Category Archives: Ordinary Time

17 August, Thursday – Cut and Run

17 Aug

___________________

Joshua 3:7-11,13-17

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This very day I will begin to make you a great man in the eyes of all Israel, to let them be sure that I am going to be with you even as I was with Moses. As for you, give this order to the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: “When you have reached the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you are to stand still in the Jordan itself”.’ Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘Come closer and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that a living God is with you and without a doubt will expel the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite and the Jebusite. Look, the ark of the Lord,’ the Lord of the whole earth, is about to cross the Jordan at your head. As soon as the priests with the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, have set their feet in the waters of the Jordan, the upper waters of the Jordan flowing down will be stopped in their course and stand still in one mass.’

  Accordingly, when the people struck camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant in front of the people. As soon as the bearers of the ark reached the Jordan and the feet of the priests who carried it touched the waters (the Jordan overflows the whole length of its banks throughout the harvest season) the upper waters stood still and made one heap over a wide space – from Adam to the fortress of Zarethan – while those flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah, that is, the Salt Sea, stopped running altogether. The people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood still on dry ground in mid-Jordan, and all Israel continued to cross dry-shod till the whole nation had finished its crossing of the river.

___________________

Matthew 18:21-19:1

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and he left Galilee and came into the part of Judaea which is on the far side of the Jordan.

___________________

Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?

I think we become less forgiving as we grow older. I find I have less patience now when friends let me down and am more ready to ‘cut and run’ than when I was a twenty-something. This is ironic because it’s in my adulthood that I have grown more aware of His grace.

Our best intentions unravel when it comes to living our faith; forgiveness is my biggest stumbling block. I find I have the tendency to ‘measure up’ the hurts and wounds afflicted on me and keep a mental score of what ‘I am owed’. Like the proverbial evil servant in today’s gospel, that mental ledger is meticulously maintained and diligently populated by the wounds of yesteryear and the names of those who had inflicted them.

But there’s no room for math in His House. He did no math with us, so it is hypocritical of us to work sums with those He sends our way. We end up hurting ourselves when instead of forgiving, we ‘cut and run’. Our relationships have no depth when we ‘cut and run’; we become fair weather friends when we ‘cut and run’. We don’t build bonds when we ‘cut and run’. I’ve always struggled to make friends. I know now that it is because I am constantly fleeing difficult situations. I used to think it was that I didn’t like confrontation, but that’s a lame excuse for not having the tenacity to stick with things.

I’m so grateful that while I’ve been busy ‘cutting and running’, God has never ‘cut and run’ with me. He has persevered and never held back on His forgiveness, never held back on His blessings. And while not all my prayers have been answered, He has granted the prayers that have mattered.

I’m humbled by today’s gospel. It is not easy to look so clearly at a reflection of yourself. I see myself in the evil servant, always a recipient of forgiveness, not often a giver of it, and am overwhelmed by His unending mercies. I give thanks He has never ‘cut and run’ with me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

__________________

Prayer : We pray for the self awareness to see our own weaknesses and forgive, instead of judging and punishing others for the wounds they inflict on us.

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for the never ending mercies He extends us.

16 August, Wednesday – Being Known by God

16 Aug

________________________

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Leaving the plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land; Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the stretch of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross into it.’ There in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of the Lord died as the Lord decreed; he buried him in the valley, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but to this day no one has ever found his grave. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired. The sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. The days of weeping for the mourning rites of Moses came to an end. Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. It was he that the sons of Israel obeyed, carrying out the order that the Lord had given to Moses.
  Since then, never has there been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man the Lord knew face to face. What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and his whole land! How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the sight of all Israel!
________________________
Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

  ‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

  ‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

________________________

For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.

It is said in our first reading that Moses was known as ‘the man the Lord knew face to face’. Have you ever wondered how awesome yet terrifying it must have been to come so close to God? Yet, do you sometimes feel so far from Him even when you try your very best to draw closer?

Lately, attending Mass has been quite an alienating routine for me. It recently became trying for me due to the extreme lethargy I experience in pregnancy. Some days my energy or concentration levels simply dip such that it is hard to focus for more than five minutes. This new ‘attitude’ of mine towards Mass caused me to feel privately guilty for not being present with God

One recent Saturday evening, after being completely sapped of energy from our house-moving, I suggested to my equally exhausted husband that maybe we could skip Mass on Sunday to recuperate. God would understand that my spirit is willing but my flesh is spent, I reasoned. Sunday morning brought along a migraine. But we decided to go anyway. As I made my way to church, I said a persistent prayer asking God to grant me enough energy to make it through Mass meaningfully. I had a long day ahead with household appliance deliveries, but I just needed enough ‘battery’ for the present moment.

We arrived to a full-house church with the possibility of only standing space. My heart sank. I ventured forward towards a section of pews anyway, hoping just a little for a seat. To our surprise, a lady happened to turn around in my direction and smiled warmly, signaling for us to sit beside her. At that moment, I felt like God had reserved those seats for us, as no one seemed to have spotted the empty space!

As I settled in to Mass, I felt my spirits lift and I pondered the way God had chosen to make Himself known to me, to pull me in closer despite how distracted my mind and body were. It was not a mountain-top, face-to-face encounter that Moses probably had abundant experience of. But in this small gesture of a kind stranger, I felt comforted that He knew my needs and my heart’s inmost desire more intimately than I could express.

Where in your life have you felt far from God? Are you waiting on Him for an answer over a problem that seems too huge to be resolved? Maybe, like me, you long to return to a season of spiritual relationship with Him that you once shared, but seem to have lost…

My experience that Sunday reminded me that God is truly present in my life, even when I am too tired to recall the many consolations and assurances He has given me before. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled (2 Cor 5:19). Keep praying, even if you think your words sound like clanging cymbals with little heart or direction. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, always intercedes for us.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (Psalm 139:3-5)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: O Lord, grant me the graces and strength to keep on trying and going on in this life of Christian faith and discipleship.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the angels God sends our way through the kindness of the people we meet.

14 August, Monday – Strangers Passing Through this World

14 Aug – Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest, Martyr (1894 – 1941)

He was born on 8 January 1894 in occupied Poland: he joined the Franciscans in Lwów in 1910, and was ordained eight years later, as his country became free and independent for the first time in over 120 years.

  He believed that the world was passing through a time of intense spiritual crisis, and that Christians must fight for the world’s salvation with all the means of modern communication. He founded a newspaper, and a sodality called the Knights of Mary Immaculate, which spread widely both in Poland and abroad.

  In 1927 he founded a community, a “city of Mary,” at Teresin: centred round the Franciscan friary, it attracted many lay people, and became self-supporting, publishing many periodicals and running its own radio station.

  In 1930 he went to Japan, studied Buddhism and Shintoism, and through the Japanese edition of his newspaper spread the Christian message in a way that was in harmony with Japanese culture. In Nagasaki, he set up a “Garden of the Immaculate,” which survived the atomic bomb.

  He also travelled to Malabar and to Moscow, but was recalled to Poland in 1936 for reasons of health.

  When the Germans invaded in 1939, the community at Teresin sheltered thousands of refugees, most of them Jews.

  In 1941 he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where he helped and succoured the inmates. In August of that year a prisoner escaped, and in reprisal the authorities were choosing ten people to die by starvation. One of the men had a family, and Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place. The offer was accepted, and he spent his last days comforting his fellow prisoners.

  The man he saved was present at his canonization.

Maximilian Kolbe’s martyrdom is the least important thing about him. We are none of us likely to find ourselves in a position to emulate his sacrifice, and speculation as to the heroic way in which we would have behaved in his place is a pernicious waste of time. What is important is that he acted the way he did because of who he was – or, rather, because of who he had become. It is because of who he had become that we revere him as a saint: he would have been a saint (though perhaps not canonized) even if he had not been martyred. And that process of becoming is something we can all emulate. We can all become people for whom doing the right thing is obvious, natural, and easy. It requires no heroism, no special gifts: just perseverance, and prayer.

Source: Universalis

________________________

Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Moses said to the people:

  ‘Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to fear the Lord your God, to follow all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and laws of the Lord that for your good I lay down for you today.

  ‘To the Lord your God belong indeed heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all it contains; yet it was on your fathers that the Lord set his heart for love of them, and after them of all the nations chose their descendants, you yourselves, up to the present day. Circumcise your heart then and be obstinate no longer; for the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, triumphant and terrible, never partial, never to be bribed. It is he who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow, who loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing. Love the stranger then, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. It is the Lord your God you must fear and serve; you must cling to him; in his name take your oaths. He it is you must praise, he is your God: for you he has done these great and terrible things you have seen with your own eyes; and though your fathers numbered only seventy when they went down to Egypt, the Lord your God has made you as many as the stars of heaven.’

________________________

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.’

________________________

Love the stranger then, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Are you a foreigner where you live? Maybe you have studied or worked abroad at some point in your life, or even now. Maybe you have just returned from living overseas for a period of time. How did you feel when you first arrived? Can you recall those tentative, uncertain, shy, and anxious moments of wondering if you would fit in? Were you terrified of sorely sticking out and being targeted or stared at?

I have just returned from living in the USA for the past year. It has been just two weeks since my return to Singapore. While this has not been a long arrangement, coming home entailed much adjustment. Why? My husband and I relocated for his work right after we were married. We spent a couple of months finding our footing in a foreign land, setting up a brand new (short term) first home in a strange neighbourhood, finding a church community, etc. After we had struggled and established a wonderful routine there, we had to start making plans to leave, pack up, and return home. All in a span of 12 months! Upon our return home, we have been without a place to call our home until we found a rental apartment. We moved temporarily back into our respective parental homes and adjusted to living apart until we could find a place. Essentially, we were pilgrims or wanderers. I truly felt like a stranger passing through all manners of foreign lands, living with this season of feeling up-rooted and un-rooted.

I am acutely aware of the scripture readings today, which speak of the transient nature of our earthly sojourn. So often we take for granted our privilege of living in our own country, or having a home of one’s own. This is especially true when one lives in a place of general prosperity and stability. Yet as Christians, who may live in all parts of the world with such diverse circumstances and experiences, we are reminded constantly of the Israelites and their endless desert wandering. Though they are God’s chosen people, He never gave them the cushy life of permanence and stability. This is the reality of life we must acknowledge. It unnerves, yet matures us.

I believe that more than a mere literal reading, us modern Christians are also given a heritage example of what our earthly time really means. We are all strangers in this foreign land of the world. Our true eternal address, if we so desire, is heaven-bound with God our Father. This cannot be a contrite statement of tokenism. None of us will live on this earth forever! In fact, this should hit us squarely between the eyes that we are stewards of our homelands, families, and our environment. Likewise, our fellow commuter on the bus or train, who may clearly be of a different nationality, is no lesser than us in the eyes of God who has so graciously ordained the very soil on which you and I happened to be born in.

How then have we chosen to treat the man on the street; the one who is also our brother and sister in Christ? As I write this, I am reflecting on the terrible wars, civil unrest, and terrorist sieges happening over the world. Though we condemn these actions, some of us are so far removed (physically) from the events that we think it is something the ‘others’ have failed at. But what have we personally chosen to do in our own department of lives? Where have we been sounding like clanging cymbals and gongs about ‘Love’ but have not acted ‘IN Love’?

I have been challenged indubitably for the past few days in my own microcosm of life. We must not reduce the racism, violence, or terrorism that is happening on this large scale to ‘loving thy neighbour/stranger’ in tokenism. But instead, to think specifically of that ‘neighbour/stranger’ you are tempted to distance or hate, or the one who seems to deserve your wrath for a transgression. Is it possible to try and love that one whom, for some reason, you just cannot find mercy for in your heart? Try that. Then try to radiate that same sensibility outwards. It’s easier to condemn others for larger faults, than to admit to one’s own cosy hypocrisy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for peace in the world. I pray that I will choose to be at peace with the people I live with and the many others who cross my path.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for my lot in life. I continue to be grateful for my daily portion, even if a part of it may taste sour or bitter.

13 August, Sunday – The Lord is in the Breeze

13 Aug

______________

1 Kings 19:9,11-13

When Elijah reached Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, he went into the cave and spent the night in it. Then he was told, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

______________

Romans 9:1-5

What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood. They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen.

______________

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus 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.’

______________

‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’

Our God is all-powerful and Lord over all Creation. This is an aspect of our faith that most of us are undoubtedly aware of. But how often do we consciously consider how small and meek and softly God chooses to come to us, and tune our hearts in to this humbling mystery? I, for one, conveniently forget this – unless I somehow find myself in a poetic and nature-filled setting.

In other words, when I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day chaos (work, peak-hour traffic, bothersome interactions), my core of trust and peace is disrupted. I am less disposed to listening, feeling, or seeing the abundance of God-moments around me with eyes of humility and wonder.

Elijah’s experiences on Mount Horeb reveal his trust and sensitivity to God’s presence. He was given the command ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord’ – and experienced the terror of nature’s wind, earthquake, and fire. But we are told the Lord was in neither of these occurrences. Instead, he sensed that the sound of the gentle breeze heralded the presence of God, and with this assurance, he stepped out to the entrance of the cave to ‘meet’ God there.

“God is both further from us, and nearer to us, than any other human being.” – Henri Nouwen. This quote comes to my mind and gives me pause.

When the storms and disturbances of life come – am I more inclined to fear that I have somehow lost God’s favour or protection? To worry that this time, I am going to be ‘going at it on my own’, and I had better gird myself with worldly wiles and strategies in order to survive or get ahead? It is only natural that I am tempted to take on this attitude, if I believe I have much to lose, and if I lose sight of the reality that all I have has in fact been a gift from God – my skills, talents, intellect, status, wealth, and even repute. The ego has a way of speaking lies and threats to our insecurities.

I have realized this counstant struggle occurs throughout my growth as a person who desires to increase in spiritual maturity. The ‘elements of life’ that come my way have challenged me immensely to hold fast to the Lord and trust that He is more likely found in the smallest details of my life, than I would choose to stay still enough to notice.

Rather than complain that I have to tussle another minute or hour with a difficult family member; rather than lament that the difficulties I face have outlasted another 24 hours; rather than wonder “why me” or “why this road”; rather than flounder like Peter in the midst of the lake even as I walk towards Jesus – is it possible that I give thanks for the buoyancy of this mysterious water that supports me beyond my reason? Is it possible that I give praise to God for the mere fact that I am given the supernatural patience to outlast my problems or difficult interactions?

My greatest comfort is in knowing that Jesus never tires of me crying out to him for the umpteenth time ‘Lord! Save me!’ His mercy and faithfulness never ceases, and His goodness surrounds me no matter how impatient and desensitised I may grow. May we never tire of crying or calling to our Lord who will always save us and uphold us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Jesus, help me to remember that you are ever near me. I pray for the gift of stillness to sense you in all the storms or winds in my life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the inconveniences and challenges that humble me and make me ever aware that I am in need of growing greater in generosity.

12 August, Saturday – Faith, Free Weights and Deadlifts

Aug 12 – Memorial for St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Jane married Baron de Chantal. She restored order in the household, which was on the brink of ruin, and brought back prosperity. During her husband’s absence at the court, or with the army, when reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here.” She found more than once that God blessed with miracles the care she gave the suffering members of Christ.  Baron de Chantal was accidentally killed by a harquebus while out shooting. Left a widow at 28, with four children, the broken-hearted baroness took a vow of chastity.

She founded the Congregation of the Visitation, whose aim was to receive, with a view to their spiritual advancement, young girls and even widows who had not the desire or strength to subject themselves to the austere ascetical practices in force in all the religious orders at that time. The remainder of the saint’s life was spent under the protection of the cloister in the practice of the most admirable virtues. It was firmness and great vigour which prevailed in St. Jane Frances; she did not like to see her daughters giving way to human weakness. Her trials were continuous and borne bravely, and yet she was exceedingly sensitive.

– http://www.wf-f.org/StJaneFdeChantal.html

_____________________________

Deuteronomy 6:4-13

Moses said to the people:
‘Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising; you shall fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet; you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

‘When the Lord has brought you into the land which he swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give you, with great and prosperous cities not of your building, houses full of good things not furnished by you, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olives you did not plant, when you have eaten these and had your fill, then take care you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must fear the Lord your God, you must serve him, by his name you must swear.’

_______________________

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.’

_______________________

“… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”

3 to 4 times a week, I work out with a personal trainer — Spencer. I do this because I hate to exercise. Since I can’t be disciplined on my own, Spencer gets the unenviable job of being my taskmaster. I’ve been training with Spencer for two years now. In that time, he has worked me so much I actually have muscles that are visible. Spencer likes to use words like ‘striation’, ‘trapezius’ and ‘lattissimus dorsi’. We do endless repetitions of drills and dull things like ‘cardio’ which he says are good for me. Despite my lack of motivation, there have been tangible results. I am stronger. And I have more physical endurance. Hills and elevations don’t bother me any more. Neither does lifting my 50lb dog or using my heavy cast-iron skillet. I actually enjoy going on long hikes with my dog now.

Faith is much like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. When I first started physical training, we would do drills with small free weights at low rep counts. I’d take long breaks between sets to catch my breath. We have since worked up to higher rep counts, heavier weights and shorter breaks. Intuitively, it makes sense. You don’t go straight to 100lb deadlifts at the first get go. You have to work your way to it.

The disciples in today’s gospel reading attempted the faith-equivalent of 100lb deadlifts without first doing drills with small ‘faith-free weights’. They might have succeded, but the odds were stacked against them. We are not all possessed of the same ‘faith strength’ as the centurion in Matthew 8:8, whose famous words have been immortalized at mass – “Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed”. Just as a muscle needs exercise to develop strength, our faith needs to be worked on so that when we are truly tested, when life drops us that 100lb challenge, we know what to do with it. Start with the small stuff, converse with God, no detail is too small for Him. Things will happen if you allow Him to help you develop your faith muscle.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, you are the god of things both great and small. Watch over us, guide our hearts, give us wisdom to make good decisions, with even the smallest matters in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His watchfulness, for the comfort and assurance of His presence in our daily lives. We give thanks for good health, for family, for friends, for blue skies, green grass and tall trees. For the clean air we breathe, the fresh water we drink, the small things we take for granted that are made possible because of His grace.

11 August, Friday – On Privilege

Aug 11 – 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

_________________

Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Moses said to the people: ‘Put this question to the ages that are past, that went before you, from the time God created man on earth: Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other? Was anything ever heard? Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire, as you heard it, and remain alive? Has any god ventured to take to himself one nation from the midst of another by ordeals, signs, wonders, war with mighty hand and outstretched arm, by fearsome terrors – all this that the Lord your God did for you before your eyes in Egypt?

‘This he showed you so that you might know that the Lord is God indeed and that there is no other. He let you hear his voice out of heaven for your instruction; on earth he let you see his great fire, and from the heart of the fire you heard his word. Because he loved your fathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out from Egypt, openly showing his presence and his great power, driving out in front of you nations greater and more powerful than yourself, and brought you into their land to give it you for your heritage, as it is still today.

‘Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: the Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other. Keep his laws and commandments as I give them to you today, so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever.’

___________________

Matthew 16:24-28

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour. I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.’

____________________

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

‘Privilege’ has become a bit of a dirty word lately. It’s considered distasteful, crass even and has that whiff of taboo about it. Etymologically, its Latin root ‘privilegium’ means an ordinance or law that favors an individual or group above others. What that doesn’t spell out is that with privilege comes responsibility. Oftentimes, people who are privileged are loathed by others because they fail to exercise the responsibility and mindfulness that ought to accompany their higher station. “Much will be required of the one who has been given much, and more will be asked of the one entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). But that’s not how things typically play out.

The idea that God singled out Israel as His most preferred nation has rubbed people the wrong way since the days of Moses. Moses tried to explain this to the Hebrews, that privilege and responsibilty had to go hand in hand. Much would be expected of them – “you must keep his statues and commandments…”. When it came to Jesus, this special disposition was offered to anyone who would answer God’s call; ‘salvation by faith’ for God’s new people. The privilege of faith still came with responsibilities though. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why? Because ‘resentment’ against God’s people is still prevalent today. No one likes the privileged. So bad behavior of any sort affects our Christian witness and hurts the credibility of our faith. God is the one who gets a bad rap when we, as Christians, abuse the privilege of our faith.

I used to take these things lightly. Everyone was behaving badly, so why not I, was my reasoning. Except that if everyone felt that way, our faith would have a sorry end. Christ tells us that we are to be ‘salt and light’, to pierce the darkness with our goodness. The only way to do so, would be to hold ourselves up to behavior worthy of the blood that has ransomed our lives. Even if we fail, at the very least, we tried. And we ought to keep trying. As children of God, it’s our filial duty to.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s grace to help us live a life that is pleasing to Him.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who inspire us to be better versions of ourselves, who encourage us when we fail, and give us hope when we’re in despair.  

10 August, Thursday – Radical Ideas

Aug 10 – Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Lawrence was a third-century archdeacon of Rome, a distributor of alms, and “keeper of the treasures of the Church” in a time when Christianity was outlawed. On 6 August 258, by decree of Emperor Valerian, Pope St. Sixtus II and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence as the ranking Church official in Rome.

While in prison awaiting execution, Sixtus reassured Lawrence that he was not being left behind; they would be reunited in four days. Lawrence saw this time as an opportunity to disperse the material wealth of the church before the Roman authorities could lay their hands on it.

On Aug 10, Lawrence was commanded to appear for his execution, and to bring along the treasure with which he had been entrusted by the pope. When he arrived, the archdeacon was accompanied by a multitude of Rome’s crippled, blind, sick, and indigent. He announced that these were the true treasures of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

Lawrence’s care for the poor, the ill, and the neglected have led to his patronage of them. His work to save the material wealth of the Church, including the documents, brought librarians and those in related fields to see him as a patron, and to ask for his intercession. And his incredible strength and courage when being grilled to death led to his patronage of cooks and those who work in or supply things to the kitchen. The meteor shower that follows the passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet was known in the middle ages as the “burning tears of St. Lawrence” because they appear at the same time as Lawrence’s feast.

– Patron Saint Index

_________________

2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one.

___________________

John 12:24-26

I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.

If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.

____________________

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus tells us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s”. With Money, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain where the line is drawn between what belongs to God, what belongs to the tax collector and what belongs to us. The more we grab at it, the less of it we seem to have. The higher it is on our list of priorities, the more we find ourselves being corrupted by it. It’s as if a detachment is necessary in order for us to coexist peacefully with Money. That sense of detachment allowed St Lawrence to be a good steward of the Church’s financial wealth. And when push finally came to shove, St Lawrence returned the Church’s financial treasure back to its people in order to safeguard it from the hands of the greedy Romans. Imagine the Vatican giving all of its wealth to the poor in one fell swoop! What a radical idea, even by today’s standards!

Christ once said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). That’s a universal truth. Money is a difficult thing to square away. Whatever our station in life, we’ve all experienced issues with ownership of it. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that ‘’Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. In short, God promises to multiply our abundance if we maintain a detachment to it. That’s hard to do, unless we change our mindset and, like St Lawrence, think of ourselves more as stewards of our wealth, rather than owners of it. Our responsibility is to preserve its value, grow it if we can, and disseminate it to facilitate His purpose, not our own. If we put on the mindset of the steward, that detachment becomes a little easier. If we don’t think of it as our own, who knows, we might become better managers of it as we acquaint ourselves with the concept of fiduciary duty. We might even be happier as we get off that secular steeplechase.

Yes, it’s a radical idea; but then, today is the feastday of a radical saint!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom, courage and clarity of thought to make good decisions with the wealth and treasure that God has entrusred to us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings that God has accorded to us – both of the material and spiritual kind.

9 August, Wednesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

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

_________________

Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Paran and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

At this, the whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said:

‘I have heard the complaints which the sons of Israel make against me. Say to them, “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – I will deal with you according to the very words you have used in my hearing. In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall, all you men of the census, all you who were numbered from the age of twenty years and over, you who have complained against me. For forty days you reconnoitred the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins, and you shall learn what it means to reject me.” I, the Lord, have spoken: this is how I will deal with this perverse community that has conspired against me. Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.’

___________________

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.

____________________

“O woman, great is your faith!”

In the Book of Sirach, there is a beautiful set of verses about fidelity – “…for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him” (Sirach 2:5-6). The first time I read it, I was on a train into HK, frantic and very late for an important job interview. There was no time and nowhere to change into a business suit; I ended up doing the interview in my jeans. When I arrived, I signed in, held that verse in my heart and hoped for the best. While waiting for word that evening, I obsessed over all the little details that I had screwed up. The panic I worked myself into was ridiculous! Yet despite my best efforts at self-sabotage, I got the job. And it started a chain of events that would change my life for the better. God had my back the whole time.; my faith just wasn’t strong enough to trust Him completely. I had to indulge in so much doubt and self-loathing even after I got the job, that I spent my first 3 years there in complete misery.

Faith is less about proclamation than it is about action. How we conduct ourselves when we are tested reveals the true measure of our fidelity. That’s true of all our relationships, not just the one we have with God. The Hebrews in today’s reading broke faith with God when they succumbed to their fears and pursued their own agenda instead of trusting in Him. They had more than enough reason to trust in Him – God had led them from captivity through the desert, right to the gates of the Promised Land. This was the last mile. He had proven His holy power time after time. Yet there was still doubt. We may think that we’re acting out of good intentions when our trust in Him wavers. We might even fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the best interests of everyone, that our way is the logical way forward. But our conscience always knows, and the fruit of our actions eventually reveals us for the fairweather faithfuls that we are.

The next time we are gripped by doubt, fear and self-loathing, let us pause awhile to check our emotions and examine our hearts. Is God trying to ask something of us? Is He testing our faith? How are we responding? Have we reacted impulsively and broken faith? Or have we stayed true and remained faithful to our hope in Him?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith and the presence of mind to keep calm despite the distress of unexpected life events.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for His mercy and His forgiveness. While we were bumbling sinners, He reached out to us and saved us from ourselves. For that we are, and will always be, thankful!

8 August, Tuesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

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

_________________

Numbers 12:1-13

Miriam, and Aaron too, spoke against Moses in connexion with the Cushite woman he had taken. (For he had married a Cushite woman.) They said, ‘Has the Lord spoken to Moses only? Has he not spoken to us too?’

The Lord heard this. Now Moses was the most humble of men, the humblest man on earth. Suddenly, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting.’ They went, all three of them, and the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam and they both came forward. The Lord said, ‘Listen now to my words: If any man among you is a prophet I make myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses: he is at home in my house; I speak with him face to face, plainly and not in riddles, and he sees the form of the Lord. How then have you dared to speak against my servant Moses?’

The anger of the Lord blazed out against them. He departed, and as soon as the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam a leper, white as snow! Aaron turned to look at her; she had become a leper.

Aaron said to Moses: ‘Help me, my lord! Do not punish us for a sin committed in folly of which we are guilty. I entreat you, do not let her be like a monster, coming from its mother’s womb with flesh half corrupted.’

Moses cried to the Lord, ‘O God,’ he said ‘please heal her, I beg you!’

___________________

Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14

Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem came to Jesus and said, ‘Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat food.’ He called the people to him and said, ‘Listen, and understand. What goes into the mouth does not make a man unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes him unclean.’

Then the disciples came to him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked when they heard what you said?’ He replied, ‘Any plant my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them alone. They are blind men leading blind men; and if one blind man leads another, both will fall into a pit.’

____________________

“Now Moses himself was by far, the meekest man on the face of the earth”

Popular culture would have us believe that the heroes of Scripture were these larger than life beings who did God’s work astride blazing chariots, while commanding the elements of nature. The reality of it is that they lived very much like us, battling doubt, exhaustion, uncertainty, frustration, false confidence and the stress of constant problem-solving.

Moses was an Egyptian prince who, in a moment of morally-driven impulsiveness, gave up his cushy life at court to become a fugitive (Exodus 2:11-15). He didn’t choose to leave, he fled for his life. At the burning bush, the work of God was thrust upon him, despite his protests that God find someone else (Exodus 3:1-4:17). And while leading the Hebrews through that vast and arid desert, he experienced constant frustration (Exodus 17:4, the water at Meribah), anger (Exodus 32:19-20, the molten calf) and despair (Exodus 14:5, rebellion at Kadesh) at their stubbornness. Peter was a simple fisherman by trade. Though he was chosen by Christ to be “the rock upon which I will build my church”, Peter was prone to fear and faithlessness (Matt 14:28-31, walking and falling into the water), spiritual denseness (Matt 15:16, not comprehending the true meaning of being unclean) and false grandiosity (Matt 26:33-34, “Even though all doubt you and fall, I will never fall”).

These were very human individuals, with the same failings we all share; ordinary people, who went on to achieve extraordinary things, despite their flaws. God did not choose the great leaders and kings of their time to carry out his work. He anointed the humble, the lowly, the least amongst people, the outcasts, the minorities. Before they went on to achieve greatness for Him, they faced themselves, acknowledged their own demons and then let God mould them to His needs. The enormity of our responsibilities can sometimes overwhelm us; the road ahead is littered with unpaid bills, insurmountable challenges and impossible demands on our time and energy. We know we’re coming up short and everyone around us is being short-changed. But are we too hard on ourselves? A humble fisherman who denied Christ three times became the foundation upon which God’s church has flourished. An orphan and a fugitive led a great people across uncrossable terrain, into a land of milk and honey. What would God achieve with us if we only gave Him – and ourselves – the chance to try?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for His guidance to make good decisions for ourselves and our families. It is only through Him that we are able to realize the full range of our possibilities.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s mercy and forgiveness, for all the times we have fallen short and denied Him in our lives.

7 August, Monday – On Discontent

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

_________________

Numbers 11:4-15

The sons of Israel began to wail, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ they said. ‘Think of the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! Here we are wasting away, stripped of everything; there is nothing but manna for us to look at!’

The manna was like coriander seed, and had the appearance of bdellium. The people went round gathering it, and ground it in a mill or crushed it with a pestle; it was then cooked in a pot and made into pancakes. It tasted like cake made with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night-time, the manna fell with it.

Moses heard the people wailing, every family at the door of its tent. The anger of the Lord flared out, and Moses greatly worried over this. And he spoke to the Lord:

‘Why do you treat your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour with you, so that you load on me the weight of all this nation? Was it I who conceived all this people, was it I who gave them birth, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, like a nurse with a baby at the breast, to the land that I swore to give their fathers”? Where am I to find meat to give to all this people, when they come worrying me so tearfully and say, “Give us meat to eat”? I am not able to carry this nation by myself alone; the weight is too much for me. If this is how you want to deal with me, I would rather you killed me! If only I had found favour in your eyes, and not lived to see such misery as this!’

___________________

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.

____________________

“…Five loaves and two fish are all we have here”

John 6:27 reminds us, “do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”. How often we forget that when we obsess over the minutiae. I have started to plan this year’s Thanksgiving dinner – yes, I am ‘that person’, the super planner, the pedant in the kitchen! I realize that in my OCD-driven need for absolute perfection, the meaning of why we are celebrating Thanksgiving could get lost in the shuffle. Like the Hebrews in the desert, their rabid fixation on mindless detail (“the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic”) obscured the true miracle of their circumstances – they were still alive! And they were free men!

In Scripture, food and wine are used as vehicles of God’s power and grace – the bread and wine of redemption at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30); the water that changed to wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11); the large catch of fish which moved Peter to leave it all behind to follow Christ (Luke 5:6-10). These were all epiphanies but only those with the gift of faith were able to perceive their significance. Not all who have eyes shall see; and that is a universal truth. The Hebrews complained about the inconvenience of their nomadic life despite being liberated from their taskmasters. They even criticized the manna from heaven, itself a daily reminder of the miracle of their salvation. The Psalmist nails it when he says, “I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts; they walked according to their own counsels”. In contrast, the reading from Matthew tells of how five loaves and two fish fed the multitude of faithful that had gathered before Jesus. “And they all ate, and everyone had enough” (Matt 14:20). It was simple food, but under those circumstances, it was a miraculous blessing – and everyone was satisfied.

In our chase for perfection, there is always more to covet after. We are always comparing, always complaining, always benchmarking. But do we really ‘see’ ourselves and our circumstances? Are we aware of where we’ve come from? Are we grateful for it? Humbled by it? Or is our first reflex to find fault, complain and be filled with discontent? Hold up the mirror, look long and hard. What you see might surprise you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s forgiveness for all the times we’ve missed the woods for the trees. Give us a heart of self-awareness and humility, that we may always be grateful for the miracles in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings of family, friends, faith and community.