Category Archives: Memorials

17 September, Tuesday – The devil loves attention … don’t give him that satisfaction

Sep 17 – Memorial for St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor

Robert (1542-1621) wrote the most complete work of his day to defend Catholicism against Protestant attack. He also wrote a children’s catechism and a catechism for teachers. As cardinal-priest, he gave most of his money to the poor. At one point he used the tapestries in his living quarters to clothe the poor, saying that “the walls won’t catch cold”.

He was involved in settling various disputes including that of King James I and the Vatican in 1607 and 1609 concerning control of the Church in England, action against Galileo Galilei with whom he established a friendly correspondence, but was forced to deliver the order for the scientist to submit to the Church, and issues concerning clerical discipline and Vatican authority. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 17 September 1931.

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1 Timothy 3:1-13

Here is a saying that you can rely on: To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble wok. That is why the president must have an impeccable character. He must not have been married more than once, and he must be temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher; not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable. He must not be a lover of money. He must be a man who manages his own family well and brings his children up to obey him and be well-behaved: how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God? He should not be a new convert, in case pride might turn his head and then he might be condemned as the devil was condemned. It is also necessary that people outside the Church should speak well of him, so that he never gets a bad reputation and falls into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons must be respectable men whose word can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first, and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, the women must be respectable, not gossips but sober and quite reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once, and must be men who manage their children and families well. Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and be rewarded with great assurance in their work for the faith in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 7:11-17

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

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Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience 

Archbishop William once shared at a retreat, that of all the 7 deadly sins, the greatest is pride, followed very closely by vanity; that all of humanity succumbs to these sins and many a good soul has been lost by their deadly effects. Surprising? Insightful? Not really. We have only to consider Lucifer to know that these were precisely the two great sins and temptations that got him (and one third of the angels) thrown out from heaven. Consider seriously, how pervasive these temptations are and how real they are within our own spiritual struggles. Allow me, in this sharing, to dwell on how these temptations can also specifically undermine the very basis and foundations of our worship of God, especially during the Eucharistic celebration.

Max Lucado once said, “seek not the adulation of men but the applause of heaven”. My theme and sharing today is drawn from the first reading, which paints the virtues and qualities needed in Catholic leadership and in the context of ministering to the community and in Catholic worship. God demands perfection from us. He knows he’s not going to get it but He nevertheless demands it of us. However, I believe the perfection he seeks for us is not in doing things perfectly and faultlessly, but rather, from the standpoint of absolute authenticity and sincerity when we worship and serve Him. God seeks perfection not in terms of what we do but why we do it. That this must stem only from one motive alone – our sincere and authentic love for Him and through that love, our love and service for others. Many, if not almost all of us will fall short of this perfection but heaven is a place where only Saints are worthy to be in. And only the Saints in heaven are perfect, as God is perfect.

Before I dwell more on the issue of authenticity of service, especially in Eucharistic celebration, allow me to say that whilst I will probably be quite judgmental in my comments and observations, I do not absolve myself of guilt in the behaviors I will be commenting on. I was, and still am, guilty of some of them. Pride and vanity tempt all of us. I hold to the view that at Holy Mass, there is only one person that must to be glorified and worshipped – God.  But yet, I can’t deny that I do find some who serve during Mass competing with God for attention and glory. Those who seem to have the notion that Mass is a stage where they get to perform and showcase their talents, or their ‘beauty’ or their intelligence or their wealth or their ‘authority’ or their ‘power’. Lectors and cantors, Altar Servers, Choir Masters, Eucharistic Ministers, Wardens, at times even the Priests themselves – the way they sometimes go about doing what they do, the way they dress, they way they are made up, the way they exercise their authority when giving Communion or directing movement in Church, they seem to  be bringing attention and glory to themselves.  It seems to be very much about them and not about creating the circumstances and atmosphere that can help all to come to an authentic encounter with God and community as one body of Christ, which is what the Eucharistic Celebration is intended to be. Yes, undoubtedly, our eyes and heart should be fixed on God and not on the people around us. Allowing ourselves to be distracted, agitated and frustrated is very much indicative of our own imperfections and weakness. Nevertheless, when we serve, we should all consciously try to bring less of ourselves to glory during Mass and allow God this privilege instead.

My sharing is titled, “The devil loves attention” … perhaps in small, insidious ways, by tempting us who serve in Liturgical ministries, to focus attention on ourselves during the Eucharistic Celebration, the devil gets to achieve exactly the effect of taking attention and glory away from God, which is the purpose and summit of our faith – the Eucharistic worship, communion and adoration of God’s love for us and in the sacrifice of Jesus, His Son, for us. The devil, the master deceiver, is far more subtle and insidious than simply expecting attention to be given to him. Instead, he prefers that we give attention to ourselves. He whispers ever so subtly into our ears… “go ahead, grab your moment of glory, you deserve that for all the hard work and sacrifice you have put into serving the Church all these years – show the people how beautiful your voice is, how expensive that suit you are wearing, how important that role you are serving at the Altar,  how eloquent the way you speak, how honorable the seat that has been reserved for you.

The devil loves attention…but do not give him the satisfaction. Be conscious of how he attacks us at our weakest — our pride and vanity, in order to deny the graces that God wants to give us. Battle him by constantly questioning and checking our own authenticity and sincerity in service to God and the Church, especially during the Eucharistic Celebration.

If you listen carefully, in the distance, you may be able to hear the sound of applause for you. But it’s not very distinct… can’t quite make out if the applause is coming from the Saints in heaven or from the poor souls in the other place. Can you?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Save us from the desire of being esteemed or extoled or honored or that others may be loved more than ourselves. Save those of us who have the privilege of serving in Ministry from the sin of arrogance and vain-glory. Give us, instead, a true spirit of humility to know it is You whom we serve and the authenticity to serve you humbly and with great love for You.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all whom you have blessed Holy Mother Church, who serve with sincere hearts and authentic love for You and Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Thank you for the inspiration they bring and for the way by their example, to experience Your true presence and unfailing love.

 

16 September, Monday – True disciples know and follow the lordship of Christ

Sep 16 – Memorial for Sts. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr; and Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr

Cornelius (d. 253) was elected after a year-and-a-half period during which persecutions were so bad that papal ascension was a quick death sentence. He worked to maintain unity in a time of schism and apostasy. He called a synod of bishops to confirm him as rightful pontiff, as opposed to the anti-pope Novatian. Cornelius was eventually exiled by Roman authorities to punish Christians in general, who were said to have provoked the gods to send plague against Rome.

Cyprian (190-258) was baptised when he was 56. By the time he was bishop, he had been a Christian for only 3 years! When the Roman emperor Decius persecuted Christians, Cyprian lived in hiding, covertly ministering to his flock; his enemies condemned him for being a coward and not standing up for his faith. He supported St. Cornelius against the anti-pope Novatian. He too was exiled and martyred when the Decius’ successor continued with persecution of Christians.

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1 Timothy 2:1-8

My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right, and will please God our saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.

In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.

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Luke 7:1-10

When Jesus had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death. Having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir,’ he said ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.

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 But only say the Word

There is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg called ‘Schindler’s List’, which tells of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved countless Jews from the Holocaust during WWII. A moment from that movie, which left an indelible mark on my psyche, is the scene in which the Commandant of the Concentration Camp, sitting in his pajamas on a balcony, has a steaming hot cup of coffee to his side table. He sits casually, with a lighted cigarette lazily and precariously balanced on his right lip corner. In his hand, a sniper rifle, cocked and ready. The sniper lens zooms in on a hapless, random Jew, in rags and whose ribs could be counted. In the next instant, the head of the Jew gets blown off in a pink cloud of blood and brains. Those walking around this hapless Jew are terrified but continue walking as if nothing has happened. Indifferently, the Commandment, peers through the lens to look for the next target to practice on. After several more hapless victims, Oskar Schindler finally confronts the Commandant who promptly reminds Oskar of just how much power he wields. To which Oskar replies – “real power lies not in those who have the ability to wield it, but to those who have it but always choose not to wield it”. To Oskar and the likes of St Maximillian Kolbe, the life of a Jew, every person in fact, was not irrelevant and unnecessary. It mattered enough to risk and to give up one’s own life.

The point being made is not about earthly power – but the power that comes from knowing one’s identity rooted in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Son of the Living God, is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. However, he chooses not to wield that on us. He chooses to become one of us. This does not alter nor diminish one iota of what his true character and essence is – but simply points to the truth that He knows who He is. And there is no need for him to prove His power, despite the many times we desperately ask Him to show it to us in the circumstances of our lives. He only needs to affirm the fact of His love for us.  Jesus can walk away from His power and assume the condition of a slave because He knows exactly who He is – the Son of God. He is not here to impress us. He is here to save us.

At the Sermon on the Mount, in the chapter preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus lays down the formula to perfect discipleship. In today’s Gospel, through the person of the Centurion, is Luke’s illustration of what Jesus had just finish teaching His disciples. The Centurion is the one who did good deeds toward his enemies; he gave to his enemies as he built from his own funds the synagogue in Capernaum. He behaved correctly whether or not this love was ever returned to him. This man not only heard the Word of God, but was Luke’s example of a man who built his house on the rock solid foundation of that Word…he sends for the Master. He hears of Jesus and acts. He is a doer and not merely a listener. This Centurion is the example of one who loves supernaturally. As Jesus told us to love without expecting anything in return, we see in this account, one who loves his slave. He loves someone who most would despise and mistreat. He loves his servant. He also loved the Nation of Israel. Normally, Roman leaders hated their slaves and mistreated them. They hated their enemies. Here, this man loves those who are his enemies. He shows us how a true disciple lives out his identity. A Roman Centurion, one who wields power, commands lives, has authority over the liberty and life of those under his charge – usually does not give a hoot about the well-being of one of his numerous, insignificant servants, whose only purpose of existence is to be used to serve his purpose and discarded when no longer useful. He usually does not hold the respect, admiration and support of those whom he lords over. He does not need to show humanity; only power and authority.

Yet this Centurion was different. The Jewish leaders were actually fond of this one and even petitioned on his behalf to Jesus to save his dying servant. The Centurion himself was respectful, kind, considerate, had a sincere love and concern for those over whom he not only had authority over, but responsibility over. He was humble, considered himself unworthy of the attention of Jesus, but had deep faith and hope in where true power really lies – Jesus, Son of God, with real authority over life itself. Before the identity of Christ – the Centurion knew where he stood… unworthy that Jesus would enter under his roof. But yet, with deep faith that His word alone, had the power over life and death.

It was not a priest, a Levite nor a Pharisee – no, it was the Good Samaritan, the Gentile, the Roman Centurion – these were the ‘unworthy’ and ‘unqualified’ God chose to show the rest of us the way of true discipleship. Those who truly know their identity and have discovered that true discipleship can only take place when you are clear of who you are a disciple of. And translating that into a living faith. When you know the Living God, your nothingness becomes that which will save you. Because only then, you become totally consumed by the grace of God. Only then, despite your unworthiness, God will say the Word that will heal you. For how can one lead others to Christ when one is himself/herself lost and astray. Only in humility and by God’s healing word and grace, can we be led on the path of true discipleship. These are the words we echo at every Eucharist – through our communion with the living presence of Jesus, is the source of our own true identity.

Jesus marveled at the Centurion. He was amazed at the faith he had. It took Jesus by surprise. Now that is something you don’t see happening every day. When was the last time you made Jesus’ jaw drop in admiration and amazement of the greatness of your faith, the authenticity of your humility and the fidelity of your discipleship? There seems to be applause in the distance for you … but does the clapping come from above or from below?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. It is easy for us to find ourselves lost along the road of our discipleship. Help us when our pride, our worries, our pain, the weight of our crosses and the deceptions of the evil one make us want to give up and to walk our own path. We do not have the wisdom, the strength and the courage – help us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you because time and again, during our darkest moments, you send the light of your Spirit and the love of your Mother to come to lift us, to comfort us and to gently tell us to get up and to carry on. Help us walk our discipleship with victory such that when we finally enter the gates of heaven, you and all the saints will stand up and give us applause for a race well-run, a journey well-travelled. 

13 September, Friday – Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes

Sep 13 – Memorial for St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor

John’s (347-407) father died when he was young, and he was raised by a very pious mother. It was for his sermons that John earned the title “Chrysostom” (golden-mouthed). They were always on point, they explained the scriptures with clarity, and they sometimes went on for hours.

As bishop, he criticised the rich for not sharing their wealth, fought to reform the clergy, prevented the sale of ecclesiastical offices, called for fidelity in marriage, and encouraged practices of justice and charity. St. John’s sermons caused nobles and bishops to work to remove him from his diocese; twice exiled from his diocese. He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 451.

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1 Timothy 1:1-2,12-14

From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus appointed by the command of God our saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, true child of mine in the faith; wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 6:39-42

Jesus told a parable to the disciples: ‘Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit? The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,” when you cannot see the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.’

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Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly

Very recently, we had a new member join our community. She recently had her own conversion experience and was filled with enthusiasm and eagerness. She wants so much to be in a community to keep her faith strong. And she is so grateful to now be a full-fledged member, despite our very demanding schedule. I love watching her worship. Full of joy, it comes from the heart and it shows. She is like a breath of fresh air – only that the way she dresses doesn’t quite conform to our standard code of dressing. She is a beautiful woman and dresses very fashionably. Very alluring. Our leaders were quick to point this out and I was tasked to gently advise her to be less ‘distracting’; especially when we are ministering. Before I knew more about her, I was wondering what job she held that allowed her to dress this way.  Don’t get me wrong, her dressing is by no means risqué nor lewd. It’s just that in our Christian community, we all tend to be a little prim. In any case, I found out that she held a senior teaching profession in the medical industry.

Quite recently, Archbishop William also published a reflection called ‘Studs and Tattoos’ about superficial judgements on people. What matters most is not what they wear or look like, but what their heart is like. We should never judge a book by its cover.

We are all, at some point or other, guilty of judging people. I too had my own fair share of ‘lessons’. I am plagued by my own prejudices and judgements of people – especially when they don’t match up to my expectations. It may be how they perform a task, how they react to things, how quickly they respond to requests, or why someone doesn’t help someone else in need when they are perfectly able to. ‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.’.  Harper Lee in ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’ said ‘you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.’   We never know the story or the circumstance that led the person to behave the way they did.

Jesus doesn’t fault us for having failings. But he invites me to look to my own blind spots first. If the just person falls seven times, how often do I fall?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, make me more aware of my inadequacies, so that I may become gentle in dealing with others.

Thanksgiving: God thank you for seeing each of us from the inside. Thank you for seeing us with a generous and compassionate gaze. Thank you for not despising or condemning us for our shortcomings and failings. Lord, today make us gaze at annoying people as kindly as you do.

12 September, Thursday – Forgiveness is God’s medicine

Sep 12 – Holy Name of Mary

This feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3); both have the possibility of uniting people easily divided on other matters. The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.

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Colossians 3:12-17

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.
Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Bearing with one another and forgiving one another

It’s just ironical or divine intervention that I am to write the reflection for today’s reading. I can’t forgive. Not always and not easily. It’s hard to forgive and sometime I don’t want to. What do you do when something in your life is too huge to forgive? This inability to forgive has caused me much grief. This led me to question and beat myself up – was I being a good Christian?

The gospel today is really hard to follow. As humans, we suffer rejection, betrayal, loss, abandonment, infidelity. The list is endless. We get wounded by the people we love most and those closest to us. Over the last few years, I went through a series of breakdowns in relationships and loss. One after another. Each time I steeled myself up and bulldozed myself to move ahead, something else happened. All that came to a resounding crash earlier this year. Everything came to a head. I felt utterly alone. My mental and emotional health were in shambles.

I dealt with these difficult situations by simply cutting them out. People come and go in our lives. Situations change. That’s life. That’s a fact. Over time, I stopped thinking about these things and they started to blur in my mind. Truth be told, I felt a sense of freedom, not having these people in my life. I no longer felt anger nor resentment. But one thing never went away – the hurt and pain was like an irritating pincer lodged in the flesh of my heart. A sermon I heard once stuck in my mind – no matter how you feel, offer up your prayer to those people you find hardest to love. I persisted in my ‘lousy prayer’ to the Lord for all of these people, even when I felt nothing.

If one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  Yup, it’s not easy to follow. While I felt guilty for my unforgiveness, I was in no capacity to be Christ-like, to forgive. In fact, in my emotional deficit, I could not find it within myself to give, to love, to care, to be compassionate. Truth be told, holding on to that anger and hate felt good.  It ‘vindicated’ my pain of being betrayed and wronged.

The biggest revelation for me is that the Lord doesn’t expect us to do this ourselves. It’s by His grace and timing that allows us to heal and forgive. He knows when the time is right and will create the time and place for restoration, mending and healing of brokenness. By my own strength, I could not possibly forgive these people for the hurt they caused me. But I declare today that God is real and working in our lives. Our God of love and compassion knows our circumstance, the depth of our wounds and how much we can take. Over the past few months, God has created 3 occasions for reconciliation with the people who hurt me tremendously. Each of these scenarios can only be explained as the work of God, for no amount of planning by anyone could have fabricated these occurrences. One by one, I feel that my heart has forgiven these people.

I learnt that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to condone or accept what was done to you. It’s not ignoring your hurt or pretending that nothing happened. It’s not burying the pain that you forget about it. The journey to healing and forgiveness required me to face pain and suffering. I had to acknowledge these feelings within me and allow myself to feel these emotions. Forgiveness is choosing to put an end to my suffering and pain by allowing God’s light to shine on the situations. Forgiveness seems unfair because it requires me, the hurt party to show an act of compassion, to make the first move. But withholding forgiveness does not punish the other person. It actually exhausts me. Forgiveness has actually very little to do with the person that hurt me, and a lot to do with me. Forgiveness is God’s medicine. It healed me. It freed me from the prison of hurt and pain.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray to forgive through you. That our pain and suffering can be healed, so that we are free to give life to others. We pray for the people who have wronged us, and ask forgiveness if we have hurt others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the ultimate act of forgiveness is your dying on the cross. Thank you for laying down your life us. May we choose always to forgive, just as you have forgiven us.

3 September, Tuesday – Hope in the Light

Sep 3 – Memorial for St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor

St. Gregory (540-590) collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants. He was elected by unanimous acclamation for pope. Incidentally, he was also the first monk to be pope. Before his papacy, he turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He became a missionary to England upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum.

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.

But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober. God never meant us to experience the Retribution, but to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, alive or dead, we should still live united to him. So give encouragement to each other, and keep strengthening one another, as you do already.

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Luke 4:31-37

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because he spoke with authority.

In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil, and it shouted at the top of its voice, ‘Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the devil, throwing the man down in front of everyone, went out of him without hurting him at all. Astonishment seized them and they were all saying to one another, ‘What teaching! He gives orders to unclean spirits with authority and power and they come out.’ And reports of him went all through the surrounding countryside.

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But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief

When I was pregnant with my son and close to my due date, I wasn’t expecting him for a while more and was still slumming it from the holiday period. Of course, he had other plans — he came a week and a half earlier than expected. I had barely packed my overnight bag. And despite having done the birthing classes and read the books, if I am being real honest, it felt like going for a practical exam where you wonder if you had read everything that you were meant to, and wondering if you could do what you studied if this or that question came out in the exam. When you’re not quite mentally ready, and the labour pains start, well… there’s no turning back. It’s onwards from here, panicky or not.

Unless you are having a Caesarean section, you won’t really know when exactly the baby will arrive. However, you can prepare to the best of your ability so that you won’t be in a state of anxiety when it happens.  In today’s reading, St Paul reminds us that the Day of the Lord will be like that — sudden and unexpected. We know that it will happen, but we won’t know when, and when it does happen, he reminds us that we need to be ready for it for none of us will escape it when it comes. However, he also has a message of hope — for those who believe in Christ Jesus, we should already be ready to receive Him. As children of God, we should be living a life according to God’s Word. We should already have the values and teachings ingrained in us. We should already be familiar with the Word of God and know what to expect and what to do when the time comes. Having professed our faith then, the Word of God is in us, and we live the Word of God. If we continue to do so, then we have nothing to fear for we should be ready to meet our bridegroom.

Remember the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), where five of them went to wait for the bridegroom with additional oil, while the other five were foolish not to bring more oil with them? When the bridegroom finally arrived, it was midnight, in the thick of night, and the five wise virgins were able to refill their lamps and join the bridegroom while the foolish ones were left behind and prevented from joining the bridegroom.

Yes, we should be ready especially being “children of the light, children of the day”. Perhaps we are anxious about how ready we are and whether we have done enough to meet the day. Anxiety, though, is a thief of faith. If we are anxious, we cannot be the best that God has equipped us to be; instead of looking forward to the life He has prepared for us, we will always be looking back over our shoulder. No, we should move forward to do the work that God has called us to do, be the person He wants us to be, so that neither fear nor anxiety has a place in our hearts. The reading today closes with encouragement from St Paul — since we are already children of the light, we won’t go down the path like the others will. Instead, let us meet it with faith and hope. Let us encourage each other in life and eradicate the fear that we will be left behind when our Bridegroom comes.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I don’t know if I will ever be prepared enough to meet the day when You come again. I don’t know when it will happen, and I can’t vouch for my feelings. But I lift that anxiety up to You and ask for the peace of Christ Jesus to fill my heart instead and help me prepare myself in faith and in hope, for the day when we are reconciled with You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the promise of salvation, the value of which knows no bounds.

29 August, Thursday – The Gift of Constraints

Aug 29 – Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward. Since death was ever at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: “You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake.” He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that His chosen ones should suffer for Him: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

– from a homily by Saint Bede the Venerable on the death of John the Baptist

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1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

Brothers, your faith has been a great comfort to us in the middle of our own troubles and sorrows; now we can breathe again, as you are still holding firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel before our God on your account? We are earnestly praying night and day to be able to see you face to face again and make up any shortcomings in your faith.

May God our Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, make it easy for us to come to you. May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

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Mark 6:17-29

Herod sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart

I love watching anime. Besides being entertaining, the genre also tackles deep, philosophical issues. One of the key issues that is discussed is about immortality, or having the capacity to live a long life here on earth. Most of us would dream of long lives, but in the story, these characters are lonely people who would do anything to die.

Without the possibility of death, they have seen many people die. They have lost many loved ones they did not want to love again. Without any possibility of death, they could always postpone a certain experience like travelling or exploring to another day, since they could have any day in the future to do that. As they will not die, they do not need to take care of their health. Many things lose their meaning, their significance, because it will always be available to them in the future.

Some of us are frustrated by the constraints that we experience in life. Of course, we would want to be able to do more. But precisely because there are constraints, that’s why we are able to appreciate what we have. As the saying goes, ‘You never know what you have until you lose it. You never know what you’re missing until you find it.’

The shortness of our lives gives us wisdom of heart. We learn to value every moment as a gift. We learn to appreciate the small miracles of every day. We learn to appreciate people whom God puts in our lives only for a while. We make an effort to be kind every time we have the chance, because the chance may never come again. The shortness of our lives may bring us sadness. And precisely because of this sadness that’s why we are able obtain happiness.

The shortness of our lives also gives us wisdom on who to prioritize. Some of us choose what to prioritize, forgetting that we find the meaning of our lives based on who we prioritize. When we think we have all the time, we forget that it is the relationship with God and with people that makes us most human. Think of the rich man who prioritized making a barn for his bountiful harvest. We are never told if he had people whom he loved, but we were certainly told that he was a fool as he would soon be called to the afterlife.

If today is our last day on earth, who would really matter to me? How will I spend my last day on earth?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please help us be aware that every day is a gift and that we may never take the day for granted. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for the shortness of our lives which allows us to be happier in this world.

28 August, Wednesday – Not dramatic, just lukewarm

Aug 28 – Memorial for St. Augustine, bishop, doctor

After investigating and experimenting with several philosophies, Augustine (354-430) became a Manichaean for several years; it taught of a great struggle between good and evil, and featured a lax moral code. A summation of his thinking at the time comes from his Confessions: “God, give me chastity and continence – but not just now.”

Augustine finally broke with the Manichaeans and was converted by the prayers of his mother and the help of St. Ambrose of Milan, who baptised him. Upon the death of his mother he returned to Africa, sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and founded a monastery. He founded religious communities and fought heresies. His later thinking can also be summed up in a line from his writings: Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.

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1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Let me remind you, brothers, how hard we used to work, slaving night and day so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming God’s Good News to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, that our treatment of you, since you became believers, has been impeccably right and fair. You can remember how we treated every one of you as a father treats his children, teaching you what was right, encouraging you and appealing to you to live a life worthy of God, who is calling you to share the glory of his kingdom. Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking; and it is still a living power among you who believe it.

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Matthew 23:27-32

Jesus said, ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption. In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who build the sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the tombs of holy men, saying, “We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our fathers’ day.” So! Your own evidence tells against you! You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets! Very well then, finish off the work that your fathers began.’

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To live a life worthy of God

I met someone who recently returned to the Catholic faith after a long period of being lapsed. She had really struggled with the feelings of shame and unworthiness after having accumulated a long list of sins, and she did not know how she could accept herself or re-enter the church after having strayed so far. The journey is still an ongoing one for her.

Today is the memorial of St Augustine of Hippo, bishop and doctor of the church. St Augustine is well-known for what I think are two main features of his life and works. One is his seminal book The Confessions of Saint Augustine, which continues to inspire and enlighten believers and non-believers alike. The other is his great conversion and transformation from living a lifestyle of debauchery and sin to one that is largely monastic and devoted to God.

Not every believer would encounter such dramatic transformations and conversions, since admittedly one would need to be in quite a deep state of sin in the first place. Instead of swinging from one extreme to another, prodigal son style, I would think that most of us are comfortably in the middle, not committing very serious sins but perhaps also not fully turning back to God. In that sense, it is not so much hypocrisy that we should be concerned about, but lukewarmness in faith. If the interior is truly transformed, it will naturally flow into the exterior. Lukewarmness makes the entire effort appear half-hearted, and half-heartedness will not get one through the narrow door into heaven.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to develop the discipline for a true transformation of our selves.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for always leaving the door open for us.

23 August, Friday – The Greatest Commandment

Aug 23 – Memorial for St. Rose of Lima, virgin

A beautiful girl and devoted daughter, Rose (1586-1617) was so devoted to her vow of chastity, she used pepper and lye to ruin her complexion so she would not be attractive. She lived and meditated in a garden, raising vegetables and making embroidered items to sell to support her family and help the other poor. She was the founder of social work in Peru.

“Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: ‘Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.’”

from the writings of St. Rose of Lima

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Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14-16, 22

In the days of the Judges famine came to the land and a certain man from Bethlehem of Judah went – he, his wife and his two sons – to live in the country of Moab. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she and her two sons were left. These married Moabite women: one was named Orpah and the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died and the woman was bereft of her two sons and her husband. So she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and went back to her people. But Ruth clung to her.

Naomi said to her, ‘Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. You must return too; follow your sister-in-law.’

But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you and to turn back from your company, for ‘wherever you go, I will go, wherever you live, I will live.

Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.’

This was how Naomi, she who returned from the country of Moab, came back with Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

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Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’

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“wherever you go, I shall go, wherever you live, I shall live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Today, there is an acronym, GOAT, that means, the Greatest Of All Time. We use it for athletes, celebrities, people who shock and surprise us with their skills/knowledge/talents/intelligence, and even for our friends. What does it mean to be great? We seem to always be debating on who’s the greatest, yet, every 5-10 years, it seems that newer names are coming up and some who were mentioned previously, not being heard of anymore. Why do we have such discussions and debates? How does the answer affect us?

Today let us reflect on what is the greatest value to us of all time, we refer to value as a principle or virtue. Which is ours and why? For me, it is a dying to myself, a lowering of my pride, because of love, that I look at the bigger picture rather than who’s at fault. This is something I find extremely hard for me — conflict with my loved ones, conflict at the workplace. Yes, I may be at fault, but why do I need to only be the one accepting responsibility, don’t others know and understand they have a part to play too? A controlling of emotions versus being controlled by your emotions, an understanding of what do you want to achieve. It’s about that greater goal, whether to resolve the conflict or avoid it, whether to forgive, communicate, and be at peace or harbour resentment and hurts?

The choice is ours. Ultimately, we struggle to choose because many times, we do not know yet where we are heading, and we simply prioritise what we need presently as opposed to where we hope to be in the future. The greatest commandment that Christ gives us in the Gospel today is “You must love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.”. Will this ever be considered as the GOAT? Why or why not? What if we knew that for whatever reason we provide, as the answer, God still actually loves us with all His heart, with all His soul and with all His mind?

Many times, we find ourselves asking the word ‘why’. Maybe God has also asked Himself, why should he still continue to love us? Why doesn’t He just severely punish us for all the sins we are committing, the blasphemy, the lack of respect, obedience, reverence and countless others? Why are we still able to make the same mistakes, the same sins over and over again? Then maybe we think that God only says those to scare us, actually He won’t do anything. But just maybe, that’s how much He loves us. The truth is, He doesn’t need our love but He still asks us to love Him because when we do, we will receive much more.

So why not start loving Him today?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: (say your own prayer today, let us receive Him and His love into our hearts)

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your Word, your Commandments and putting us first. Thank you for being patient with us. Thank you for always welcoming us home. Amen.

22 August, Thursday – The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Aug 22 – Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth – and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul – let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace; let him respect and preserve peace, which is not wickedness unpunished nor freedom without restraint, but a well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God; to its safeguarding and growth the gentle urgings and commands of the Virgin Mary impel us. – Pope Pius XII

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Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,

as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the bar across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,

these you break as on the day of Midian.

For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.
For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said

For some reason, I’ve always found it harder to relate, connect, pray to our Mother. I just have this inclination to pray to God directly. I find it hard to pray the rosary too. I believe I understand Mary’s important role in our faith and I know she will always be praying and interceding for all of us. I’m always amazed at the number of people attending the Novena devotion at Novena Church in Singapore, every Saturday. The amount of people, even non-Catholics, attend in flocks with fervent hearts to ask our Mother to intercede for them. For some reason, I’m not sure why I do not seem to have that desire; or maybe it’s because I haven’t really asked or haven’t reached a stage of desperation or despair.

What really resounds with me when it comes to our Mother, is the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour…”. This reminder of the beauty of her surrender to God is shown in her glorification of God in all things and through all things. Especially, in the impossible where she will bear a son, and not just an ordinary child but the Son of God. Not by any recognisable medical way but through the grace of the Holy Spirit. All this and still her reply was “let it be done unto me according to your will”. Indeed, the definition of obedience exemplified.

This is also the prayer I hold close to my heart. A prayer when I learn not to seek or ask of what I need, but what God needs of me. To know that as long as I live my life in faith, love, a life in the spirit, then it’s one that will be as close as His plan for me. To know that He will provide not just what I need, but what’s best for me.

Today, as we celebrate your queenship, we celebrate our faith and surrender all the uncertainties in life, all the worries and the impossible to God and we ask for your intercession. “Let not my will but Yours be done.” Amen!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name; And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy – Even as He spoke to our father – to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for our Mother. Thank you for showing us the perfect example of obedience. Thank you, Mother, for your constant intercession for all of us. Amen.

21 August, Wednesday – An Agreement

Aug 21 – Memorial for St. Pius X, pope

Pius X (1835-1914) encouraged frequent Holy Communion. He reformed the liturgy, promoted clear and simple homilies, and brought Gregorian chant back to services. He also reorganised the Roman curia, the administrative elements of the Church, and worked against the modern antagonism of the state against the Church. His other contributions to the Church included: initiating the codification of canon law, promoting Bible reading by all the faithful, and supporting foreign missions. His will read: “I was born poor; I lived poor; I wish to die poor.”

 – Patron Saint Index

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Judges 9:6-15

All the leading men of Shechem and all Beth-millo gathered, and proclaimed Abimelech king by the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.

News of this was brought to Jotham. He came and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted aloud for them to hear:

‘Hear me, leaders of Shechem, that God may also hear you!

‘One day the trees went out to anoint a king to rule over them. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king!”

‘The olive tree answered them, “Must I forego my oil which gives honour to gods and men, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then the trees said to the fig tree, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘The fig tree answered them, “Must I forego my sweetness, forego my excellent fruit, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then the trees said to the vine, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘The vine answered them, “Must I forego my wine which cheers the heart of gods and men, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then all the trees said to the thorn bush, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘And the thorn bush answered the trees, “If in all good faith you anoint me king to reign over you, then come and shelter in my shade. If not, fire will come from the thorn bush and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”’

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

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I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius?

At this point in my life, I am struggling with this constant comparison of my own valuation of my work and salary with that of others. I have always felt that I’ve deserved much more than the salary I’m getting now, based on my skillset and my attitude towards my work. It’s always going to be unmotivating whenever such thoughts come to my mind. The reality is, however, that I agreed to it, whether it’s the lack of negotiation skills or the need for the job, I accepted that offer, whether willingly or unwillingly. This is the agreement I have with regards to my current job and the required job scope that I am to fulfil and it is an agreement that I should uphold, in order not to be unjust to my employer.

Everything comes with a price and everyone wants more. In the first reading, we read of how the trees are afraid to give of themselves for the greater good of others. And how, if we are to make the thorn bush king, then not only do we solely enjoy its benefits, we also accept the consequences and outcomes that come along with the decision. Our failure is that many times we fail to see, or face, the consequences of our actions; we merely do what we want to do, follow who we want to follow, buy what we want to buy and yet solely expect our current responsibilities not to be affected in any way. We also see how others are unjust to us, but fail to recognise how we have been unjust to others. We determine our own value and the value that we should receive.

Our God, however, sees us all as equals as the landowner in the Gospel today. He loves us all equally despite the different lives that we live, because we are worth it. Our God is one who is committed to us, who accepts and believes in us, who died for us, that we will be saved. And that is truly God’s desire for us as in the Gospel, where it isn’t about how much you are paid, but the response that we have toward God’s calling in our lives. Heaven isn’t for the rich nor has a minimum salary earning to enter. Heaven is for all who respond and serve in God’s vineyard, NO MATTER HOW LATE, for He is waiting to share this eternal reward with all who keep their agreement, keep this hope, keep this faith.

May we be reminded that our worth isn’t in what we do or how much we earn, but by who we are, what we stand for, who we live for, who we serve. We are not just meant to realise or be wise but to have the conviction to respond to His plan for us, not to work for the one denarius, but to know that we are in His vineyard and that’s all that matters. Amen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the awareness to see beyond material goods and the ways of the world, to be able to see your hand in our lives. That you will provide us with good bosses and colleagues to help us on our journey as we continue to lead lives that are just first, before looking at the other. Help us to know that we will only be contented when we choose to be contented. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the opportunity to read this reflection today. Thank you for speaking to us in your own special way. Thank you for my current job, family, friends, my current financial position and everything that I’ve been ungrateful for. Thank you for also providing me with the opportunity to respond. Amen.