Category Archives: Ordinary Time

4 December, Monday – Humbling Help

Dec 4 – Memorial for St. John Damascene, priest, doctor of the Church

John was born in Damascus about 675. After holding public office for a time, he withdrew to the monastery of Sabas near Jerusalem. He wrote The Fount of Wisdom, in which he presented a comprehensive teaching on Christian doctrine, which had great influence on later theology. He died about 750.

– the Weekday Missal

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come the mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills.

All the nations will stream to it, peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles.

Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

 

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will 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 this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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No more training for war

As we are surrounded by media coverage of war, political disagreements, domestic violence and occasional terror attacks, both domestic and international, we cannot help but wonder how dangerous the world can be. We must be there to embrace peace as best as we can. How will it be like when there is no need to train for war? We Singaporean boys will not need to spend our two years training as soldiers. Unfortunately, this will never be the case as there is always greed and hunger for power around the world. No matter how philantrophic one is, a businessman will always be a businessman, greedy politicians will always surface, asking for more than the previous one.

How has today’s faithful soldier taught us about faith? Despite all the hatred and political unrest between states and cultures, the Centurion approached Jesus in time of need and help. Think back on the time when someone has asked you for help, or you have required help from someone. It definitely would not have been a random person, but someone who you have faith in having the ability to assist you. It is that little faith that we have in others that gradually grows to harmony and peace. Jesus found the approach by the Centurion a very humbling one. In terms of authority and power, the Centurion is very much a middle management staff and yet he approached Jesus, a Jew, for the miracles that he believed in.

At Holy Communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof.” Before we receive Jesus into our body, we are to humble and make clean ourselves, and with the faith that we have, no matter how small, we are inviting Him to whole-heartedly enter into our lives. We look forward to a new week ahead of us, knowing that God is in us to go through it all, with no fears and no hesitation to ask for the Lord’s help when we are lost.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Make us humble, O Lord, that we do not look inwards to ourselves, but to look outwards, doing good unto others.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to those who have helped us, we pray for the faith of others.

2 December, Saturday – Holding Your Head Up

2 December 2017

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Daniel 7:15-27

I, Daniel, was deeply disturbed and the visions that passed through my head alarmed me. So I approached one of those who were standing by and asked him to tell me the truth about all this. And in reply he revealed to me what these things meant. “These four great beasts are four kings who will rise from the earth. Those who are granted sovereignty are the saints of the Most High, and the kingdom will be theirs for ever, for ever and ever.” Then I asked to know the truth about the fourth beast, different from all the rest, very terrifying, with iron teeth and bronze claws, eating, crushing and trampling underfoot what remained; and the truth about the ten horns on its head – and why the other horn sprouted and the three original horns fell, and why this horn had eyes and a mouth that was full of boasts, and why it made a greater show than the other horns. This was the horn I had watched making war on the saints and proving the stronger, until the coming of the one of great age who gave judgement in favour of the saints of the Most High, when the time came for the saints to take over the kingdom. This is what he said:

‘The fourth beast is to be a fourth kingdom on earth, different from all other kingdoms. It will devour the whole earth, trample it underfoot and crush it.

As for the ten horns: from this kingdom will rise ten kings, and another after them; this one will be different from the previous ones and will bring down three kings; he is going to speak words against the Most High, and harass the saints of the Most High.

He will consider changing seasons and the Law, and the saints will be put into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.

But a court will be held and his power will be stripped from him, consumed, and utterly destroyed.

And sovereignty and kingship, and the splendours of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High.

His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty and every empire will serve and obey him.’

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Luke 21:34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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“…to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

It is sad that even within a praying family, betrayal can occur because of greed. The phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’ has begun to mean less to me after what I have witnessed over the past month or so. Jesus’ warning to His disciples to “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life…” rings ever so true in today’s dog-eat-dog world.

Yet when you consider the desperate circumstances people find themselves in, can you blame them for being ruthless if it becomes a matter of survival? Where does one draw the line? I think that in times of desolation, people make decisions which they eventually live to regret because behind them is a distinct lack of trust in God’s providence.

I believe that is what Jesus means when He exhorts for us to “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen…” He means for us to actually go through the trials that come our way, trusting fully that God will be there to guide us through the fire so that we emerge victorious in faith, rather than succumbing to the ways of the world (and the Devil) and taking the most obvious way out; even if it means turning your back on a loved one and hurting them in the process.

Brothers and sisters, the path of least resistance is never the best solution to our woes. Because that is what the Devil wants us to choose — to forget about God and to rely on our own strength, or the strength of others (be it spiritual, financial or emotional). In doing so, we inevitably end up causing more hurt even though our own problem is solved. I recall a piece of advice given by a priest – that if your decision causes hurt to someone else, then it is not from God. For God always wants the best for all of us, not just for some of us.

And if we approach every difficult situation with a desire to give life to the other party, we will be able to stand before God confident that we have been His true sons and daughters.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer I pray for all the families who have been torn apart by greed, pride, anger and envy. That God will allow His healing graces to flow over all the wounds and hurts accumulated over time so that reconciliation can begin.

Thanksgiving Heavenly Father, we thank you for your words of life that sustain and encourage us to never give up on love.

1 December, Friday – The Power of His Word

1 December 2017

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Daniel 7:2-14

I, Daniel, have been seeing visions in the night. I saw that the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea; four great beasts emerged from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings; and as I looked its wings were torn off, and it was lifted from the ground and set standing on its feet like a man; and it was given a human heart. The second beast I saw was different, like a bear, raised up on one of its sides, with three ribs in its mouth, between its teeth. “Up!” came the command “Eat quantities of flesh!” After this I looked, and saw another beast, like a leopard, and with four bird’s wings on its flanks; it had four heads, and power was given to it. Next I saw another vision in the visions of the night: I saw a fourth beast, fearful, terrifying, very strong; it had great iron teeth, and it ate, crushed and trampled underfoot what remained. It was different from the previous beasts and had ten horns.

While I was looking at these horns, I saw another horn sprouting among them, a little one; three of the original horns were pulled out by the roots to make way for it; and in this horn I saw eyes like human eyes, and a mouth that was full of boasts. As I watched:

Thrones were set in place and one of great age took his seat.

His robe was white as snow, the hair of his head as pure as wool.

His throne was a blaze of flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A stream of fire poured out, issuing from his presence.

A thousand thousand waited on him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.

A court was held and the books were opened.

The great things the horn was saying were still ringing in my ears, and as I watched, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and committed to the flames. The other beasts were deprived of their power, but received a lease of life for a season and a time.

I gazed into the visions of the night.

And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the one of great age and was led into his presence.

On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.

His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed.

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Luke 21:29-33

Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Think of the fig tree and indeed every tree. As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’

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“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

During a community discipleship group fellowship last week, our music ministry was called upon at the last-minute to do a 10-minute session. Naturally, those of us who had been at the worship leader workshop the previous weekend stepped up to volunteer. But instead of the usual practice session we do a few days before, we only had a few hours notice. I literally learnt the song at 4pm and we were due to meet at 7pm for a run through. Even our keyboardist, a classically-trained pianist, had never played in a band before!

As the Lord would have it, the worship that evening, though a little raw, was smooth and many of the ministry members felt the emotion and the spirit flowing. At the feedback session immediately after, our leaders gave constructive criticism and encouraged us to work together to iron out the kinks so that we would sound more ‘together’. This got me thinking about technique and how it truly is a fine line between worship and performing. I am quite sure many worship leaders tread the line very carefully and some even struggle to make the differentiation.

As a ‘newbie’, I am intrigued by how He has led me on this journey and shown me a different avenue with which to express my love for Him. And in having to learn the new song – Met by Love – He truly spoke to me and opened up my heart to appreciate His words rather than to just try and memorize a bunch of words. I think that is what many of us do when we try to ‘learn’ a gospel passage/verse or the lyrics to any song. We don’t search out the deeper meaning in order to appreciate what the author/writer/lyricist is trying to communicate.

Brothers and sisters, we read newspapers, blogs, postings, memos, letters, brochures and all sorts of other material on a daily basis. But when it comes to the word of God, many of us merely glance at or skim through the readings. We need to make an effort to internalise and appreciate the words which have been given to us by our heavenly Father, whether in verse, in song or in a parable. Let us not get too caught up in the form but learn to appreciate the meaning of each and every word so that we can always call upon them to help us know how much He truly loves us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer We pray for the grace of being able to remain still in order to discern the true meaning of your Word for each and every one of us.

Thanksgiving Heavenly Father, we thank you for your words of life that sustain and encourage us to never give up on love.

30 November, Thursday – The Simple Life

Nov 30 – Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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“…I will make you fishers of men.”

I recently attended a worship leader’s workshop, conducted by a youthful-looking praise and worship leader who had been invited to our centre to share his experiences since he discovered praise and worship when he was only 13 years old.

After spending 37 years travelling the world (and living in Europe for 19 years), he was now focussed on imparting his knowledge in a way which made me feel even more connected with God. Because rather than being anxious and fearful, wondering what songs to choose and how many to sing, he began the first night of sharing with just one song. And he also helped us (there were about 20 present) redefine what worship was while encouraging us to share our own feelings in pairs. At the end of the two hour first session, it dawned on me that worshipping the Lord could be as simple as long as we prayed from the heart. It didn’t have to be complicated!

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls his first four disciples – all fishermen. Not marketeers, lawyers, nor merchants. Just humble fishermen who the Church would eventually be built upon. These were the simple folk who were going to lead their flock to Christ – which is what worship leaders are called to do – to lead the congregation to a Christ-centred experience or encounter.

As I reflected on this idea, I began to realise that as God calls us to mission, all the more we need to be humble and simplify our lives. Because by allowing the complexities of the secular world to cloud our thinking and cripple our hearts, we are not allowing God to work through us effectively. I shared this recently during our discipleship group meeting and some of my brothers echoed the sentiment by recounting how, over the past week or so, they have been amazed by how God has sent them messages of simplicity. Encouraging each one to find his true voice in a simple melody, as opposed to a full-fledged song; by having to step up at the last minute and to lead worship with just a guitar and a voice. It is in those simple moments that we are able to discern the cry from our hearts and to bring God to our fellow brothers and sisters.

Christ’s call to each one of us is a simple one – “Follow me”. Two very simple words with a very profound meaning. Brothers and sisters, amidst the hurly-burly of our lives, are we truly able to hear the call of God and discern in our heart what His mission for us truly is?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer Dear God, give us the grace to embrace simplicity so that we can truly discern your voice in our life.

Thanksgiving Thank You Father, for sending giving us Jesus Christ, our Shepherd.

29 November, Wednesday – No Need To Be Afraid

29 November 2017

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Daniel 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for his noblemen; a thousand of them attended, and he drank wine in company with this thousand. As he sipped his wine, Belshazzar gave orders for the gold and silver vessels to be brought which his father Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the sanctuary in Jerusalem, so that the king, his noblemen, his wives and his singing women could drink out of them. The gold and silver vessels looted from the sanctuary of the Temple of God in Jerusalem were brought in, and the king, his noblemen, his wives and his singing women drank out of them. They drank their wine and praised their gods of gold and silver, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared, and began to write on the plaster of the palace wall, directly behind the lamp-stand; and the king could see the hand as it wrote. The king turned pale with alarm: his thigh-joints went slack and his knees began to knock.

Daniel was brought into the king’s presence; the king said to Daniel, ‘Are you the Daniel who was one of the Judaean exiles brought by my father the king from Judah? I am told that the spirit of God Most Holy lives in you, and that you are known for your perception, intelligence and marvellous wisdom. As I am told that you are able to give interpretations and to unravel difficult problems, if you can read the writing and tell me what it means, you shall be dressed in purple, and have a chain of gold put round your neck, and be third in rank in the kingdom.’

Then Daniel spoke up in the presence of the king. ‘Keep your gifts for yourself,’ he said ‘and give your rewards to others. I will read the writing to the king without them, and tell him what it means. You have defied the Lord of heaven, you have had the vessels from his Temple brought to you, and you, your noblemen, your wives and your singing women have drunk your wine out of them. You have praised gods of gold and silver, of bronze and iron, of wood and stone, which cannot either see, hear or understand; but you have given no glory to the God who holds your breath and all your fortunes in his hands. That is why he has sent the hand which, by itself, has written these words. The writing reads: Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin. The meaning of the words is this: Mene: God has measured your sovereignty and put an end to it; Tekel: you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; Parsin: your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.’

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Luke 21:12-19

Jesus said: Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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…I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom…

We recently came to a decision to split our cell group into two smaller sub-groups, in the hope that it would encourage deeper sharings as well as make organising the fellowships a bit less daunting and more manageable. Naturally, the leaders had a discussion among ourselves before consulting the ministry heads, who offered various suggestions on how it could be done.

The day came when the four of us had agreed to meet to discuss how we would manage the process of informing our fellow brothers and then agreeing on which route to go in terms of how we would split the 14 of us. And because it happened to be a day when most of the members were around, we ended up ‘drawing lots’ and ending up with both groupings within the span of 10 minutes.

That night, I slept fitfully. Something gnawed at me and two days later, I decided to message the other three leaders to inform them that I was not comfortable with the way we had proceeded to hurriedly do what was necessary just because 9 or 10 of us happened to be around. I felt that for such an important decision to be carried out, we had been too focussed on the outcome without really discerning the right process. So I offered to meet with the other members who had been absent during our ballot to get a better sense of how they were feeling about being part of our group and the way forward.

Two weeks later, we all convened again and, to the exasperation of some of the other members, I explained why I felt that we had to reconsider the way we had arrived at the sub groupings. After almost an hour of sharing, where I urged other members to open up and share their thoughts, we ended up settling for the previous decision. However, in speaking out and convening the meeting (at the inconvenience of some), I felt that we had done the right thing, regardless of what the outcome would have been.

Brothers and sisters, I thank God for my discipleship group of 14 spiritually alive and aware brothers. It is rare that frank, open and, at times, heated discussion results in something beneficially for everyone. In daring to speak about my feelings openly (I used to shun confrontation), I had nothing to lose because I was relying on the Spirit to lead us to whatever outcome was going to occur. And thankfully, all my other brothers eventually realised that and we achieved what we intended. I ask for your prayers for Albert, Alfie, Ben, Charles, Clement, Eugene, Gabriel, Gavin, Jason, Lionel, Nick, Philip and Sylvester. That as we embak on our new faith journeys, we are empowered to speak out our true feelings for one another.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer We pray for the gift of Wisdom; that You may always guide us in every thought, word and deed.

Thanksgiving Thank You for never judging us and for being our faithful Father.

28 November, Tuesday – A Time of Disruption

28 November 2017

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Daniel 2:31-45

Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, ‘You have had a vision, O king; this is what you saw: a statue, a great statue of extreme brightness, stood before you, terrible to see. The head of this statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet part iron, part earthenware. While you were gazing, a stone broke away, untouched by any hand, and struck the statue, struck its feet of iron and earthenware and shattered them. And then, iron and earthenware, bronze, silver, gold all broke into small pieces as fine as chaff on the threshing-floor in summer. The wind blew them away, leaving not a trace behind. And the stone that had struck the statue grew into a great mountain, filling the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will explain to the king what it means.

‘You, O king, king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given sovereignty, power, strength and glory – the sons of men, the beasts of the field, the birds of heaven, wherever they live, he has entrusted to your rule, making you king of them all – you are the golden head. And after you another kingdom will rise, not so great as you, and then a third, of bronze, which will rule the whole world. There will be a fourth kingdom, hard as iron, as iron that shatters and crushes all. Like iron that breaks everything to pieces, it will crush and break all the earlier kingdoms. The feet you saw, part earthenware, part iron, are a kingdom which will be split in two, but which will retain something of the strength of iron, just as you saw the iron and the clay of the earthenware mixed together. The feet were part iron, part earthenware: the kingdom will be partly strong and partly weak. And just as you saw the iron and the clay of the earthenware mixed together, so the two will be mixed together in the seed of man; but they will not hold together any more than iron will blend with earthenware. In the time of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms, and itself last for ever – just as you saw the stone untouched by hand break from the mountain and shatter iron, bronze, earthenware, silver and gold. The great God has shown the king what is to take place. The dream is true, the interpretation exact.’

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Luke 21:5-11

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’

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“…everything will be destroyed.”

I recently attended a worship leader’s workshop, conducted by a youthful-looking praise and worship leader who had been invited by our spitirual director to devote a weekend to imparting to some of us his experiences on leading worship. Naturally, some of the more ‘seasoned’ leaders were a bit sceptical but I could sense the mood in the room lift almost immediately after the two-hour introductory session held on a Friday evening after work.

For me, this was more than just a ‘wake up’ call because the trainer (let’s call him that) truly lived and breathed his vocation. He explained to us what worship was in no uncertain terms and said that as musicians/vocalists, we had no other choice but to worship God from our hearts because He had given us our talents. Of course, God has a wicked sense of humour and at the closing mass, the gospel of the day was the Parable of the Talents.

I came away thinking ‘Wow, if this is how our worship sessions will be like from now on, things are definitely going to change for the centre’. As for me, I would have to rid myself of the fears and anxieties that I had been harbouring all this while, after one of our worship leaders told me that I was going to be called upon soon to lead worship. Looking back, while I have been obedient in supporting the P&W sessions, I had become ‘comfortable’ taking a back seat and just taking direction from the worship leaders who have been at it for more than a decade.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a time of disruption, where old ways of doing things are being challenged and all our previous playbooks are being torn up. I’d like to suggest that even our faith practices need to be re-examined; that while we have our liturgical norms to anchor our practices on and adhere strictly to, we must be prepared that new forms of praise and worship may be more relevant in today’s context, especially for those of us who wish to evangelise to the youth. It was truly edifying to have been part of a weekend where we shared and mingled with our youth who were passionate, energetic and full of missionary zeal in spite of their troubles and shortcomings.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer Abba Father, help us to accept that we are meant to be your instruments of faith and to always rise up to the challenges we face, safe in the knowledge that You are with us.

Thanksgiving We thank you Father, for all the blessings you have given to us and especially for the talents you have blessed us with.

27 November, Monday – Giving Our All

27 November 2017

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Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched on Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hands, with some of the furnishings of the Temple of God. He took them away to the land of Shinar, and stored the sacred vessels in the treasury of his own gods.

The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to select from the Israelites a certain number of boys of either royal or noble descent; they had to be without any physical defect, of good appearance, trained in every kind of wisdom, well-informed, quick at learning, suitable for service in the palace of the king. Ashpenaz himself was to teach them the language and literature of the Chaldaeans. The king assigned them a daily allowance of food and wine from his own royal table. They were to receive an education lasting for three years, after which they were expected to be fit for the king’s society. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were Judaeans. Daniel, who was most anxious not to defile himself with the food and wine from the royal table, begged the chief eunuch to spare him this defilement; and by the grace of God Daniel met goodwill and sympathy on the part of the chief eunuch. But he warned Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king: he has assigned you food and drink, and if he sees you looking thinner in the face than the other boys of your age, my head will be in danger with the king because of you.’ At this Daniel turned to the guard whom the chief eunuch had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. He said, ‘Please allow your servants a ten days’ trial, during which we are given only vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our looks with those of the boys who eat the king’s food; go by what you see, and treat your servants accordingly.’ The man agreed to do what they asked and put them on ten days’ trial. When the ten days were over they looked and were in better health than any of the boys who had eaten their allowance from the royal table; so the guard withdrew their allowance of food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. And God favoured these four boys with knowledge and intelligence in everything connected with literature, and in wisdom; while Daniel had the gift of interpreting every kind of vision and dream. When the period stipulated by the king for the boys’ training was over, the chief eunuch presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king conversed with them, and among all the boys found none to equal Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. So they became members of the king’s court, and on whatever point of wisdom or information he might question them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.

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Luke 21:1-4

As Jesus looked up, he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; then he happened to notice a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.’

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“…she has put in all she had to live on.”

I was privileged to have been part of a Christ@Work conference last weekend where several Catholic business leaders were invited to give sharings on how they have managed to deal with spirituality at the workplace. One prominent chairman of two locally-listed entities was posed a question regarding temptation and how he had managed to deal with it during his tenure as CEO in a large local bank, as well as chairman of another well-known bank.

His reply was sincere and honest. He said that temptations abound at various levels in corporate life. Not just monetary but also ‘perks’ associated with travel overseas, as well as opportunities to sabotage other colleagues for personal gain or glory. And while steering clear of such opportunities is one obvious tactic, sometimes, it is inevitable that the opportunities present themselves due to the cultures associated with doing business (especially in certain countries).

He then cited the parable of the widow’s mite, how in spite of her poverty, she gave all she had. So in his mind, giving all he had meant sacrificing personal gain for the greater good of the organisation. Even if it meant he got a smaller bonus at the end of the year. “Easier said than done, especially for those of us who are not in such a lofty position,” would be the reaction.

But consider this, brothers and sisters, God has given us certain talents, some of which lie undiscovered or hidden (for whatever reasons). What will please God is for those of us who have discovered our talents/calling to then fully give back to Him what He has graced us with. For our God is a God of infinite generosity and there is nothing we can give that will surpass what He has given us in order to glorify Him.

So for me, today’s gospel is a clarion call of sorts – for me to truly examine myself and discern what it is that I have which makes me unique in His eyes. And then to live out His calling by giving my all in order to fulfil His plan for me; not to shortchange God by letting fear or ignorance rule my life.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you have created us and given each of us a purpose in life. Help us to discover our true identity and work towards fulfilling your awesome plan for our life here on earth.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for all that you have given us and for all that awaits us in your heavenly kingdom.

26 November, Sunday – Christ Our King

Nov 21 – Solemnity of Christ The King (falls on 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Christ The King is a title of Jesus based on several passages of scripture and used by all Christians. The name is found in various forms in scripture: King Eternal (1 Timothy 1:17), King of Israel (John 1:49), King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11), King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16), King of the Ages (Revelation 15:3), and Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (Revelation 1:5).

Many denominations including Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans and Methodists celebrate the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the liturgical year.

The ideological movement of Christ’s Kingship was addressed in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas (“In The First”). In it, he quotes with approval St. Cyril of Alexandria, notin ghtat Jesus’ Kingship is not obtained by violence: “Christ has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.”

Pope Benedict XVI has remarked that Christ’s Kingship is not based on “human power” but on loving and serving others. The perfect exemplar of that acceptance is the Virgin Mary, he pointed out. Her humble and unconditional acceptance of God’s will in her life, the Pope noted, was the reason that “God exalted her over all other creatures, and Christ crowned her Queen of heaven and earth”.

– Wikipedia

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Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17

The Lord says this: I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest–it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.

As for you, my sheep, the Lord says this: I will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats.

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1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet. And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.

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Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”

‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

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…for everything is to be put under his feet.

Last weekend, I was blessed to have been called to take part in a worship session at a conference organised by the Catholic Business Network. Called Christ@Work, it was a full-day conference featuring a keynote speaker from the US, as well as sharings by various Catholic business leaders here in Singapore.

The keynote presentations were extremely insightful and focussed on spiritual leadership at the workplace. Delivered by a former Jesuit who used to run the offices of a large financial organisation in various countries (including Singapore), I was inspired by his thoughts on what makes a good leader, especially the way he got the audience of around 600 to share their ideas openly.

At the end of the day, as Christians, we are ALL called to lead in one way or another. The fact that we are created means that God already has a plan for us and we are on a mission here on earth. Problem is, most of us let life get in the way and, in many cases, we start attributing the wealth and success with attain along the way to our own self. As one esteemed speaker recalled, the more successes he achieved, the worse his relationship with God became. Until one day, when his business failed and he had lost a huge amount of money, he attended LISS and discovered a small praying community, which helped his get back on his feet.

Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate Christ the King. If we acknowledge that Christ is indeed our King, then surely we have to acknowledge that we are His servants. Whether we are leaders, business owners, or in positions of authority or power, we are but subjects of an all-powerful, infinitely loving and merciful God. And we have been put here to do His will. What that is for each and every one of us can take a lifetime to discover, or for some of us, we may have already discerned His purpose for us. I believe that He has called me to serve through my music ministry and that He will be calling me again and again to worship Him openly.

I was also encouraged to play the violin for one of the mass songs and this was the first time in nearly 40 years that I was going to be playing on stage again; only this time, I had no score to refer to! But as I played the communion hymn, I felt a strong stirring in my heart to just allow God to flow through me and to cast aside my fears, to put everything into His hands. I think He is leading me on yet another journey, and I ask for your prayers to fully trust in His will.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer Jesus, our Saviour and King, we acknowledge your mighty and awesome presence in our lives. We trust that you will always know what is best for us and that your infinite graces will always save us from any harm.

Thanksgiving Thank You Father, for your loving presence in our lives.

25 November, Saturday – God Alone Knows

Nov 25 – Memorial for St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin, martyr

Catherine (d. 305) was a noble who was learned in science and oratory. After receiving a vision, she converted to Christianity. At the age of 18, during the persecution of Maximus, she offered to debate the pagan philosophers. Many were converted by her arguments, and immediately martyred. Maximus had her scourged and imprisoned.

The empress and the leader of Maximus’ army were amazed by the stories and went to see Catherine in prison. They converted and were martyred. Maximus ordered her broken on the wheel, but when she touched it, the wheel was destroyed. She was then beheaded, and her body whisked away by angels.

Catherine was immensely popular during the Middle Ages, and there were many chapels and churches devoted to her throughout western Europe. She was reported as one of the divine advisors to St. Joan of Arc. Her reputation for learning and wisdom led to her patronage of libraries, librarians, teachers, archivists, and anyone associated with wisdom or teaching. Her debating skill and persuasive language has led to her patronage of lawyers. And her torture on the wheel has led to those who work with them asking for her intercession. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

While there may well have been a noble, educated, virginal lady who swayed pagans with her rhetoric during the persecutions, the accretion of legend, romance and poetry has long since buried the real Catherine.

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints invoked with special confidence because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties. Though each has a separate feast or memorial day the group was collectively venerated on Aug 8, until the feast was dropped and suppressed in the 1969 reform of the calendar.

They are invoked as a group because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346-1349. Among its symptoms were the tongue turning black, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. It attacked without warning, robbed its victims of reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. Brigands roamed the roads, people suspect of contagion were attacked, animals died, people starved, whole villages vanished into the grave, social order and family ties broke down, and the disease appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. This group devotion began in Germany, and the tradition ahs remained strong there.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 Maccabees 6:1-13

King Antiochus was making his way across the upper provinces; he had heard that in Persia there was a city called Elymais, renowned for its riches, its silver and gold, and its very wealthy temple containing golden armour, breastplates and weapons, left there by Alexander son of Philip, the king of Macedon, the first to reign over the Greeks. He therefore went and attempted to take the city and pillage it, but without success, since the citizens learnt of his intention, and offered him a stiff resistance, whereupon he turned about and retreated, disconsolate, in the direction of Babylon. But while he was still in Persia news reached him that the armies that had invaded the land of Judah had been defeated, and that Lysias in particular had advanced in massive strength, only to be forced to turn and flee before the Jews; these had been strengthened by the acquisition of arms, supplies and abundant spoils from the armies they had cut to pieces; they had overthrown the abomination he had erected over the altar in Jerusalem, and had encircled the sanctuary with high walls as in the past, and had fortified Bethzur, one of his cities. When the king heard this news he was amazed and profoundly shaken; he threw himself on his bed and fell into a lethargy from acute disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. And there he remained for many days, subject to deep and recurrent fits of melancholy, until he understood that he was dying. Then summoning all his Friends, he said to them, ‘Sleep evades my eyes, and my heart is cowed by anxiety. I have been asking myself how I could have come to such a pitch of distress, so great a flood as that which now engulfs me – I who was so generous and well-loved in my heyday. But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land.’

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Luke 20:27-40

Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

Some scribes then spoke up. ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.

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“…because things had not turned out for him as planned… ”

In my early twenties and having been just baptised, I spent a lot of time contemplating the Catholic faith. I wondered about what was going on in the Church and in the world. I argued and thought about the things that would happen after I died. I thought about eternal salvation and tried to decipher who would be saved and who would not.

At mass one day, I heard the story about how St Augustine was walking along a beach trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity. There he saw a small boy running to and from the water’s edge to a hole in the sand, using a sea shell to carry water. When asked what he was doing, the boy answered, saying, “I am trying to move all the water of the sea into the hole in the sand!”. St Augustine laughed, thinking it was impossible. It was at that point St Augustine recognised that he was just like the little boy; only difference being that he was trying to fill his mind with God’s mysteries.

So many of us try so hard to figure out what will happen when we go to heaven. Despite all our scholarly studies and discourses, the reality is that only God knows. If I argued with someone else about, say, salvation and purgatory, does it mean that my viewpoint is correct if I am able to better argue my point of view?

Similarly, we plan our own paths in life, strategizing and working out ways to achieve what we want. Again, as our life experience shows us time and again, actual events tend not to conform to our plans. Again, only God knows what will happen exactly.

May we learn to be like little children sitting at our Lord’s feet. And like little children, we need to set aside our arrogance and self-importance and learn to be led.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we may learn to give up our own egos and our sense of self-importance. Help us Father, to always look to You for guidance.

Thanksgiving : We are grateful, Lord, for showing us that You are the true source of knowledge. Help us to continue to remember that.

24 November, Friday – Perfect Forgiveness

Nov 24 – Memorial for St. Andrew Dung-Lac, priest, martyr, and companions, Martyrs of Vietnam

Between the arrival of the first Portuguese missionary in 1533, through the Dominicans and then the Jesuit missions of the 17th century, the politically inspired persecutions of the 19th century, and the Communist-led terrors of the 20th, there have been many thousands of Catholics and other Christians murdered for their faith in Vietnam. Some were priests, nuns, or religious brothers. Some were lay people, some were foreign missionaries, but most were native Vietnamese killed by their own government and people.

Record keeping being what it was, and because the government did not care to keep track of the people it murdered, we have no information on the vast bulk of the victims. In 1988, Pope John Paul II recognized over a hundred of them, including some whose Causes we do have, and in commemoration of those we do not. They are collectively known as the Martyrs of Vietnam.

Andrew Dung Lac (1785-1839) was a Vietnamese priest who worked in the missions with the priests of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris (MEP). He was imprisoned and repeatedly tortured in the persecutions of Minh-Meng. He died with St. Peter Thi, beheaded in Hanoi for the offense of being a priest. He was canonized on 19 Jun 1988 by Pope John Paul II. He is one of the Martyrs of Vietnam.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59

Judas and his brothers said, ‘Now that our enemies have been defeated, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So they marshalled the whole army, and went up to Mount Zion.

On the twenty-fifth of the ninth month, Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, they rose at dawn and offered a lawful sacrifice on the new altar of holocausts which they had made. The altar was dedicated, to the sound of zithers, harps and cymbals, at the same time of year and on the same day on which the pagans had originally profaned it. The whole people fell prostrate in adoration, praising to the skies him who had made them so successful. For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering holocausts, communion sacrifices and thanksgivings. They ornamented the front of the Temple with crowns and bosses of gold, repaired the gates and the storerooms and fitted them with doors. There was no end to the rejoicing among the people, and the reproach of the pagans was lifted from them. Judas, with his brothers and the whole assembly of Israel, made it a law that the days of the dedication of the altar should be celebrated yearly at the proper season, for eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of the month Chislev, with rejoicing and gladness.

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Luke 19:45-48

Jesus went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling. ‘According to scripture,’ he said ‘my house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’

He taught in the Temple every day. The chief priests and the scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, tried to do away with him, but they did not see how they could carry this out because the people as a whole hung on his words.

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“My house will be a house of prayer. But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.”

The readings of today talk about purity. In the first reading, Judas and his brothers purified the sanctuary and dedicated it to God, while Jesus, in the Gospel of today, drove out the money changers and merchants who had made the Temple their place of commerce. Thereafter, He taught there every day, according the respect that should be accorded the Temple.

In the Letter to Corinthians, the Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies belong to God, and that we were purchased at a price; through Jesus’ crucifixion.

I think about the times that as a child of God, I have not lived my life as one. I have committed sins, spread gossip and behaved in ways unbecoming of a Christian. And yet, God has given us a way back to Him, and the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Just like the sanctuary and the Temple, we need to constantly rededicate ourselves to God, and to do it as often as we need to. Often, we allow the shame of our sins to stop us from doing so, despite the fact that is precisely what we need.

May we constantly keep our eyes on God and remember to return to him in contrition. We are in constant need for renewal and rededication.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, please take away our shame and allow the Holy Spirit to prompt us to return to You in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: Thank You for Your constant love and patience. We praise You and thank You for Your gift of forgiveness.