Category Archives: Memorials

14 August, Tuesday – Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Aug 14 – St. Maximillian Mary Kolbe, priest, martyr

Maximillian Mary Kolbe (1894-1941) was known as a mischievous child, sometimes considered wild, and a trial to his parents. However around the time of his first Communion, he received a vision of the Virgin Mary that changed his life. While still in seminary, he and six friends founded the Immaculata Movement (Militia Immaculatae, Crusade of Mary Immaculate) devoted to the conversion of sinners, opposition to freemasonry (which was extremely anti-Catholic at the time), spread of the Miraculous Medal (which they wore as their habit), and devotion to Our Lady and the path to Christ. Stricken with tuberculosis which nearly killed him, it left him frail in health the rest of his life. His insights into Marian theology echo today through their influence on Vatican II.

He founded monastries and published a magazine to fight religious apathy in Poland and Japan. By 1939 the Polish monastery housed a religious community of nearly 800 men, the largest in the world in its day, and was completely self-sufficient including medical facilities and a fire brigade staffed by the religious brothers. During his arrest by the Nazis, he volunteered to die in place of a married man with young children. He died as he had always wished – in service.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ezekiel 2:8-3:4

I, Ezekiel, heard a voice speaking. It said, ‘You, son of man, listen to the words I say; do not be a rebel like that rebellious set. Open your mouth and eat what I am about to give you.’ I looked. A hand was there, stretching out to me and holding a scroll. He unrolled it in front of me; it was written on back and front; on it was written ‘lamentations, wailings, meanings.’ He said, ‘Son of man, eat what is given to you; eat this scroll, then go and speak to the House of Israel.’ I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, ‘Son of man, feed and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you.’ I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey.

Then he said, ‘Son of man, go to the House of Israel and tell them what I have said.’

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Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14

The disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said, ‘I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.

‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

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“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray…”

During the 25 days I spent with Aunty in hospital, I was blessed to be able to witness her love for God and Mother Mary through her constant prayers, even when it was tough for her to pray. Whenever Aunty had visitors in the hospital, she would always tell them that she will keep them in her prayers, and if any specific prayer intention was mentioned, she would try her best to remember each of them. Every morning and during moments of free time, Aunty would be praying the Rosary, and asking Mother to intercede for the people she was praying for. Aunty would not turn down the chance to pray for another person, and her deep faith in Mother’s intercessions had deepened my understanding of the Rosary.

As a convert, I struggled with praying the Rosary because I could not grasp the rationale behind the Rosary. After experiencing Auntie’s daily intercessions through our Mother, I realized that the Rosary started growing on me, and I began to enjoy praying the Rosary. My cynical questions pertaining to the Rosary were no longer a priority, and instead, I am learning how to intercede for others through the Rosary.

Today is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a saint who strongly advocated for the conversion of souls through the intercession of our Mother. She came to him through a vision when he was 12, and as young as he was, his faith was strong. He dedicated his life to praying through Mother, even when he was facing death. As a child, he accepted that his life was to be for the Lord, and he did not question what Mother had showed him. His sacrifice for a stranger was undoubtedly a heroic act, but more than that, it was an act of love towards God’s people.

(Today’s Oxygen by Hannah Huang)

Prayer: Dearest merciful Father, grace us with the desire to pray for our fellow brothers and sisters even when it is hard to pray, and to look to our blessed Mother as the perfect example after Your heart.

Thanksgiving: Dearest Father, we thank You for persevering with us and not giving up on us, especially during our moments of being “the lost sheep”. Thank You for showering us with Your love.

13 August, Monday – Dreams And Visions

Aug 13 – Memorial for St. Pontian, pope, martyr, and St. Hippolytus, priest, martyr

Pontian was among the first victims of an anti-Christian new emperor. Rounded up with the antipope Hippolytus, Pontian was deported to the labour mines. While imprisoned, Hippolytus reconciled his differences with Pontian and even ordered his followers to bring themselves back to the Church. Before he succumbed to the harsh treatment of the mines, Hippolytus became a true confessor of Christ. Pontian, in the mines only two months, was brutally beaten to death by his jailers.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ezekiel 1:2-5,24-28

On the fifth of the month – it was the fifth year of exile for King Jehoiachin – the word of the Lord was addressed to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldaeans, on the bank of the river Chebar.

There the hand of the Lord came on me. I looked; a stormy wind blew from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the centre a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire. In the centre I saw what seemed four animals. I heard the noise of their wings as they moved; it sounded like rushing water, like the voice of Shaddai, a noise like a storm, like the noise of a camp; when they halted, they folded their wings, and there was a noise.

Above the vault over their heads was something that looked like a sapphire; it was shaped like a throne and high up on this throne was a being that looked like a man. I saw him shine like bronze, and close to and all around him from what seemed his loins upwards was what looked like fire; and from what seemed his loins downwards I saw what looked like fire, and a light all round like a bow in the clouds on rainy days; that is how the surrounding light appeared. It was something that looked like the glory of the Lord. I looked, and prostrated myself.

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Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men; they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again.’ And a great sadness came over them.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel came to Peter and said, ‘Does your master not pay the half-shekel?’ ‘Oh yes’ he replied, and went into the house. But before he could speak, Jesus said, ‘Simon, what is your opinion? From whom do the kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from foreigners?’ And when he replied, ‘From foreigners’, Jesus said, ‘Well then, the sons are exempt. However, so as not to offend these people, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that bites, open its mouth and there you will find a shekel; take it and give it to them for me and for you.’ 

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“Like the bow which appears in the clouds on a rainy day…..”

During Aunty’s time in the hospital, Aunty had quite a few dreams and visions of heaven, and each time she woke up from them, she would have this gleeful smile on her face and a look of comfort thereafter. Upon our curious probing, Aunty would divulge that she saw Jesus or the 3 Archangels and they were dressed in splendour. She shared briefly about her encounters with them but from her expression, it was very obvious that she was in awe of the magnificence that she had witnessed, and alongside was her deep longing to be in the house of the Lord when it was her time. Aunty had been experiencing pain that was only slightly relieved by the painkillers that could be given and after her encounter with Jesus, she immediately proclaimed in victory that she was pain-free and wanted to start walking again.

Aunty’s sharing during that time had helped me to further put in perspective my knowledge of what heaven is like. Although I believed that heaven is a lovely place, I have never really thought much about what it really is. Aunty’s dreams and visions gave me a deeper understanding of not only the bible, but also of God as Father – one who hears the deepest desires of His children and who wants the best for them.

Brothers and sisters, what Aunty saw and described was reflected in today’s first reading, where the Lord was depicted as being surrounded by splendour and brilliance, and His presence radiates hope to all who believes in Him. Let us continue to entrust our lives to the Lord and cling to the hope that He brings to us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Hannah Huang)

Prayer: Dearest Father, we pray for the grace to allow You to love us as Your children, and to experience the hope that you bring to us. Teach us to cling on to Your faithfulness and to entrust our lives into Your hands.

 Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for strengthening our faith by providing us with witnesses and giving us the grace to experience Your splendour and magnificence through the lives of those around us.

11 Aug, Saturday – Faith Opens Doors

11 Aug – Memorial for St. Clare, virgin, religious founder

Clare (1194-1253) loved music and well-composed sermons. She was humble, merciful, charming, optimistic, and chivalrous. She would get up late at night to tuck in her sisters who’’d kicked off their covers. She daily meditated on the Passion. When she learned of the Franciscan martyrs in Morrocco in 1221, she tried to go there to give her own life for God, but was restrained. Once, when her convent was about to be attacked, she displayed the Sacrament in a monstrace at the convent gates and prayed before it. The attackers left.

Toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would be displayed on the wall of her cell; thus her patronage of television.

– Patron Saint Index

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:4

Are not you, from ancient times the Lord,
my God, my Holy One, who never dies?
O Lord, you have made this people an instrument of justice,
set it firm as a rock in order to punish.

Your eyes are too pure to rest on wickedness,
you cannot look on at tyranny.
Why do you look on while men are treacherous,
and stay silent while the evil man swallows a better man than he?

You treat mankind like fishes in the sea,
like creeping, masterless things.

A people, these, who catch all on their hook,
who draw them with their net,
in their dragnet gather them,
and so, triumphantly, rejoice.

At this, they offer a sacrifice to their net,
and burn incense to their dragnet,
for providing them with luxury
and lavish food.

Are they then to empty their net unceasingly,
slaughtering nations without pity?

I will stand on my watchtower,
and take up my post on my battlements,
watching to see what he will say to me,
what answer he will make to my complaints.

Then the Lord answered and said,
‘Write the vision down,
inscribe it on tablets
to be easily read,
since this vision is for its own time only:
eager for its own fulfilment, it does not deceive;
if it comes slowly, wait,
for come it will, without fail.

‘See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,
but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.’

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Matthew 17:14-20

A man came up to Jesus and went down on his knees before him. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘take pity on my son: he is a lunatic and in a wretched state; he is always falling into the fire or into the water. I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.’ ‘Faithless and perverse generation!’ Jesus said in reply ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And when Jesus rebuked it the devil came out of the boy who was cured from that moment.

Then the disciples came privately to Jesus. ‘Why were we unable to cast it out? they asked. He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible for you.’

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Nothing will be impossible for you

A few years ago, a ministry friend told me that she would like me to play the violin at her wedding mass. She was so insistent and would not take ‘No’ for an answer, despite my exhortations that I had not touched a violin for more than 35 years. She simply looked me in the eye and told me to ‘have faith’ and that everything would be fine.

From those first tentative strokes of the bow, I have now come to realise that when God calls one to fulfil a talent He has given, there is no running away from the times when you will be called upon to exercise that God-given talent.

Yes, I took some refresher lessons and stumbled through some difficult classical pieces. But as I practised with the band in my ministry, what I have discovered is that I can actually ‘play by ear’; something i never knew I could do. So at praise and worship sessions now, I pick up on the first note and just play away. People have come up to me and said that they see the joy in my playing and I just smile and acknowledge that it is God who is doing the playing. I am merely His instrument.

I have also played at a few retreats where the songs were more contemplative and have felt the retreatants’ struggles and sorrows through the music. I have even fallen to my knees in tears after an adoration session, where I was encouraged to play on after the choir had stopped singing. As the blessed sacrament went past me towards the sacristy, I could feel Jesus smiling upon me and giving me a pat of encouragement. It was truly a wondrous feeling and further affirmed my new-found faith in my God-given abilities.

At times, I wonder what ever possessed B to approach me all those years ago. I can only surmise that God prompted her to help me unlock the talent i had hidden away after 1979. Brothers and sisters, each of us has a God-given talent that He is waiting for us to exercise. One way to tell if it is from Him is if the fruits are life giving and if others get to enjoy it. My other half has had her passion for art reawakened and her pieces have already touched hearts. Where it takes her, only God will know but I know there is joy, hope and peace in her paintings.

So B, if you are reading this, you are my eternal spiritual benefactor. And I will always cherish that moment when you came up to me and asked, “Can you play at my wedding?”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our talents are your gifts. Help us to exercise them fruitfully so that they may give life to those around us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for the artists, caregivers, chefs, dancers, educators, entertainers, formators, healers, musicians, parents, poets, priests, relief workers, singers, teachers and anyone who exercises a talent.

9 August, Thursday – Man-Managed or God-Guided?

Aug 9 – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 31:31-34 

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

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Matthew 16:13-23

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

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“…the way you think is not God’s way but man’s”

For a long while now, I have been questioning myself and plagued with self-doubt, wondering if my intentions where I am serving in ministry are guided by the spirit or some other motive. I have also been dealing with a wave of crises at work where I have had to rely on my wits and judgement, having had no precedence to follow.

In dealing with the various crises at work, I naturally had to deal with other colleagues as well as report in to senior management periodically. In the end, I learned that in such situations, while common sense usually prevails, as long as we all have a heart for our students and/or an aggrieved party, the outcome should turn out well. We could apply rational thinking to every decision and hope for the best but where emotions are involved, being able to have a sense of perspective taken from various points of view will help calm the situation and allow everyone involved a chance to resolve matters amicably. Typically man’s way of thinking.

So while the last few weeks have been quite draining, I have managed to emerge from relative darkness with a stronger faith in God and in those who serve Him. Just a few weekends ago, I had the good fortune to have been asked by a brother friend to help him in a facilitation for a group of communion ministers. Without hesitation, I said ‘Yes’, even though that Saturday was also 4th Saturday at the centre where I serve. Admittedly, I was also keen because Nick had originally asked my other half to borrow some of her very recent paintings for the reflection session.

I had always wanted to see him ‘at work’ and though we didn’t stay for the entire session, I left with a better sense of what he meant when he says he is truly doing God’s work. Because as we spent 30 minutes discussing and prepping during the lunch break prior to the session, He took over. As we prayed and asked the spirit to fill us and be present, I ended up doing a 5-minute opening prayer and then singing (instead of accompanying Nick on the violin). But it was obvious that the Spirit was working because the sharings by those being ministered to were genuine and heartfelt (with some tears included). This was certainly a God-anointed moment and I savoured it quietly from the back of the auditorium.

Brothers and sisters, when we are thrust into situations that require quick decisions, our natural instinct is to trust our gut or to put up defences and work on past assumptions/experiences. Perhaps we need to take a new tack and just spend a few minutes in prayer before diving back into the situation so that we allow God to work his magic and guide us to making a resolution that is centred upon Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a greater sense of perspective. That we are able to distinguish between what is yours and what our human desires tell us to act on each day. We ask for you to always speak to our hearts and to help us discern your plan for all of us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for always being there with us in our moments of crisis.

8 August, Wednesday – Faith In Times Of Crisis

Aug 8 – Memorial for St. Dominic, priest, religious founder

Dominic (1170-1221) was born of wealthy Spanish nobility, and was the son of Blessed Joan of Aza. Joan had difficulty conceiving and prayed at the shrine of St. Dominic of Silos who had a tradition of patronage of that problem. When she became pregnant, she named the child in honour of the saint. While pregnant, Joan had a vision that her unborn child was a dog who would set the world on fire with a torch it carried in its mouth. A dog with a torch in its mouth became a symbol for the Order he founded, the Dominicans. At Dominic’s baptism, Joan saw a star shining from his chest, which became another of his symbols in art, and led to his patronage of astronomy.

Dominic was a priest who worked for clerical reform. He had a life-long apostolate among heretics, especially Albigensians, and especially in France. He founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans) in 1215, a group who lived a simple, austere life. He also founded an order or nuns dedicated to the care of young girls.

At one point, Dominic became discouraged at the progress of his mission; no matter how much he worked, heresies remained. But he received a vision from Our Lady who showed him a wreath of roses, representing the rosary. She told him to say the rosary daily, teach it to all who would listen, and eventually the true faith would win out. Dominic is often credited with the invention of the rosary; it actually pre-dates him, but he certainly spread devotion to it, and used it to strengthen his own spiritual life.

Legend says that Dominic received a vision of a beggar who, like Dominic, would do great things for the Faith. Dominic met the beggar the next day. He embraced him and said, “You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us.” The beggar was St. Francis of Assisi.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 31:1-7

I will be the God of all the clans of Israel – it is the Lord who speaks – they shall be my people.

The Lord says this:
They have found pardon in the wilderness,
those who have survived the sword.
Israel is marching to his rest.
The Lord has appeared to him from afar:
I have loved you with an everlasting love,
so I am constant in my affection for you.
I build you once more; you shall be rebuilt,
virgin of Israel.
Adorned once more, and with your tambourines,
you will go out dancing gaily.
You will plant vineyards once more
on the mountains of Samaria
the planters have done their planting: they will gather the fruit.
Yes, a day will come when the watchmen shout
on the mountains of Ephraim,
‘Up! Let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God!’

For the Lord says this:
Shout with joy for Jacob!
Hail the chief of nations!
Proclaim! Praise! Shout:
‘The Lord has saved his people,
the remnant of Israel!’

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Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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“Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

It has been about three months since my other half returned from a retreat in Australia. Since then, she has had to deal with pretty crucial changes in her life and, in the process, emerged from a crisis of faith. I could only stand by and offer however much support I could (at times, frustrated at my own self) and to just be there for her.

What has amazed me all this time is how her faith in God has inspired her to do art (painting), which I never knew she had done in college. From her first tentative piece, she has miraculously produced 6 pieces to date; the last one at my request. And it is pretty obvious to me that God has given her this special talent because each piece radiates joy, hope and peace; at least that is what I get out of looking at her snapshots as she paints them.

Two Saturdays ago, a friend who does life coaching invited her to a facilitation session for a group of communion ministers, because he wanted to use her humble pieces for the audience to reflect on. In typical fashion, she ‘pooh-poohed’ my obvious excitement as I offered to drive her to the church where the session was happening. In my mind, someone else was recognizing her talent as an artist!

During the 2-hour session, her paintings opened up conversations among the 15 or so people and my heart swelled with pride. Truly, her faith in God, in spite of her trying circumstances, had enabled her to produce art that ‘spoke’ to others and helped them open up deep-seated feelings which reflected the various seasons in their ministry lives. As I stole glances at her while the people were sharing their innermost feelings about each painting, I could see her tearing up. But unlike months ago when she was shedding tears of despair, I could see that these were tears of joy.

Brothers and sisters, God never abandons us, especially when we are going through a time of desolation in our lives. In fact, it is we who question his existence and doubt His presence, leading us into a downward spiral of despair. I have learnt that in our darkest times, we need to just be quiet and listen out for His voice – whether it is in the encouraging word of a loved one, a touch from a stranger, or a revelation that leads to a whole new journey for us. So don’t despair if you are experiencing a crisis of faith now. He will lead you out eventually.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you continue to carry us on your shoulders, especially when we struggle to find meaning and are deaf to your words of love. We pray that you always keep faith in us and give us the desire to hear your whisper each day.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your steadfast love and for your faith in each and every one of us.

7 August, Tuesday – Alone, Or Not?

Aug 7 – Memorial for St. Sixtus, pope, martyr, and companions; St. Cajetan, priest

Sixtus (d. 258) was an adult convert to Christianity. In his papacy, he dealt with the controversy concerning Baptism by heretics. He believed that anyone who was baptised with a desire to be a Christian, even if the Baptism was performed by a heretic, was truly baptised into the faith, and that the validity of his faith was based on his own desire and actions, not the errors of the person who performed the sacrament. He was martyred with six deacons and sub-deacons.

Cajetan (1480-1547) was offered governing posts, but turned them down for a religious vocation. He was aware of the need of reformation in the Church and felt called to enter a religious community to serve the sick and poor. With three others, he formed the Congregation of Clerks Regular (Theatines) with the mission of fostering the Church’s mission and reviving the spirit and zeal of the clergy. He also founded a bank to help the poor and offer an alternative to usurers (loan sharks); it later became the Bank of Naples.

St. Cajetan was known for a gentle game he played with parishioners where he would bet prayers, rosaries or devotional candles on whether he would perform some service for them; he always did, and they always had to “pay” by saying the prayers. He is a patron saint of the umemployed.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 30:1-2,12-15,18-22

The word addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord: the Lord, the God of Israel says this: Write all the words I have spoken to you in a book.

Yes, the Lord says this:
Your wound is incurable,
your injury past healing.
There is no one to care for your sore,
no medicine to make you well again.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they look for you no more.
Yes, I have struck you as an enemy strikes,
with harsh punishment
so great is your guilt, so many your sins.
Why bother to complain about your wound?
Your pain is incurable.
So great is your guilt, so many your sins,
that I have done all this to you.

The Lord says this:
Now I will restore the tents of Jacob,
and take pity on his dwellings:
the city shall be rebuilt on its ruins,
the citadel restored on its site.
From them will come thanksgiving
and shouts of joy.
I will make them increase, and not diminish them,
make them honoured, and not disdained.
Their sons shall be as once they were,
their community fixed firm in my presence,
and I will punish all their oppressors.
Their prince will be one of their own,
their ruler come from their own people.
I will let him come freely into my presence and he can come close to me;
who else, indeed, would risk his life
by coming close to me? – it is the Lord who speaks.
And you shall be my people and I will be your God.

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Matthew 14:22-36

When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death, he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the local people recognised him they spread the news through the whole neighbourhood and took all that were sick to him, begging him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched it were completely cured.

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He went up into the hills by himself to pray

I recently completed a 200 km walking pilgrimage from Le Puy to Conques, a section of one of the Camino routes in France. I was there with a small group of parishioners from Singapore, and we did most things together as a group. There was one day early in the trip when I unintentionally went ahead of the group on my own, and ended up walking for 3 hours in a state of solitude, not knowing where the rest were. That period turned out to be the most fulfilling part of the trip. In the absence of social obligations, I felt totally unencumbered, contemplative and happy in my lonesome walk. Sadly, those feelings disappeared the moment I rejoined the group, and I concluded that I must have some deep pathological need to be alone.

In the gospel, there is mention of occasions where Jesus took time off from his ministry to be alone to pray, but before long, his presence in the community would be required again. Those periods of solitude were no doubt very important for Jesus to recollect his thoughts and unite them in prayer with his Father. I think that those times alone were also essential to help prepare him for his ministry.

The cross has two arms, one vertical and one horizontal. While effort must be made to develop one’s relationship with God, action must also be taken to reach out to the larger community. One arm cannot fulfil its purpose without the other.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that the Spirit will give us the grace and motivation to build relationship with God and others.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the spiritual insights granted to us in moments of grace.

4 Aug, Saturday – Hearing But Not Listening

Aug 4 – Memorial for St. John Mary Vianney, priest

In his youth, John Mary Vianney (1786-1859) taught other children their prayers and catechism. As a priest, was assigned to a parish which suffered from very lax attendance. He began visiting his parishioners, especially the sick and poor, spent days in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, did penance for his parishioners, and led his people by example. Crowds came to hear him preach, and to make their reconciliation because of his reputation with penitents.

He has been declared patron saint for all priests.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 26:11-16,24

The priests and prophets addressed the officials and all the people, ‘This man deserves to die, since he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’ Jeremiah, however, replied to the people as follows:

‘The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you. For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.’

The officials and all the people then said to the priests and prophets, ‘This man does not deserve to die: he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’

Jeremiah had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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“For in truth it was the Lord who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.”

Now that my son has reached toddler-hood, it has taught me a thing or two about parenting. I’m far from being the perfect parent, but if trying to raise one toddler is a challenge, imagine shepherding an entire unruly flock that does not listen. I have to mean what I say, else my son would never take me seriously, or worse, step all over me. If I threaten a punishment, I would have to really do as I say. If I promise a reward, likewise I would have to follow through with a treat. He has learnt that I really do mean business, and is learning to make his choices and check his boundaries.

I suppose we are like this too — when God speaks to us we sometimes do not listen. We question and ‘check’ our boundaries too, sometimes with undesirable consequences, but we – like our children – learn that there are consequences to our actions and boundaries that we should not cross. We know all too well what happened to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt, when they disregarded God and worshipped a golden calf instead. You would imagine that after witnessing God’s miracles first-hand, they would be fully converted. But there were still the few whose hearts were hardened. Similarly, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart despite calamity after calamity until the ultimate sacrifice – the Egyptians’ first-born – was paid. Even in the reading of Jeremiah, he had warned that if the people of Jehoiakim did not repent their evil ways, misfortune and ruin of their city would befall them, as did the city of Shiloh hundreds of years before them.

History repeats itself yes, and sometimes we may have to be reminded several times before we take action or learn our lesson. If there are parents amongst you, you would only know too well the phrase, “I told you so!” or “Didn’t I tell you…?” or “Why don’t you ever listen?”. Maybe it is human nature to have selective hearing, or it is just the curious part of us trying to see how far we can push the line. We should be wiser, with the wisdom of hindsight and learning from our ancestors, but we never really are. But we can be, by asking God to open our hearts and exploring a deeper relationship with Him. If we have not built a bond with God, it is less likely that we would want to listen to someone that we are not close to, and even if we did listen, we would tune out almost immediately rather than being genuinely interested with what He had to say. God’s message is always to help us, not harm us. It is when we try to mix in our motives to justify what we think God is trying to tell us, that the message gets muddled up.

Let us then pray for the wisdom of discernment and the ability to drown out the ‘noise’ so that we can hear clearly when God speaks to us. Too long now have we had a one-way conversation with God, where we have been the ones talking; perhaps it is time now that we listen.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have guided us always to do the right thing, and we pray to overcome our stubbornness and distractions to listen to You, even in the gentlest whisper of a breeze.            

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for Your infinite patience and guidance, especially when we refuse to listen. Thank you for not giving up on us.

2 Aug, Thursday – Begin Again

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop 

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do. Then this word of the Lord was addressed to me, ‘House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’

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Matthew 13:47-53

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

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“Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased”

I’ve been in a bit of a ‘dark place’ recently. Earlier in the year, I had such great hopes for the future, as I suppose we all do at the start of each year. I was determined not to be part of the mass of dreamers that fall to the wayside as the year unfolds. I was open to God and prayer, and I think like many people who have worked a long time, you reach a point where you start questioning if what you are doing is indeed what you were meant to do. I had such a strong conviction for what I thought God had in mind for me – my calling, if I may.

Then distractions and personal heartbreak got in the way and swept these dreams aside. I keep telling myself it is God’s test in everything to check my constancy and faith. I’ve since gotten over the hard bit, the grief, but the recovery is challenging. To get back to my old self, the believer in me – that is taking a little bit more time and effort to achieve. I want to get back to that place of possibility; the mind is willing but the body is weak, or maybe my faith is? I think this is like trying to get out of an addiction, which I won’t presume to be so easy, but rather, so psychologically difficult. My own challenges I am sure are nothing compared to what some people have gone through, and I cannot imagine what someone like Job would have felt in the midst of his own personal tragedies. As I question what God’s plans are for me, I feel like I am starting again from scratch, running on empty rather than ready to embrace the future.

I’d like to think that yesterday (as I write this) was my turning point – I was listening to a song and thought I heard the words “I will love you for your mistakes”. At that moment, I felt like this was something Jesus would say to me, “It doesn’t matter what has happened, I will still love you for who you are.” Maybe my plans didn’t turn out to be what I wanted it to be, but God is the potter and I am the clay. He is the one who will mould me and fashion me into something that will be pleasing to Him, that will be of purpose to fulfill His plan. Maybe as He fashions me, so am I to fashion my own plans, with His direction. Maybe even though things haven’t turned out as I have hoped, there are lessons to be learnt, quiet guidance to be gleaned, even in the darkest times. When I am weak, then He is strong, and in turn so too will I be strong, because Christ is my strength. And as I gather my strength, I will try again, just as He will try again with me.

I may feel like I’ve been scratching the bottom of the barrel, but that is only because the barrel needs to be emptied of all the emotions that link me to that dark place before it can be filled again with God’s grace till it runneth over. Then will I be ready to embrace the future.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: God Almighty Father, praise be to You! Steady my heart and my courage to embrace Your plans for me. Let me lean not on my own understanding, but on faith that You will see me through this.            

Thanksgiving: Thanks be to God our Father, for not giving up on me, for trying again with me even when I stumble, and for loving me despite my mistakes.

1 Aug, Wednesday – This Valley of Tears

Aug 1 – Memorial for St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop, religious founder, doctor

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. As a lawyer, he had his own practice by age 21, and was a leading lawyer in Naples. He never attended court without having attended Mass first.

As he matured and learned more of the world, he liked it less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He was ordained at age 29. As preacher and home missioner around Naples, St. Alphonsus was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).

As bishop, St. Alphonsus worked to reform the clergy and revitalise the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. The royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology, and his skills as a lawyer, St. Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king‘s approval.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 15:10,16-21

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.
‘When your words came, I devoured them:
your word was my delight
and the joy of my heart;
for I was called by your name,
the Lord, God of Hosts.
I never took pleasure in sitting in scoffers’ company;
with your hand on me I held myself aloof,
since you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my suffering continual,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Do you mean to be for me a deceptive stream
with inconstant waters?’

To which the Lord replied,
‘If you come back,
I will take you back into my service;
and if you utter noble, not despicable, thoughts,
you shall be as my own mouth.
They will come back to you,
but you must not go back to them.
I will make you
a bronze wall fortified against this people.
They will fight against you
but they will not overcome you,
because I am with you
to save you and to deliver you
– it is the Lord who speaks.
I mean to deliver you from the hands of the wicked
and redeem you from the clutches of the violent.’

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Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.’

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The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found

Since Sunday, we have read the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah in our first readings… day after day, Jeremiah seems to be ceaseless in his cries out to God.

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.’ He wails in this valley of tears.

I am reminded of Job. I am reminded of the many times I have complained against the hand that I feel God has dealt me. Many of us have endured episodes, seasons and circumstances, leaving us utterly helpless and distressed. Where are you, Lord? Compared to others around us who seem to be in greater sorrow, we can sometimes feel lame and weak for our whines. We may not even dare to express our exasperation publicly. But privately, we do – we feel dragged through this valley of tears. So much like Jeremiah, we sometimes find life meaningless because we cannot grasp the purpose for our suffering.

But we also find the repeated mention of Jesus’ parables of the treasure hidden in the fields, the rich man and his pearl of great price spread over these past few days. The consecutive alignment of these liturgical texts by our Church is no unnecessary detail. It is a keen reminder, a salient wake-up call, to us that the woes and weariness of this world is like the field that Jesus describes. Carved into the valley of sorrows is our daily battlefield. Beneath this battlefield that we live in, lies buried the greatest treasure we could ever hope to find – Jesus Christ our Saviour.

God has planted Christ in His plan for humanity’s salvation since the beginning of time. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) Long before there was sin and suffering, there was this Treasure God had bequeathed us. That is why all religions and spiritualities of the world talk of a Quest, a Search for Meaning.

The bright lights and distractions of this world have buried our greatest Treasure. Christ is this pearl of great price that we have found. Are we ready to embrace this Truth of our hidden Treasure right now like the happy man, turn around and relinquish our attachment to the materiality of our life, to claim Christ as our reason for joyful living?

The Scripture readings today challenge me to cling very tightly to this reality of my relationship with Christ – that even if I face trials and unfairness like Jeremiah, I have a Treasure beyond all measure. It is hidden with Christ and hidden in Eternity. I may not be able to ‘spend’ it now in today’s currency, but I know where my treasures lie – ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Luke 12:34) Today, I am reminded to water the soil of my heart and nurture my love for Christ. I can only be a truly happy man when I recognise that my joy is not dependent on the seasons of the earth but rooted in God’s infinite love and mercy for me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord I desire a deeper relationship with you, to built my house on your foundations that will never change.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for being the Treasure that keeps on giving to us in your Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

31 July, Tuesday – Of Seeds and Weeds

Jul 31 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim’s robes. He lived in a cave for a year, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 14:17-22

The Lord said to me:
Say this word to the people:
‘Tears flood my eyes
night and day, unceasingly,
since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people,
a most grievous injury.
If I go into the countryside,
there lie men killed by the sword;
if I go into the city,
I see people sick with hunger;
even prophets and priests
plough the land: they are at their wit’s end.’

‘Have you rejected Judah altogether?
Does your very soul revolt at Zion?
Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?
We were hoping for peace – no good came of it!
For the moment of cure – nothing but terror!
the Lord, we do confess our wickedness
and our fathers’ guilt:
we have indeed sinned against you.
For your name’s sake do not reject us,
do not dishonour the throne of your glory.
Remember us; do not break your covenant with us.
Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain?
Can the heavens produce showers?
No, it is you, the Lord.
O our God, you are our hope,
since it is you who do all this.’

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Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

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The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man

I saw a documentary once on hay harvesting, Victorian-style. The farmers first had to cut the hay, before leaving it out to dry. Naturally, they were subjected to the vagaries of the weather. Their efforts to cut the hay were also hampered by weeds whose long roots tangled in the blades of the machinery, causing the machine to jam. The frustrated farmers had to stop each time to dislodge the weeds before carrying on. Sadly, their hay harvesting turned out to be a failure as they were unable to complete it in time.

Our personal struggles with life are similar. God made us perfect and whole in the beginning, providing what is best for us, and in our lives we are given the choice of making our own decisions. Our moral compasses direct us in the way of God that we have been taught, but often we find that our efforts to do good are thwarted by distractions that try to lead us astray. We get tangled up in these distractions and have to disentangle ourselves in order to move on.

Yet, we need not end up like the farmers in the documentary. Our struggles need not be in vain. If we asked God to, He could help us rid the weeds in our lives so that we would never have to encounter problems with our daily ‘machinery’. We would not need to worry about tangled roots of weeds clumping in our lives creating havoc. If we tend to the weeds early, we may just be able to nip them in the bud.

God is the sower of good seed. He only wants what is best for us, and wants us to choose the right paths and make the right decisions. We used to have a saying in the kitchen when we were overwhelmed with orders, that we were “stuck in the weeds”. When our lives are overwhelmed with troubles, let us have faith that God will give us enough grace to get us out, and lift our “weeds” to Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to prune our lives that we may be able to get rid of the weeds that tangle us in our journey with You.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the times when You delivered us from our troubles and provided us with the help that we needed.