Category Archives: Lent

8 April, Saturday – On Quarrelling

8 April 2017

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Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins.

I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them.

I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’

One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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“Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

I was at a church event recently, hosted by a group of women parishioners at my church who hate each other’s guts. While on the surface, everything seemed cordial enough, you could feel the tension when people spoke to one another. I’ve known this group for some time, so I was aware of the context going in to it. Everything was just a little forced – smiles, hugs, well-wishes. Why do we bother with false pretenses in church? Isn’t this the one place where we are allowed to be genuine with one another? So why do we pollute this space with our human angst? If God has a personal relationship with each one of us, how does He mediate when we fight amongst ourselves? How does He help us to find a path to peace?

We’ve always been a divided group of people, especially within the context of our beliefs. The people of the Sanhedrin in today’s gospel are no more quarrelsome and ambitious than the people of our parishes. We may not sit around and plot the death of prophets anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t actively participate in complaining, gossip and black balling. We are all accountable to each other, and for one another. If one person falters, the whole group stumbles as well. Knowing this, why do we still attack each other?

The reading from Ezekiel shows us an ideal that we can aspire to — that of a united church. One that does not focus on the small, insignificant human dramas of daily life. Christ died for us so that we might be free to live by his principles and teachings. God calls his church, but its members must still put in the hard work of living by that calling. That includes giving up that part of ourselves that does not serve His purpose. If our lives were ransomed with the precious blood of His son, isn’t it only fair then, that we try to honour him by putting an end to our quarrelsome ways?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience to overlook the slights and sharp words that are levelled at us by our brethren in Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit, who mediates for us and tries to keep the peace amongst us.

7 April, Friday – You will know them by their fruits

7 Apr – Memorial for St. John Baptist de la Salle, priest

John (1651–1719) studied for the priesthood in Paris, France, but quit to care for his brothers and sisters upon the death of his parents. When his siblings were grown, John returned to the seminary. He was canon of Rheims, France in 1667 and was ordained in 1678. He became a doctor of theology in 1680.

He was spiritual director of the Sisters of the Holy Infant who were devoted to teaching poor girls. He founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (Christian Brothers) in 1681, and established and supported academic education for all boys.

He liquidated his personal fortune, and his Brothers expected him to use it to further his education goals, but he surprised them by saying they would have to depend on Providence. The money (about $400,000) was given away to the poor in the form of bread during the great famine of 1683-1684. St. John kept enough to endow a salary for himself similar to that which the Brothers received so that he wouldn’t be a burden on them.

He instituted the process of dividing students into grades, established the first teachers’ school, started high schools and trade schools, and was proclaimed the patron of all teachers of all youth by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.

But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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Even if you do not believe me, believe the works so that you might realize and understand

The concept of ‘frenemies’ is as old as the days of Christ it seems – false friends who pretend to come to your aid, but who in reality, can’t wait till you screw up, so that they can renounce you. Stoning may have gone out of fashion, but gossiping and backstabbing never will. Many of the men looking to persecute Jesus in today’s gospel reading would have witnesssed for themselves the miracles he performed. Some might even have been his followers who, at the first sign of hardship, turned and deserted him. It is heart-breaking when people you think you can count on disappoint you. Jesus may have been able to discern his genuine followers from his fairweather friends, but it would still have hurt him to be betrayed.

Our actions speak volumes about what’s in our hearts. How genuine we are becomes plainly obvious when we are put to the test. Jesus said, even if you don’t believe who I say I am, look at what I have done. “Believe the works, so that you may realize and understand”. In his life’s work there was a consistency. When we look at our own lives, is there a disconnect between our words and our actions? When we reflect on our faith journey, do we find that we often say what we don’t do?

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing… You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20)

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the presence of mind to be consistent in our thoughts, in our words, in what we do and what we restrain ourselves from doing.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the examples from Scripture, of men who live, think and speak their convictions.

6 April, Thursday – What’s in a name?

6 April 2017

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Genesis 17:3-9

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you: you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings. I will establish my Covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity, and I will be your God.’

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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’

The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:

‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’

The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’

At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

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“No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham”

Every year during Easter, our parish confirms about a dozen adults into the Catholic faith. In the run up to this, they spend 9 months learning about being a Catholic and take on a Saint’s name as part of the confirmation process. I was one of those adults 3 years ago. My confirmation name was Martha, after the patron saint of cooks, chefs and all who labor in service of others. I chose her because her cause resonated with my new vocation in life – being a housewife and taking care of my family.

In Scripture, there is much emphasis on how a person’s identity is tied to their name. For instance, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, a subtle pen-stroke which redefined him from simply ‘venerated father’ to ‘father of multitudes’. God always had this path in mind for him, but by formalizing it in a sacramental name, He gave Abraham the confidence and grace to rise to the calling of his new life. In the New testament, the Jews confront Jesus and pointedly demand of him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? … Who do you make yourself out to be?” The person that Jesus claims to be is a constant source of debate amongst the Jews. They saw him as simply Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary. When Jesus tells them that he has existed before Abraham, that he is “I AM”, they grow indignant and  proceed to stone him. The tension over his identity defined Christ’s ministry.

When we are baptized or confirmed, God finds us a name. That name identifies His purpose for us – whether it is to advocate for the causes of children (St Nicholas), to work in service of animals (St Francis), to fight for the homeless (St Benedict) or some other cause that resonates with us. Having a saint’s name as part of our identity can galvanize us to be better versions of ourselves, even if we don’t feel that way at the outset. We grow into it slowly, our hard edges sanded away by experience and prayer. As we move closer to the Easter Vigil, let us all take a minute to consider our baptism and Catholic names. What do they mean, and more importantly,  have we lived in adherence to His purpose for us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are being confirmed into the Catholic faith this year. May God give them the ability to discern His path for them through the noise of daily life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all those who give their time, talent and treasure to help those who are new to come to the faith.

5 April, Wednesday – On Discipleship

5 Apr – Memorial for St. Vincent Ferrer, priest

Vincent (1350–1419) was the fourth child of the Anglo-Scottish nobleman William Stewart Ferrer and his Spanish wife, Constantia Miguel. His father is reported to have had a dream in which he was told that Vincent would be a world-famous Dominican friar.

The boy joined the Dominicans in 1367. He received his doctorate of theology from the University of Lleida. He was a priest and a missionary. He taught theology, and was adviser to the King of Aragon. During a severe fever in 1398, Vincent had a vision of Christ, St. Dominic de Guzman, and St. Francis of Assisi. It was a life-changing experience.

Vincent received supernatural gifts and believed that he was a messenger of penance, an ‘angel of the apocalypse’ sent to prepare humankind for the Judgement of Christ.

He was a great preacher who converted thousands in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was invited to preach in Muslim Granada. He was counsellor to Pope Benedict XIII. He travelled through Spain, France, Switzerland, and Italy, working to end the Western Schism.

He slept on the floor, had the gift of tongues (he spoke only Spanish, but all listeners understood him), lived an endless fast, celebrated Mass daily, and was known as a miracle worker. He was reported to have brought a murdered man back to life to prove the power of Christianity to the onlookers, and he would heal people throughout a hospital just by praying in front of it.

He worked so hard to build up the Church that he became the patron of people in building trades.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Daniel 3:14-20,24-25,28

King Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is it true that you do not serve my gods, and that you refuse to worship the golden statue I have erected? When you hear the sound of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, or any other instrument, are you prepared to prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made? If you refuse to worship it, you must be thrown straight away into the burning fiery furnace; and where is the god who could save you from my power?’

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your question hardly requires an answer: if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, O king, he will save us; and even if he does not, then you must know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected.’ These words infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was very different now as he looked at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He gave orders for the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual, and commanded certain stalwarts from his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar sprang to his feet in amazement. He said to his advisers, ‘Did we not have these three men thrown bound into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ ‘But,’ he went on ‘I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm. And the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: he has sent his angel to rescue the servants who, putting their trust in him, defied the order of the king, and preferred to forfeit their bodies rather than serve or worship any god but their own.’

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John 8:31-42

To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said:

‘If you make my word your home
you will indeed be my disciples,
you will learn the truth
and the truth will make you free.’

They answered, ‘We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
everyone who commits sin is a slave.
Now the slave’s place in the house is not assured,
but the son’s place is assured.
So if the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed.
I know that you are descended from Abraham;
but in spite of that you want to kill me
because nothing I say has penetrated into you.
What I, for my part, speak of
is what I have seen with my Father;
but you, you put into action
the lessons learnt from your father.’

They repeated, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them:

‘If you were Abraham’s children,
you would do as Abraham did.
As it is, you want to kill me
when I tell you the truth
as I have learnt it from God;
that is not what Abraham did.
What you are doing is what your father does.’

‘We were not born of prostitution,’ they went on ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus answered:

‘If God were your father, you would love me,
since I have come here from God;
yes, I have come from him;
not that I came because I chose,
no, I was sent, and by him.’

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“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples”

The thing about being authentic to something is that at some point, your convictions will be tested. It’s only when you are put under duress that you discover the true nature of your hearts and the strength of your faith. In the gospel reading today, Jesus warns the Jews that it is not enough to be something ‘in name’ when they protest that as  ‘descendants of Abraham’ they are free. You have to be authentic in spirit as well, to be faithful to the principles you profess.

At Thanksgiving each year, our parish puts on an event called the ‘Family 2 Family’ charity at our church. Parishioners adopt a family over the holiday season and put together gift bags and grocery hampers for them. What started out with good intent though, has over the years, morphed into something resembling a contest. The receiving families have started to compare their gifts and begun to ask for more complicated presents – electronics goods, expensive shoes, fancy bikes. Meanwhile, the giving families try to outdo one another, with more and more lavish presents. Somewhere along the way, the whole thing turned into a competition of ‘conspicuous giving and receiving’ – and that has ruined the spirit of it.

I received a wish-list last year as part of this, which looked like something a spoiled, unsupervised child might have put together. I felt irritation, annoyance and frustration – with myself for being so ungenerous, with the organizing committee for allowing it to get to this, with the church for not policing the organizers better. And then I wondered, what is the correct Christian response to this? Protest? Walk away and find somewhere else to serve? Suck it up and go along with it? What happens when as believers, we become disillusioned with the decisions of our church leaders? I just don’t know. I DO know that I’m helping no one by feeling angry and resentful over this.

Anger and resentment have no place in Christian discipleship. How do I fix this? How do I fix me? Is it even my place to fix things? The gospel of Luke says, that “blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance” (Luke 8:15). I’m sure setting up the early church would have been an incredibly frustrating affair. Along the way, there would have been plenty of those who would have thrown their hands up and walked away. Perhaps running the good race requires the mental grit and toughnesss of a marathon runner, so that we can truly say at the end, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace, patience and endurance that we too might run a good race

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks to those who persevere in His service, who are able to look beyond the setbacks to a higher cause and a better good.

4 April, Tuesday – On Distraction

4 Apr – Memorial for St. Isidore, bishop & doctor

Isidore (560-636) was the son of Severianus and Theodora, people known for their piety. He was the brother of Sts. Fulgentius, Florentina, and Leander of Seville, who raised him after their father’s death. Initially, he was a poor student, but after giving the problem over to God, he became one of the most learned men of his time. After he was ordained a priest, he helped his brother Leander, Archbishop of Seville, in the conversion of the Visigoth Arians. He was a hermit.

He became Archbishop of Seville in 601, succeeding his brother to the position. He was a teacher and was called ‘Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages’. He was a founder and a reformer. He required seminaries in every diocese, and wrote a rule for religious orders. He was a prolific writer whose works include a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a history of Goths, and a history of the world beginning with creation. He completed the Mozarabic liturgy which is still in use in Toledo, Spain. He presided at the Second Council of Seville, and the Fourth Council of Toledo. He introduced the works of Aristotle to Spain.

He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIV in 1722, and became the leading candidate for patron of computer users and the Internet in 1999.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 21:4-9

The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

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John 8:21-30

Jesus said to the Pharisees:

‘I am going away;
you will look for me
and you will die in your sin.
Where I am going, you cannot come.’

The Jews said to one another, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ Jesus went on:

‘You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I have told you already:
You will die in your sins.
Yes, if you do not believe that I am He,
you will die in your sins.’

So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus answered:

‘What I have told you from the outset.
About you I have much to say
and much to condemn;
but the one who sent me is truthful,
and what I have learnt from him
I declare to the world.’

They failed to understand that he was talking to them about the Father.

So Jesus said:

‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am He
and that I do nothing of myself:
what the Father has taught me is what I preach;
he who sent me is with me,
and has not left me to myself,
for I always do what pleases him.’

As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.

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“For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins”

I turned off Instagram for Lent this year. What a great decision that has turned out to be! What started out as a curiosity when I downloaded it, had become a near obssession. It had taken over my life! Have you ever tried to account for how you spend the hours in your day? I did, and I found that 50% of the time, I was mesmerized by my phone, glancing to see who had posted updates and how many followers they had. What a colossal waste of time! I also found myself saying a lot of “I am so tired, I have no time, etc”. Yet I found time to ‘Follow’ people on Instagram?! I would look up from my screen and a whole morning would have gone by. It made no sense! It feels so empowering to take back a little bit of my life from my devices. Netflix is next on the chopping board!

Distraction is the number one cause why people fall away from the path. It’s social media for a lot of us. But it could just as easily be the pursuit of position, professional gain, family advancement, our material things, Tommy the Dog, Cleo the Cat, etc. Time is our scarcest resource, but so few of us make the effort to think about how we spend it. And Time, as surely as Day follows Night, will march steadily on, turning our best intentions into regrets and unfulfiled promises.

On our death beds, who will care how responsive we were to the people we followed on Instagram? Or how much money we accumulated through well thought out investments? Or how influential we were in life, how high we climbed to that position of power? We can take none of that with us, and these worldly achievements will count for nothing when we have to account to God how we lived our lives.

The image of the seraph, mounted on a pole was a precursor to Jesus’ words, “For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). So many of us claim we believe. We go through the motions required of us, we kneel in prayer, we take the Eucharist, we volunteer, we genuflect, what more does God want? But how many of us truly take the time to sit in meditation and reflection with Him? To know Him, to really say, I believe that HE IS The Lord?! There is almost always something better to be done than to be present to a mostly silent God. Maybe He is silent because His voice has been drowned out by the cacophony of our distractions. Maybe He won’t be found because we’ve squandered our chances with Him?

“Seek The Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the silence in our lives to seek and find Our Lord.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for His unending grace and mercy, that if we truly seek, He will be found.

3 April, Monday – On Judging

3 April 2017

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Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man. Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people.’

These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. The two elders, who used to watch her every day as she came in to take her walk, gradually began to desire her. They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue. So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden. There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place. She said to the servants, ‘Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.’

Hardly were the servants gone than the two elders were there after her. ‘Look,’ they said ‘the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us! Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away.’ Susanna sighed. ‘I am trapped,’ she said ‘whatever I do. If I agree, that means my death; if I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’ Then she cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her, and one of them ran to open the garden door. The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what was happening; once the elders had told their story the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.

Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, in their vindictiveness determined to have her put to death. They addressed the company: ‘Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.’ She was sent for, and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations. All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her. The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on the woman’s head. Tearfully she turned her eyes to heaven, her heart confident in God. The elders then spoke. ‘While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two servants. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants. A young man who had been hiding went over to her and they lay down together. From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them. Though we saw them together we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels. We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was. She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.’

Since they were elders of the people, and judges, the assembly took their word: Susanna was condemned to death. She cried out as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’

The Lord heard her cry and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, ‘I am innocent of this woman’s death!’ At which all the people turned to him and asked, ‘What do you mean by these words?’ Standing in the middle of the crowd he replied, ‘Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.’

All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, ‘Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.’ Daniel said, ‘Keep the men well apart from each other for I want to question them.’

When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. ‘You have grown old in wickedness,’ he said ‘and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men, when the Lord has said, “You must not put the innocent and the just to death.” Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what tree you saw them lying under?’ He replied, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received your sentence from him and will slash you in half.’

He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, ‘Spawn of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray! This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel and they were too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness! Now then, tell me what tree you surprised them under?’ He replied, ‘Under a holm oak.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.’

Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the saviour of those who trust in him. And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths. As prescribed in the Law of Moses, they sentenced them to the same punishment as they had intended to inflict on their neighbour. They put them to death; the life of an innocent woman was spared that day.

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John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.

As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

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“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.” (Ez 33:11)

This Lent, I had the opportunity to do something very special for someone who I felt was completely undeserving of it. This ‘special thing’ required some effort and the coordination of a few moving parts across a few time zones. We pulled it together, I feel, only by the grace of God. At least, at the time, that’s how I justified it to myself – that this undeserving woman was being given the chance to experience a conversion of the heart by God. But when it was all done, I remember feeling a deep resentment towards her. Why was she so special, that she deserved such a blessing? To add insult to injury, it came back to me shortly after, that she thought it all a waste of time if we couldn’t do just the one more thing to make it truly memorable. At this point, I lost all my Lenten restraint and simply shut myself down to her. Though we are told not to judge, the human heart is wired to be repelled by things like vanity, ingratitude, self-centeredness, a lack of generosity. According to a Yale Study, babies as young as 3 months old have the foundations of a moral compasss and are able to tell good from bad, right from wrong. We are programmed for justice and right-doing. It’s likely why so many of us stumble on the famous ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ (Luke 15:11-32)

I’ve been reflecting on my deep feelings about this for some time now. Do I feel resentful because I see in her sometimes, a reflection of my own vanity, ingratitude, selfishness and lack of generosity? Does she remind me too much of myself? When I am angry with her, am I actually frustrated with myself for not having succeeded in living my faith? Why am I so strongly opposed to this woman being given this blessing? After all, Christ died for me, and I am most certainly not deserving of his tremendous gesture. So why should I be so indignant about this? Why am I casting stones, so to speak? The adulteress in the gospel reading today was also judged by those, who like me, feel programmed to point out the speck in others while missing the planks that nail our eyes shut. Perhaps I could let go a little, and in so doing, be more open to God’s forgiveness and grace? Maybe this whole exercise was for me to realize this… that it is God’s place to judge and to forgive, not mine…?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience to withhold judgment on others.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that Christ saved us with His redeeming blood, while we were yet undeserving sinners.

2 April, Sunday – On Death

2 April 2017

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Ezekiel 37:12-14

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

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Romans 8:8-11

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

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John 11:1-45

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’ Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

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“I am the resurrection and the life”

Death – and the impermanence of Life – is something I think about constantly. If we all knew the hour of our passing, would we live differently? Be more appreciative of our spouses? Say “I love you” (and mean it) more often? Speak our hearts, take chances, go places, take journeys, open ourselves to the highs and lows of human emotion? If we could count the days of our lives, what would we do differently?

One of my girlfriends, Shellie, passed away last month after a long battle with cancer. Knowing her was such a blessing. She carried her cross with so much humor, joy and gladness, a real inspiration to the rest of us ‘complainers’ around her. She was grateful for her family, her friends and her faith. She would always see the funny side in a situation, no matter how awkward the circumstance. She had a way of breaking the ice that made you feel like you were her best friend in the room, even if you had just met. She was plain spoken, and told things as they were. God was a tangible presence in her life. In her final days, she penned a beautiful poem to remind her friends and family that Death was but a temporary parting. She would be just around the corner, waiting in the next room for us to join her.

That’s the image of our readings today, the impermanence of Death. With Christ as our Lord, Death is stripped of its power over Life. In Ezekiel, we read “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel”. In the gospel of John, “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die”. And in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “… the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you”. Death does not us part, if we have the Spirit living within us. We simply shed our earthly bodies, and become the heavenly beings that are our souls. And upon that transfiguration, we arise and join all of the friends and family who have gone before us and are waiting just around the corner, in the next room.

What a wonderful reunion that would be.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the friends and family who have gone before us, and are waiting for us at the table of the Feast.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Spirit that dwells within us, that gives us a glimpse of what heavenly life might be like.

1 April, Saturday – Open Our Eyes to Jesus

1 April 2017

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Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Lord revealed it to me; I was warned.

O Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming. I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may be quickly forgotten!’

But you, the Lord of Hosts, who pronounce a just sentence,
who probe the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.

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John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’

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Pass judgement

I walk into the Church and find myself entering the centre pews, hoping to get a good view of the altar and try not to get distracted with anything else, not even a toddler walking across me from her mother on the left to her father on the right. Sometimes, it is also hard for me not to wonder what my fellow brother or sister who happens to sit beside me is like. Instead of focusing on praying and personal reflections on the past week, we probably wonder about our neighbour’s life and being competitive with our fellow brother and sister in Christ.

We have absolutely no knowledge of the other people kneeling and praying beside us as we have our quiet time with the Lord. Who are we to judge? Only our Almighty God can see where our faults lie. We must not think too highly of our own prayer life and end up thinking that we are superior to others. The Lord watches over us and our actions all the time. In today’s Gospel, the people of Jerusalem had nothing against Jesus, yet they judged Him strongly for speaking against the Law for their judgement had been blurred by their own perceptions, making them blind to the works of Jesus.

Therefore, let us not become someone who prays with distraction and be one who humbles himself with no arrogance within him. It requires focus and passion for the Lord to build a wholesome prayer life. As in the past readings of this week, we have emphasised what God’s law brought to us, He has been praised for the great works He promises. As we come to the end of the fourth week of Lent, allow us to bend our backs, lose the pride within us and assist all those around us who need us, rather than act like the Pharisees who prayed with much arrogance towards God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: O Lord, grant us the peace in our hearts, so that we are able to calm ourselves down at the end of each day and pray also for those whose lives we have influenced.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for being the Lord and Father who promises and delivers.

31 March, Friday – Tackling Time

31 March 2017

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Wisdom 2:1,12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.

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John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.

As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.’

Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.

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His time had not yet come

 There is a time and place for everything that is supposed to happen. We have heard this many times, yet we still often cannot control our emotions when it comes to waiting. How are we able to improve ourselves when it comes to waiting for situations to happen? On the other hand, sometimes we do hold back on doing something because it is just not the right time for it. As we plan around the things that we do and executing them at the right time, our Lord too has His own agenda.

How then do we control our emotions when our way and time of doing things is not granted to us the way we would have liked it? It builds discipline and patience in us, we tend to control our emotions and anxiety better. Over time, we will be given the wisdom to read situations and know better with time and in waiting. In today’s Gospel, the Jews were after Jesus and the situation surrounding Him were to happen according to the Father’s intentions.

What does our faith teach us today? We learn not to deny Jesus and his works when we see it with our hearts. His works happen at times that we could not comprehend, but with prayer and patience, we will be able to work around situations that we least expected and even feel surprised about. Let us be not afraid to confront situations when we are at uncomfortable because we know that Jesus is with us to get through it all, just like how the Father has been with his Son forever.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: O Lord, we may be stubborn ourselves, but let our hearts open our eyes and mind, so that we know how to recognize your works in your time.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for your Son Jesus, who so generously give His life on the cross, because of His love for us.

30 March, Thursday – Turn to Him

Dear OXYGEN readers,

As Lent draws to a close, we invite you to contribute a reflection for Holy Week and Easter. As per OXYGEN tradition, we have the following reflections open to volunteers. If you had experienced something this season that the Holy Spirit is prompting you to share, consider sharing your encounter with our faith community. God bless you!

1. Holy Thursday – Chrism Mass
2. Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper
3. Good Friday
4. Easter Vigil (9 reflections)
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

Do drop an email to descksoon@yahoo.com who will be in touch with you on how to proceed.

God bless
Oxygen Core Team

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30 March 2017

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Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, “Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth”? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘Were I to testify on my own behalf,
my testimony would not be valid;
but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf,
and I know that his testimony is valid.
You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.
Besides, the Father who sent me
bears witness to me himself.
You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.

‘You study the scriptures,
believing that in them you have eternal life;
now these same scriptures testify to me,
and yet you refuse to come to me for life!
As for human approval, this means nothing to me.
Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.
How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?
Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father:
you place your hopes on Moses,
and Moses will be your accuser.
If you really believed him
you would believe me too,
since it was I that he was writing about;
but if you refuse to believe what he wrote,
how can you believe what I say?’

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Yet you refuse to come to me for life

There are many moments in my life when I have come across difficulties and the first thing that came to mind was to solve it; to find a solution on my own, thinking that I could use my very own ability to get it sorted. It was only later on that I found out that it is really important to reach out for help, to ask for someone else’s opinion, so as to seek help get over the problem. Sometimes, it is pride that prevents us from opening ourselves up, hoping to take credit for getting the job done.

In today’s reading, the people of God were blinded and tired to know where the true Father was. They were lost in their spiritual desert, looking towards Moses for direction but only to find themselves tired and without direction. They turned to a molten metal calf and worshipped it, having no idea who the Father truly is. Do we turn to God when we lose our direction? Do we stop just for a short minute to lift up our issues to the Lord, and ask for the guidance that will aid us smoothly through our difficulty?

In the Gospel today, Jesus, Son of God, presents Himself and yet the people once again are so focused on the law, living a blind faith, and just couldn’t look up to Jesus the Messiah. Jesus even tried to explain the big picture of who He is, but He knew that they were still unable to see Him as God. Similarly, when we come across a huge difficulty, will we still be blind to know where God is for us?

Never turn away from the Lord for He is with us during our time of need. Jesus came to our world to live with us and even died for us. Let Him in during the happy moments and also include Him in the difficulties which we are about to face. Accept Him into our hearts, so that He may work the miracles in us because of our sincere belief.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Take us away from the distractions that hurt our relationship with Jesus, and know that as the Son of God? He has all the power to still our hearts in times of difficulties.

Thanksgiving: We continue to give love to non-believers, that we are always able to share Jesus with them.