thomas, despite their denial and doubt, and grant them admittance to His Kingdom.

This is the promise that we find at the end of today’s gospel reading: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later”. Jesus is telling us that where He has gone (heaven), we will also follow. Yet at the same time, He is also telling us that where He was going (to the Cross), we would also need to go. Yes, as Jesus has suffered, we are also called to suffer. But this suffering that we often face is not for naught. Rather, and as St Teresa of Calcutta has taught us, we must see our suffering as redemptive suffering, both for the salvation of our own souls and those of others.

As we face all our fears and doubts this Holy Week, let us remind ourselves that in following our Lord to the cross, we are also following Him to holiness and salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for your grace and guidance, as well face our daily struggles and doubts, and we ask for your patience and forgivness, for the times when we have not loved You enough. 

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for being the head to the body of our Church. For where the Head has gone, so will the body. May we follow You in faithful discipleship.

10 April, Monday – To Praise, Love and Serve Him

10 April 2017

______________

Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

____________________

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.

Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

__________________________

You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Being Catholic, I am often asked some rather uncomfortable questions about the alleged opulence of our churches (adorned as they are with gold ornaments and ornate sculptures). Indeed, it is almost logical to wonder — wouldn’t it be better to sell all this gold and art pieces, and give the money to the poor? On a recent trip to Rome, the same thought crossed my mind, as I was praying in the beautiful and ornate Church of the Gesu. In catechism, we are often taught that gold is used because we want to give our best to God.

But again, this answer may not always be theologically appealing. After all, doesn’t feeding the poor constitute giving our best to God? No, the answer to this niggling doubt lies not in the physical realm. Rather, it has something to do with our desire to detach ourselves from material objects and desire. In using gold to adorn our churches, we have not only chosen to give our best and most precious (material) possession to God, but we show that we treat such possessions with a healthy sense of detachment.

Indeed, it is a fundamental precept of Ignatian spirtuality that we should hold our possessions lightly and use them in service of God, for nothing we own (or indeed, nothing we do) would mean anything if they are not used in the service of God. As St Ignatus puts it: “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul. All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created” (The First Principle and Foundation, St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises).

In washing our Lord’s feet with perfumed oil, Mary is using what is materially precious to serve a greater and more spiritual purpose — worship of our Lord. In contrast, Judas cannot see beyond the material value of the oil, and hence is unable to serve the Lord with all his heart and soul. Like Mary, we too should make use of all our possessions and talents in the praise and service of our Lord. In doing so, we are, as St Ignatius teaches us, simply doing the purpose that God has designed and made us for — to praise, reverence (or love), and serve Him.

This is even more crucial at the beginning of this Holy Week, as we accompany Jesus towards His Passion. For without our Lord’s sacrificial love for us, our talents and possessions will be of little use, for none of these could ever save our souls.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the wisdom to look beyond the veil of our material world, so that we can see your spiritual presence in all its splendour, and in doing so, hope to praise, reverence and serve You in all the days of our lives.

Thanksgiving: We are thankful for all the gifts, little and big, that the Lord has showered upon us, and for the chance to use these gifts in service of Him.  

9 April, Sunday – Welcoming the King

9 April 2017

_____________

Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

__________________

Philippians 2:6-11

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

_________________

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

Key: N. Narrator. + Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

N. One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
O. What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?
N. They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say,
C. Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?
N. He replied:
+ Go to so-and-so in the city and say to him, ‘The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’
N. The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said:
+ I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.
N. They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn,
C. Not I, Lord, surely?
N. He answered,
+ Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!
N. Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn,
O. Not I, Rabbi, surely?
N. Jesus answered:
+ They are your own words.
N. Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said:
+ Take it and eat; this is my body.
N. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, saying:
+ Drink, all of you, from this, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.
N. After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them,
+ You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, but after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.
N. At this, Peter said,
O. Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith.
N. Jesus answered him,
+ I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.
N. Peter said to him,
O. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.
N. And all the disciples said the same.
Then Jesus came with them to a small estate called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,
+ Stay here while I go over there to pray.
N. He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And sadness came over him, and great distress. Then he said to them,
+ My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and keep awake with me.
N. And going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed:
+ My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.
N. He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter:
+ So you had not the strength to keep awake with me one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
N. Again, a second time, he went away and prayed:
+ My Father, if this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!
N. And he came back again and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy. Leaving them there, he went away again and prayed for the third time, repeating the same words. Then he came back to the disciples and said to them,
+ You can sleep on now and take your rest. Now the hour has come when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is already close at hand.
N. He was still speaking when Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him a large number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. Now the traitor had arranged a sign with them. He had said,
O. ‘The one I kiss, he is the man. Take him in charge.’
N. So he went straight up to Jesus and said,
O. Greetings, Rabbi.
N. and kissed him. Jesus said to him,
+ My friend, do what you are here for.
N. Then they came forward, seized Jesus and took him in charge. At that, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it; he struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus then said,
+ Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defence? But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?
N. It was at this time that Jesus said to the crowds,
+ Am I a brigand, that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me.
N. Now all this happened to fulfil the prophecies in scripture. Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.
The men who had arrested Jesus led him off to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. Peter followed him at a distance, and when he reached the high priest’s palace, he went in and sat down with the attendants to see what the end would be.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus, however false, on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any, though several lying witnesses came forward. Eventually two stepped forward and made a statement,
O. This man said: ‘I have power to destroy the Temple of God and in three days build it up.’
N. The high priest then stood up and said to him,
O. Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?
N. But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him,
O. I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.
N. Jesus answered:
+ The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
N. At this, the high priest tore his clothes and said,
O. He has blasphemed. What need of witnesses have we now? There! You have just heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion?
N. They answered,
C. He deserves to die.
N. Then they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him,
C. Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?
N. Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came up to him and said,
O. You too were with Jesus the Galilean.
N. But he denied it in front of them all, saying:
O. I do not know what you are talking about.
N. When he went out to the gateway another servant-girl saw him and said to the people there,
O. This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.
N. And again, with an oath, he denied it:
O. I do not know the man.
N. A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter,
C. You are one of them for sure! Why, your accent gives you away.
Then he started calling down curses on himself and swearing:
O. I do not know the man.
N. At that moment the cock crew, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said, ‘Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus. They had him bound, and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor.
When he found that Jesus had been condemned, Judas his betrayer was filled with remorse and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders, saying:
O. I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.
N. They replied:
C. What is that to us? That is your concern.
N. And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said,
C. It is against the Law to put this into the treasury: it is blood-money.
N. So they discussed the matter and bought the potter’s field with it as a graveyard for foreigners, and this is why the field is called the Field of Blood today. The words of the prophet Jeremiah were then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by children of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, just as the Lord directed me.
Jesus, then, was brought before the governor, and the governor put to him this question:
O. Are you the king of the Jews?
N. Jesus replied,
+ It is you who say it.
N. But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders he refused to answer at all. Pilate then said to him,
O. Do you not hear how many charges they have brought against you?
N. But to the governor’s complete amazement, he offered no reply to any of the charges.
At festival time it was the governor’s practice to release a prisoner for the people, anyone they chose. Now there was at that time a notorious prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them,
O. Which do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?
N. For Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. Now as he was seated in the chair of judgement, his wife sent him a message,
O. Have nothing to do with that man; I have been upset all day by a dream I had about him.
N. The chief priests and the elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. So when the governor spoke and asked them,
O. Which of the two do you want me to release for you?
N. they said,
C. Barabbas.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?
N. They all said:
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Pilate asked:
O. Why? What harm has he done?
N. But they shouted all the louder,
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said,
O. I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.
N. And the people, to a man, shouted back,
C. His blood be on us and on our children!
N. Then he released Barabbas for them. He ordered Jesus to be first scourged and then handed over to be crucified.
The governor’s soldiers took Jesus with them into the Praetorium and collected the whole cohort round him. Then they stripped him and made him wear a scarlet cloak, and having twisted some thorns into a crown they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand. To make fun of him they knelt to him saying,
C. Hail, king of the Jews!
N. And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucify him.
On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, Simon by name, and enlisted him to carry his cross. When they had reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull, they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink. When they had finished crucifying him they shared out his clothing by casting lots, and then sat down and stayed there keeping guard over him.
Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ At the same time two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said,
C. So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself! If you are God’s son, come down from the cross!
N. The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way, saying:
C. He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He puts his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, ‘I am the son of God.’
N. Even the robbers who were crucified with him taunted him in the same way.
From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
+ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
N. That is, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood there heard this, they said,
C. The man is calling on Elijah.
N. and one of them quickly ran to get a sponge which he dipped in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink. The rest of them said:
C. Wait! See if Elijah will come to save him.
N. But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
At that, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked; the rocks were split; the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead, and these, after his resurrection, came out of the tombs, entered the Holy City and appeared to a number of people. Meanwhile the centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said,
C. In truth this was a son of God.
N. And many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
When it was evening, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, called Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate thereupon ordered it to be handed over. So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud and put it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. Now Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.
Next day, that is, when Preparation Day was over, the chief priests and the Pharisees went in a body to Pilate and said to him,
C. Your Excellency, we recall that this impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I shall rise again.’ Therefore give the order to have the sepulchre kept secure until the third day, for fear his disciples come and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ This last piece of fraud would be worse than what went before.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. You may have your guard. Go and make all as secure as you know how.
N. So they went and made the sepulchre secure, putting seals on the stone and mounting a guard.

_______________________

This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”

Today, we re-enact the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem by receiving palm fronds. In the Greco-Roman tradition, palms were used as a symbol of victory and triumph, and often used to welcome triumphant kings. It is in this context that Palm Sunday came about, as the people of Jerusalem lined the streets with palms to welcome the entry of Jesus into their city. However, the readings also tell us that the whole city was ‘shaken’ upon seeing Jesus.

One reason for this could be that Jesus did not, in the minds of the people in Jerusalem then at least, appear to fulfill their expectations of what a king should look like. First, he rode in on a donkey. Unlike the strong steeds that kings tended to ride on, a donkey symbolizes humility rather than triumph in battle. Futhermore, Jesus was humbly dressed and accompanied by a rag tag band of disciples. Kings were expected to be lavishly dressed and surrounded by a whole coterie of royal subjects and even troops.

Indeed, the confusion that Jerusalem had felt continues to reverbrate in our societies today. Like the people of Jerusalem, we are still waiting for that king who will vanquish all our foes and solve all our problems. And when we pray, we frequently ask God to help us decipher some conundrum that we are facing, or right a wrong that we have been saddled with. But when we do not get the answer that we are looking for, we too are shaken with confusion.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and His subsequent Passion serve to remind us that even the Son of God had to suffer. Even when Jesus asked for God to ‘let this cup pass from me’, or when He asked His Father “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, He did not always receive an answer. But being obedient to death, Jesus showed us the perfect model of Holiness, expressed through subservience to the Will of God. It is this kingship that we are preparing for today: a kingship based on humility and obedience to God – a kingship that is directed to a divine Other, rather than its human self.

A kingship that, while manifested in the person of Jesus, is really a conduit to the reality of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the grace and humility to welcome You into the cities of our hearts. Let our hearts and souls be fertile grounds for the sowing of Your Word.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His sacrificial love for us, and for allowing us to love Him in return. 

Call for contributors for Holy Week

Dear followers and subscribers of Oxygen,

We give thanks to God for your steadfast following of Oxygen.

As we enter into the Paschal Mystery of the Church, we invite our readers who want to help contribute a reflection to come forward.

The following readings are available for reflection:

1. Holy Thursday – Chrism Mass

2. Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper

3. Good Friday

4. Easter Vigil

1st Reading + Responsorial Psalm

2nd Reading + Responsorial Psalm

3rd Reading + Responsorial Psalm

4th Reading + Responsorial Psalm

5th Reading + Responsorial Psalm

6th Reading + Responsorial Psalm

7th Reading + Responsorial Psalm

Epistle + Responsorial Psalm

Gospel

This is a good time for you to share with our readers the joys you have had in reading Oxygen. Do drop an email to descksoon@yahoo.com who will be in touch with you on how to proceed.

God bless

Oxygen Core Team

26 March, Saturday – The Light of Christ

26 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 7 from our writing team, along with 2 guest writers, Gerard and Beryl, have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Debbie (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
_____________________

FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsarial: Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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Creation From Chaos

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

In our lives, we experience quite a lot of dark times, some darker than others. Losing a loved one, losing a job, being betrayed by a friend, being betrayed by a spouse, or being betrayed by your Church community are just examples of the darkness in our lives.

As I reflect on today’s reading, I am amazed at how God slowly put structure, beauty and life in the world. The first thing He did was to dispel the darkness by creating light. This light showed how chaotic everything was. In the same way, God gives us light to see what is really happening in our lives.

God then proceeds to create order, addressing one need after another: the heavens and earth, the oceans, the plants, day and night, the animals, and the pinnacle of creation – man. I’m pretty sure God could have made all these in one day, but he had a plan and ‘staggered’ creation.

When we are in our dark moments, God does not simply wave a magic wand to put everything in order. We go through a process of healing, of moving on, of forgiving. Things fall into place, but not all at the same time. We just need to have faith that one day, everything will be very good.

Last year, I went for a retreat and God showed me my brokenness. My parents separated when I was eight but most of the people I know would think everything in my family was ok. I excelled in my studies, I didn’t do drugs, I wasn’t in any destructive relationship. But my retreat revealed how much hurt was in me, and that I was too afraid to believe in true love between human beings. I left the retreat thinking that I was fully healed. Little did I know that it had to take more time for the healing process to be completed. Just like how God created something out of the darkness, God was creating, or re-creating me, slowly, in phases, in stages. I’m not sure if I’ve reached the pinnacle yet. But I’ve been seeing the oceans, the plants and the animals in my life.

Are you in the dark? Have hope. God is creating a masterpiece out of this darkness.

(by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, at times I don’t see what you intend to make out of me. It is dark and it hurts. And sometimes, the phases are taking too long. But when I look at your wonderful creations, it reminds me that you have something great for me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for this gift of life. I may not see its beauty now, but I’ve seen something beautiful every now and then.
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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsarial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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No Other

God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.

There were times when I did not like what I do.  Times when I wanted to stop, hide, and run away from all my deadlines and responsibilities.  Instances when I wished to escape and leave everything and everyone.  Temporarily.

Abraham must have felt devastated upon learning that his son, Isaac would be the offering. I cannot imagine if he had been able to sleep that night, thinking that he would be giving up his son for God.  He could have said, “No!” Nevertheless, he followed what God told him and prepared for everything.  There were questions that I wanted to ask.  How did he take it when he was informed that he would be offering Isaac as a holocaust? What were his thoughts before going to sleep? Was he even able to sleep the night before? Did his wife, Sarah, know that Isaac would become an offering? How was he feeling while on the journey, knowing that he would leave his son on the place of sacrifice? What was Isaac’s reaction when he was tied up by his father?

But on the third day, it was revealed that God was testing Abraham.  Isaac was saved from being the burnt offering.  God indeed provided the sheep for the offering.  A ram caught by its horns in the thicket replaced Isaac as the holocaust.  This tells us that God provides for everything.  And God sent us His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to be the Sacrificial Lamb for man’s redemption.  We do not need to die on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus has already done that and saved us.

Similarly, God also showed his saving grace to Jesus Christ.  On the third day after His death, Jesus rose from the dead.  And it is for eternity.  After the sacrifices and death of Jesus Christ, there is the Glorious Resurrection.

In our daily activities, let us be like Abraham who followed God and who was ready to surrender everything.  Saying “Yes!” to the Lord is easy.  But actually following Him can be difficult.  I personally struggle to faithfully follow God’s commandments.

Let us continue giving our all in everything that we do even if we are in a really difficult situation. Let us be reminded that the suffering we feel is nothing compared to what Christ has sacrificed for us.  In whatever hardships that we experience, let us remember that God never leaves us and He will lead us to surpass the rocky road.

(by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please let us be like Abraham to do our daily work as best as we can.  May we have the strength to endure anything that we will face and a heart that will lift everything to You.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for pouring upon us your divine providence that enables us to follow Your will.
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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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Rescued, We Are Victorious

“Yahweh, is my strength and my song, to him I owe my deliverance. He is my God and I shall praise him, my father’s God and I shall extol him. Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name.”

In this reading we read about the parting of the Red Sea, the freeing of the Israelites out of Egypt and from slavery. We read about the wonder, the power and might of God. We understand that as long as God is with us, nothing can stand against us.

But our lives, no matter how close we seem to be, or how faithful we are to God, will continuously be faced with problems and, at times, even the non-believers seem to be more ‘well off’ compared to us. When we make comparisons, we are unknowingly walking ourselves into slavery, walking ourselves back into Egypt, walking away from God. We fall into sin, focusing on the external rather than on our identity, on the influences rather than the truths, on the world rather than on God.

This reading isn’t just about how powerful God is but how powerful we can be. We are the ones who can walk out of our slavery. We too can lead others around us out of this slavery too. We can overcome sin, temptations and, more importantly death, because of the death of Christ.

It isn’t about what we have but whether or not we know who we are. And in Christ, we know we are saved as He is our salvation. We are rescued, we are victorious and we are loved. Let us see beyond the imperfections and insecurities that we have but to know we have the best gift of all, the gift of Life. Let us celebrate our lives, this victory and our salvation. 

(by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we ask you to continue to be our strength and our song. To deliver us from evil and to bring us to everlasting life. Lead us and bless us always. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of your son. Thank you for your sacrifice and your love for us. Inspire us and we continue to learn to be more like you each day. Amen.
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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

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

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

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

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

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsarial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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The Lord Comes to My Rescue But What About His Anger?

I did forsake you for a brief moment but with great love will take you back.

Very often, as a thankful, grateful Christian I can see our God’s loving hand of protection, guidance and providence in my life. This can come in many ways in our various walks of life.  For example, when the Lord delivers us from a bad boss or an unreasonable client.  Or when angels steer us away from disaster. Or when false accusations of wrongdoing are miraculously acquitted because of the unexpected change of heart of an accuser or witness. For these, we must be truly grateful for His grace and go on our knees to thank and praise our loving, caring God.

But, I realise that there are times when the Lord did turn His face away because I did not follow his way and was not faithful to His word and commands. These times, though less pleasant, also require our reflection and deserve close examination.  For we cannot just attribute the ‘good stuff’ to Him and the ‘bad stuff’ just happened by chance, because nothing is by chance.

If I fail to reflect on my trials and times of darkness, I may actually be missing out on what the Lord is trying to tell, train or teach me.  He may be admonishing me for my lack of love in my actions, or for the times I have chosen the easy way instead of His way.  Sometimes, it’s to wake me up from my own twisted self-rationalisation that I am doing what God wants… when it’s actually what I want.  We must not forget that the Lord is loving, but that He is also holy and wants us to be holy.  We should strive to be perfect and holy like him.

Time and time again, whenever I have realised that I have erred and do what I can to change, He would quickly come to my rescue and bail this poor soul out of trouble.  That’s grace, that’s our great and mighty God.  For I am His even when His anger is upon me but His anger is only for a short time but His love and blessings are forever.

(by Gerard Nah)

Prayer: Lord, help me to be attentive and discerning to your presence and messages in my everyday life.  May I be sensitive to your promptings and have the courage to change my ways no matter how hard it may be.

Thanksgiving: Abba, Father, thank you for always trying to train me for your kingdom. Thank you for training my soul, my body and my spirit, and for all the times you have delivered me by your gentle and omnipotent hand.
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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

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

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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What is Your Spiritual ‘Minimum Wage’?

Your wages on what fails to satisfy

What do we do after getting our pay-check? So we spend a little on food at the start of the month, we pay some bills, we pay the loans, we ignore the credit card bill, we spend on more food, we save some for the holidays in two months time, we give some to our parents, we give some more at someone’s wedding, we spend on a new bag, we pay for the gym membership and other social clubs and then we dig for coins to give as offertory on Sundays. If we could just take a pause on things that count as being satisfactory to life… are the things that we do life-giving? Whether we derive a genuine deep happiness in someone’s life through material needs or uplifting someone’s spirituality and mood through our Lord, it requires minimal or none of our wages.

I am someone who is very sensitive to money, whether it is about how much I have, or how I spend, or how it is being managed. As much as I dislike being judged on the material wealth of what I do not own, we are certainly being categorised based on our material wealth and status wherever we go, whomever we meet. We will never know the life of the other person and so we should not make quick judgements on how he spends his money. In today’s reading, the Lord reminds us to look towards Him as the way of life, and not be distracted by things that do not satisfy our soul. This requires great wisdom on how we manage our money, but it is not to say that we are to be lazy and not make ourselves useful to society.

As I have been moving about between cities for work, I have recently settled down and do not plan to move again. I have been blessed with a stable job and my skills have been noticed and respected. I have always told myself to find a ministry at my parish when I settle in. So I am sharing with you this Lent, that I am doing the life-giving things that the Lord has opened for me. I have returned to OXYGEN as a contributor and I am rostered to be a Lector at this year’s Holy Thursday mass at this parish that I have been attending. As we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord tomorrow, let us be mindful of the bread and wine that matters month by month, day by day. We pray to better ourselves at work and so that we will do greater things in the name of the Father, and be truly satisfied.

(by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray especially for those who are having difficulty in finding a job and feeding their family, that opportunities open for them and that they know in their hearts, the Lord is watching over them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the food we have, the clothes we wear and the roof over our heads. May we be able to help those who have trouble even to meet these basic needs.
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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsarial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Prayer As Conversation

Had you walked in the way of God, you would have lived in peace forever.

This reading from the book of Baruch is not often read during the Liturgy of the Word in the Easter Vigil celebrations because of pastoral considerations – i.e. length of time. However, if we do take time to reflect on the reading, we discover the importance of God in the history of Israel. The people of Israel were reminded that straying away from God brought about difficulties in their lives.

Sometimes it is easy to blame God for all the troubles and woes which we experience in our daily lives. Yet, Baruch reminds us of the need to possess the Wisdom of God to be able to discern the reasons for why we are going through a particular dark patch in our lives. This Wisdom comes from being familiar with the Law of God. This is not the same as being able to recall the 10 commandments in order, the ability to recite prayers without any assistance, or even full attendance at Church events. Familiarity with the Law of God requires us to enter into prayer with God to ask Him to share with us what He so desires for us.

Prayer must be done as a conversation with a friend except that now, this friend is Jesus, who is willing to hear what we have to say. This conversation does not need us to talk all the time. Being silent in prayer to hear what God has to share with us is something which we often fail to do. This is especially so in the midst of our pre-occupation with our troubles. Jesus wants us to depend on Him for His love and to show us that what we want in solving our problems is nothing compared to what He can offer if we trust in Him. Let us spend time to find out what is hindering us from discovering the voice of God speaking to us in our lives.

(by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Jesus, I trust in you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who spread the Love of God to those yearning for solace and comfort.
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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsarial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Cleansing

I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…

Last month, I went through a cleansing fast because I found that I was getting lethargic at the end of each work day and my energy levels were low. Immediately after the fast, I went for my annual company medical health screening. The results that came back recently totally validated my decision to do the cleanse, while also fasting from meat and alcohol for Lent. My previously high cholesterol levels plummeted to below the minimum reference range. As a result, my doctor told me to cut my medication in half and to do another check in a few months’ time to see if I could discontinue the statins once and for all. I have actually never felt fitter nor healthier since perhaps more than 10 years ago.

At the last healing service at CSC, Fr Erbin sprinkled the congregation with holy water during mass. I was blessed to receive a generous outpouring as the water hit my face. I thought to myself, ‘How amazing it feels to not just be physically cleansed but also cleansed from within.’ This is probably the first time in my life when my physical and spiritual selves have been aligned and cleansed. When I went for confession on Tuesday night, it was a wonderful 20 minutes spent in conversation with a priest who has always made me feel the presence of the Holy Spirit whenever he gives me absolution.

Somehow, this Holy Week feels different for me. The sacrifices I made during Lent have resulted in a ‘cleaner’ person in more ways than one. As I look back, I am indeed grateful to the Lord for protecting me and for steeling me against the temptations that came my way. This journey into my own desert never filled me with fear nor dread. In fact, I woke up each day raring to go and eager to face my daily challenges. Of course I faltered along the way but Jesus was always there to encourage and to give me a helping hand. Especially during those times when I felt totally helpless.

Today, I am a new person physically. Many friends and colleagues have commented that I am radiating a new energy and have a spring in my step. As part of my training routine, I did the Treetop Walk last weekend with an 80% loaded backpack and completed the nearly 10km circuit with ease. I know that one month ago, I would not have been able to do it. I praise and thank the Lord for giving me the willpower and determination to cleanse myself of my impurities – both physical and spiritual.

Brothers and sisters, have you all emerged from your journeys cleansed and refreshed? Or are you still wandering in the desert of your hearts? Wherever you are on your journey, know that the Lord will deliver you from the suffering and pain. And that you will be cleansed of all your sins and impurities as long as you open your heart to His everlasting love.

(by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, bless us all today as we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Saviour, who continues to walk with us in our own desert, never forsaking us and always ready to lend us a helping hand.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us the way and delivering us from our trying circumstances.
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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsarial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Intertwined for Life

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him

What does it mean to be dead to sin, for that is what we are, when we die with Christ? While looking up this topic, I realized that I could draw a lot of parallels to my newfound role as a mother.

Before I entered motherhood, my life was pretty simple: work, sleep, eat, spending time with my husband. We could go out whenever we wanted to, and ate whatever we felt like eating. Getting ready to leave the house was but a work of a moment. As every parent would know, when you have kids, going out is a completely different adventure altogether. From tanking up the baby (so that baby is well fed for the journey) to making sure you have everything in the diaper bag, it is almost like going on a mini excursion. Ever since becoming a mother, my life has changed. I’m not as carefree as I was before, I am more careful of my diet, and I am completely attached to my little son. Sure, I can go back to that pre-parenting time but at what cost? The “old” me seems a thing of the past now. My life and that of my boy are now intertwined. When he is hungry, I feed him; when he cries, I feel it. We are so in “sync” that I have become familiar to his needs and wants even though he has no means of expressing himself other than by bawling.

I imagine that dying to sin in Christ Jesus is quite like that. Our old sinful lives were not intertwined with anything other than to ourselves. We were not yet “aware” of the love and grace of God, but once we accepted Christ, that was when we made that transition into our new lives. We accepted and acknowledged the Word of God by living our new lives according to the Word. For some of us, the transition was more profound, nevertheless our lives have changed. Salvation is at hand when we live with Christ, and we are no more the wandering souls that we were from before. Jesus gives us a purpose to live, not just a new life but a new meaningful life with Him. We are no longer a dead branch, cut off from a tree, but one that can be grafted to bear fruit once more. Sin no longer has a hold on us, but it is something that we must work to preserve, to prevent sin from becoming masters of our lives once more.

Our new lives in Christ Jesus gives us hope and purpose, yet it is not meant to be an easy path. Just as parenting has its downs as much as its ups, we have to “pick up our cross”. But like being a mother, with such highs to be had from looking at your wee one, would we even want to go back to our old lives when there is Christ waiting for us and journeying with us? For my part, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

(by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the strength to carry my cross on my newfound life with You. Help me when my cross gets too heavy to bear, that I may have the strength to see it through to the end of the journey.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for this wonderful life with You. Thank you for Your salvation and promise that You will journey with me always.  
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GOSPEL

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, but on entering discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there. As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side. Terrified, the women lowered their eyes. But the two men said to them, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?’ And they remembered his words.

When the women returned from the tomb they told all this to the Eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them also told the apostles, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.

Peter, however, went running to the tomb. He bent down and saw the binding cloths but nothing else; he then went back home, amazed at what had happened.
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The Heart Remembers

Remember what he told you… and they remembered his words

The heart remembers. But we usually attribute memory as a brain activity, borne by neural pathways and chemicals. The kind of memory the Gospel refers to is one that takes place in the heart. We hear the two angels telling the women at Jesus’ tomb to ‘remember what he told you.’ The angels did not explain what had happened, but merely pointed the their hearts towards the words Jesus had spoken before: ‘that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day.’ Immediately, they remembered and responded.

The kind of memory that a heart stores up is of a different phenomena. It is mystical and it is romantic. I don’t mean romantic as ‘lovey-dovey,’ but rather, a certain stirring inside the chest that reminds one of an ancient and cherished secret. Falling in love can sometimes feel as though the heart remembers an inchoate experience of one-ness and fulfilment – a déjà vu which had pre-existed in deep memory.

I think this is why when we meet the Son of Man, Jesus, this relationship can feel so personal and real. We identify; and we feel known. That we are loved, beloved, and blessed. Yet after some time, after experiencing some kind of trauma (like the women and the disciples did), we might forget. It is natural, and God understands. So He continues to send us messengers to remind us: through the Mass, priests in their homilies, friends, family, and ultimately, our own devotional quiet times where we contemplate on His living Word which is the Way, Truth and Life.

Today, as hundreds and thousands around the world receive the Sacrament of Baptism into the Faith, we the faithful who had been privileged to begin this journey earlier, are called to renew our Baptismal Promises – to reject Satan and renounce all his works and empty promises; to profess our faith in the God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Why? Because we can easily forget. We would rather choose to lean in to the world’s empty promises and the lies of the evil one; instead of leaning in to God’s promises, Jesus’s love, His Passion and Resurrection.

Our sisters and brothers who will be baptised can look forward to experience a transformation so profound and inward in the secret rooms of their hearts and souls… that Jesus is Love and Love now dwells in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you might even wonder at the familiar comfort and completeness of this love! Because your heart that was knitted by the loving will of God the Father, knows Him. You will remember the way home and this feeling of home – even if you had never been here before. It is all Grace.

May our hearts always remember Jesus’ deep love for us, even unto death. May our hearts respond like the women at the tomb – who received with childlike faith and passed on the glorious news. May we suspend our intellectual judgements – unlike the other disciples who thought the story ‘seemed pure nonsense.’ Instead, may we be like Peter who repented and rushed too see Jesus and be with him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for all who will receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist this Easter. That they may experience God’s great love for them and feel welcomed into our loving Catholic family.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for never giving up on me, for always reminding me to come back to you, confident of your love and compassion.

25 March, Friday – A Parent’s Love

24 March – Good Friday, Celebration of the Lord’s Passion

Dear Readers, it is interesting to note the coincidence of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord with Good Friday this year. This Feast of the Annunciation is always celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25. This is a beautiful reminder that Mary’s trusting Fiat was integral to God’s salvation plan and leads us to the Good Friday of our Lord’s Passion. Saying ‘Yes’ to bear a baby which she would offer up for the world. A ‘Good’ Friday where our Lord suffered crucifixion and death for the ones He came to save. God’s paradoxes are ways He reveals Himself to us. For often, it is when events seem uncanny, that our clouded minds are made aware of that there is far more beyond the materiality of our lives. We do not belong in this world – we are lovingly made for eternity with the Father. Blessed Good Friday to all.

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto. The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

-Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’
Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

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John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:

They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.

This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:

‘I am thirsty.’

A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.

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Not one of those you gave me have I lost

As a young child, I was once out with my parents and my little brother on our regular weekend outings. My brother was just a toddler then. My parents were engrossed with something or other and soon, we found my brother missing from where they’d left him. Something must have caught his attention and he wandered off. My parents were frantic looking for him. We went to the customer service counter and they made an announcement over the PA system. My parents found him eventually much to their relief. When we got to him, he was sitting atop the cashier’s counter and sobbing his little heart out. As parents, we would never let our children go lost without finding ways and means of bringing them back.

Just a few days ago, my friend shared her story of hurt and pain as a mother. Her relationship with her daughter has been strained for a while. Brought on by years of wounds, hurts and feelings of being unloved and abandonment felt by her daughter. In truth, my friend tries to be the best mother she can and provides for her children best she can. Somehow, her daughter perceived otherwise. Just over Chinese New Year, a huge argument ensued between mother and daughter. Ugly and hurtful words were exchanged. I thought to myself – thank goodness I am not a mother or I would have spewed the most colourful of words at her and personally maybe strangled this ingrate of a child. Yesterday, this girl moved out of her mother’s home. A home my friend provided for – a comfortable, safe environment and she lacked nothing. She left without any other words except “Bye, the keys are in the shoe cabinet!” All my friend could muster up was a reply saying “Be happy, my child!” As upset as she was with her daughter, she felt a part of her die that day. I don’t profess to know exactly how she feels for I am not a parent. But I know she wants what’s best for her daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. By letting her child go, she is giving her daughter the freedom to find her own happiness and joy. Despite her own pain, anger and frustration felt towards her daughter, she will always be there, praying for her child’s safety and happiness, waiting by the side-lines, watching out for her child. And if one day, her child were to return home – she would be there, waiting to welcome her with open arms. Such is a mother’s love.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Our Heavenly Father feels this way each time we wander off from Him, thinking that we can find greener pastures out there. Our Father gives us free will by His unconditional true love. Free will to choose for ourselves – so that we might love Him willingly. However, as humans, we sometimes go our own way, use our given free will to do evil, go against God or sometimes it can be as simple as thinking we know better what is best for us. Rather than rely on Him. Our Father knows better what is best for us. We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way.  

So today on Good Friday, as we ponder on Jesus’ passion on the cross, we remember how God loves us so much that He sacrificed His sinless, spotless Son – and laid on Him all our sins. Jesus experienced the cruelty of the cross as if He was a hardened criminal just so He can make a payment for our sins. For those of us still living in sin, those who are lost though our own bad judgement, or those lost trying to find our own ways through our own limited strength. We know the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of the Lost Sheep – God is looking out for us, searching for us, to welcome us back home, to the fold. Not one of those you gave me have I lost. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, may we use the free will given to us, to choose wisely. So that through us, others will experience genuine love. Help us Father, to stay away from sin and hurting you. That You will experience love in us. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for giving us Jesus, who suffered so much humiliation and pain on the cross – just to cleanse us of our sins. Thank you for giving us the freedom to choose and yet never being too far away from us, seeking us when we go astray. Thank you Father, for giving your love so freely.