Category Archives: Ordinary Time

20 Jul, Friday – On Annulment

Jul 20 – Memorial for St. Apollinaris, Bishop & Martyr

According to tradition, Apollinaris was a native of Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria. He was made the first Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian (or Nero, depending on the source),

On his way out of the city he was identified, arrested as being the leader, tortured and martyred by being run through with a sword. Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to St. Romuald. He was a noted miracle worker, and is considered especially effective against gout and epilepsy.

– Wikipedia

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Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22,7-8

Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘The Lord says this, “Put your affairs in order, for you are going to die, you will not live.”’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and addressed this prayer to the Lord, ‘Ah, Lord, remember, I beg you, how I have behaved faithfully and with sincerity of heart in your presence and done what is right in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah shed many tears.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, “The Lord, the God of David your ancestor, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will cure you: in three days’ time you shall go up to the Temple of the Lord.” I will add fifteen years to your life. I will save you from the hands of the king of Assyria, I will protect this city.”’

‘Bring a fig poultice,’ Isaiah said, ‘apply it to the ulcer and he will recover.’ Hezekiah said, ‘What is the sign to tell me that I shall be going up to the Temple of the Lord?’ ‘Here’ Isaiah replied’’ ‘is the sign from the Lord that he will do what he has said. Look, I shall make the shadow cast by the declining sun go back ten steps on the steps of Ahaz.’ And the sun went back the ten steps by which it had declined.

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Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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“… how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering”

My husband and I celebrated our ‘first anniversary’ last week. We have been legally married for four years now, but it was only a year ago that we took our vows in God’s house. I didn’t wear a white dress, he didn’t wear a suit. There was no maid of honour, no ring-bearer boy, no audience of parents and loved ones. It was just us two, my RCIA directors, our parish priest … and God. This was the culmination of 3 years’ work, petitioning the Catholic Church for an annulment of his previous marriage. Divorce is a controversial issue, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to be more inclusive. As part of the annulment process, my husband faced multiple rounds of scrutiny. Our friends and family had to vouch for his character. He was made to see a Church-approved psychiatrist so a third party could attest to his state of mind. It’s heart-breaking enough to go through a divorce, but the Church makes you rehash all the reasons why your marriage did not work out. And you’re asked to justify yourself to a panel of complete strangers. Something like this will test your bond as husband and wife. It will make you think hard about the covenant you’re asking to enter into a second time. Why should the Church grant you its blessing if you couldn’t make it work the first time? Those are the hard questions that you’ll get asked, questions with no easy answers, questions that will make you doubt yourself.

I was deeply moved by how much my husband loved me and his devotion to his faith and God. No one can accuse him of not being ‘Christian enough’; it is no small feat to take on the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and to keep at it for quite so long. He soldiered on for 3 years despite all their pushback, until we got an answer he was satisfied with. I thought he was valiant, tenacious, inspiring, faith-led. The experience opened my eyes to the depth of his commitment to us and his faith in God.

There’s much debate about whether the Catholic Church should be more merciful to those who have been divorced. Is it Christian compassion to turn away those who yearn to draw near to God? Christ was not afraid to draw close to sinners, why should the Church not try to do the same? If ours is a God of second chances, why should that grace not be extended to divorced believers? But I am not here to judge or complain about the Church. On the contrary, I am thankful to have been confirmed a Catholic. We will all have doubts at some point in our faith journey. To never question and never falter is to not fully engage your faith. The struggle of the annulment process strengthened us as husband and wife. It was one of the most revealing experiences of my faith journey. It gave me a new appreciation for the gravity of marriage as a covenant. James 2:17 says that faith without deeds is dead; I firmly believe that to be the case. You’ll never fully live your faith if you coddle yourself from confrontation, or hide from life’s hard knocks. Yes, there were times when I grew disillusioned with the harshness of the Catholic Church’s responses, but I was also reminded that within God’s house are people who believe in mercy, who are truly selfless, who practice compassion even if the ‘rulebook’ states otherwise, who model Christ’s forgiving heart. I am humbled by all those who helped us along the way. I feel I owe them a great debt for opening my eyes. Yes, the annulment process is a contentious one. If you’re thinking about it, know that your resolve and your relationship will be tested at every step. But take courage and hold on to God… and hold on to each other. It can be a process of great revelation. You will discover things about yourself, your marriage and your faith that you would never have the opportunity to know otherwise. In its own way, it is a blessing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are dealing with divorce, who are struggling to move forward, who feel as if they are not worthy to be in Church. Christ came to heal the sick and the sinners. He redeemed us though we were unworthy. Christ has not given up on you, you don’t give up on Christ’s capacity to grant you a new life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who are led first by Christ’s love and compassion, who model His forgiving heart, whose gentleness speaks to great strength. We give thanks for all those that God sends to us, to help us when we are mired in the dark periods of our lives.

19 Jul, Thursday – Wisdom In Nature

19 Jul 

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Isaiah 26:7-9,12,16-19

The path of the upright man is straight,
you smooth the way of the upright.
Following the path of your judgements,
we hoped in you, O Lord,
your name, your memory are all my soul desires.

At night my soul longs for you
and my spirit in me seeks for you;
when your judgements appear on earth
the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity.

O Lord, you are giving us peace,
since you treat us
as our deeds deserve.

Distressed, we search for you, O Lord;
the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.
As a woman with child near her time
writhes and cries out in her pangs,

so are we, O Lord, in your presence:
we have conceived, we writhe
as if we were giving birth;
we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth,
no more inhabitants of the world are born.

Your dead will come to life,
their corpses will rise;
awake, exult,
all you who lie in the dust,
for your dew is a radiant dew
and the land of ghosts will give birth.

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Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

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“… for I am meek and humble of heart…”

There was a heatwave here in California last week. Temperatures soared through previous highs in many cities. My yard fought the weather shock valiantly, but everywhere I look now, there are clear signs of heat damage. My roses are withered on their canes, my lawn has been scorched a dirty brown, my trees are parched and stressed. It’s a sorry state! There is a silver lining to all this though. Dead chaff will be cleared to make way for new shoots, and the cycle of life will go on.

I’ve never had a garden before, never mind one with so much plant life in it. The simple truths of death and rebirth, sickness and health, struggle and plenty, are played out daily here. There is much wisdom in Nature, if you bother to look. We’ve noticed for instance that our bougainvillea and rose bushes, when starved of water and pruned, grow roots that are deep and strong, and shed leaves to bring forth an abundance of blooms.

The same cycle of regeneration can be applied to our spiritual lives. In today’s gospel text, Christ says that we are to learn from him, to adopt his humility and lack of pride – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart”. So often, the things that weigh us down are self-manufactured. We covet what we don’t have. We are slaves to our vanity, greed and ambition. We are envious, easily jealous, always reaching for more, always hoarding stuff. If we took on a more Christ-like approach to life, how many of those worldly pursuits would become unnecessary? Meaningless even? We don’t need to go on yet another fancy holiday just so we can keep up on Instagram. We don’t need this season’s ‘It’ bag (and we’ll save a pretty penny without it!). We don’t need to be the envy of our friends, to be seen to be doing things that, in all honesty, don’t matter all that much. We don’t need friends who love us just because of our material things. All of that is fleeting and meaningless. Like the roses in my yard, who rejuvenate when they’ve been pruned back, there is freedom and beauty in a more simple kind of living, in a life that isn’t bogged down by stuff, that is less about showing off than it is about showing up.

There is much wisdom in Nature. Maybe that’s the way God intended it?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness and discipline to prune our lives back so that only the things that matter occupy our hearts and minds. So much is superfluous, burdensome, unnecessary and exhausting. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many examples of how to live a beautiful life, both in Scripture as well as in Nature.

18 Jul, Wednesday – On Letting Go

18 July

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Isaiah 10:5-7,13-16

The Lord of hosts says this:

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger,
the club brandished by me in my fury!
I sent him against a godless nation;
I gave him commission against a people that provokes me,
to pillage and to plunder freely
and to stamp down like the mud in the streets.
But he did not intend this,
his heart did not plan it so.
No, in his heart was to destroy,
to go on cutting nations to pieces without limit.

For he has said:

‘By the strength of my own arm I have done this
and by my own intelligence, for understanding is mine;
I have pushed back the frontiers of peoples
and plundered their treasures.
I have brought their inhabitants down to the dust.
As if they were a bird’s nest, my hand has seized
the riches of the peoples.
As people pick up deserted eggs
I have picked up the whole earth,
with not a wing fluttering,
not a beak opening, not a chirp.’

Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it,
or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?
It would be like the cudgel controlling the man who raises it,
or the club moving what is not made of wood!
And so the Lord of Hosts is going to send
a wasting sickness on his stout warriors;
beneath his plenty, a burning will burn
like a consuming fire.
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Matthew 11:25-27

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
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“… for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike”

Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that whatever you do, you’re just spinning the wheels for other people, that all your toil is for nothing? Lately, I can’t help but get the sense that all the hard work I’ve poured into things has been for nought. When you give your best effort for people who are at best, ungrateful, at worst callous, rude and entitled, at some point you’re going to reach burnout. You’re going to ask yourself “Why?”. “Why should I take the high road when all I get is complaining, comparison and criticism?” “Why do I try so hard when all they do is find fault, when they constantly remind me of how miserable they are?” At some point, you’re going to draw the line. You’ll revolt. If you persevere and continue to put up with it, your body will do the revolting for you and you’ll fall ill. Either which way, something is going to happen to take you out of the game. It could be at work, at home, with extended family, with your own family. Imbalance finds a way to unwind itself, usually with painful consequences.

It’s a little ironic that the Gospel reading today comes right before Christ’s famous verse from Matthew, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Because the message of today’s gospel is about the gift of revelation, and Christ’s burden was anything but light. He carried the burden of all our sin on his shoulders, and as he marched onward to his death, he saw us for the weak, flawed, disappointing individuals that we were. God reveals wisdom to the few, and typically while they’re in the throes of great injustice and impossible circumstances. He’ll give you searing insights when you’re at your lowest point. You’ll have tremendous clarity of thought about yourself and the people around you. Like an out-of- body experience, you’ll find out who your real friends are, the ones you can count on, not the ones who wring their hands in helplessness or worse, the ones who berate you for not thinking of them or their feelings. “…For although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike”. God tells us that if our faith is childlike, as Christ was childlike on the way to his crucifixion, all will be revealed to us. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Maybe this is the essence of that ‘enlightenment’ which Jesus speaks of, that lightness of being that comes amidst great pain and suffering. You hurt, you suffer, your eyes are opened, you see, you gain knowing, you understand… and then you let it go.

I’m at that point right now with a lot of things – physically drained, emotionally exhausted, at the end of my rope. I’ve started to have searing insights into the people around me; some of it good, most of it not so much. So this is what Christ must have felt – that deep sorrow for his circumstances, the disappointment in the people he loved, whom he thought loved him back. I hurt, I suffer, my eyes are opened, I see, I know, I understand… now to let it go?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next (source : The Serenity Prayer)

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Christ, who tasted the bitterness of disappointment and despair, so we would have someone to hold on to when we ourselves were faced with it.

17 Jul, Tuesday – Natural Disasters

17 July

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Isaiah 7:1-9

In the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Razon the king of Aram went up against Jerusalem with Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, to lay siege to it; but he was unable to capture it.

The news was brought to the House of David. ‘Aram’ they said ‘has reached Ephraim.’ Then the heart of the king and the hearts of the people shuddered as the trees of the forest shudder in front of the wind. The Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go with your son Shear-jashub, and meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the Fuller’s Field road, and say to him:

‘“Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear,
do not let your heart sink
because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands,
or because Aram, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah
have plotted to ruin you, and have said:
Let us invade Judah and terrorise it
and seize it for ourselves,
and set up a king there,
the son of Tabeel.
The Lord says this:
It shall not come true; it shall not be.
The capital of Aram is Damascus,
the head of Damascus, Razon;
the capital of Ephraim, Samaria,
the head of Samaria, the son of Remaliah.
Six or five years more
and a shattered Ephraim shall no longer be a people.
But if you do not stand by me,
you will not stand at all.”’

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Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent.

‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’

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Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!

We’re having a record-breaking heat wave at the moment. Temperatures have breached the 100F mark in many communities in the Los Angeles area. As if that was not bad enough, the heat has been accompanied by severe winds. Stepping outside, it can feel like you’re entering a convection oven, like your face is about to be whipped off by the strong gusts of hot air. We can’t seem to catch a break here in California. We’ve been grappling with severe drought for the last two years. Then in March of this year, we had the forest fires, the floods and mudslides in Montecito. Now we’re again battling blazes in Santa Barbara and San Diego. The fragility of our existence is sobering and depressing. We think we’ve come so far, but really we haven’t at all.

Natural disasters are potent reminders of how small we are. For all our achievements, man is but a speck. If we survive, if we thrive, it is only through the grace of God. I am reminded of this as I watch the forests blaze on TV. I think of all the families whose fathers, brothers, husbands and sons are first responders and fire fighters. They’re out there risking their lives, making sure everyone is evacuated to safety. I also think of all the people who have abused California’s resources for private profit. I think of the people who have developed forest land where they should not have. I think of the corporations who have made themselves rich by subverting public water rights for private enterprise. I think of the people we have put in power, who lobby for the interests of big money instead of speaking up for the public good. Are we the architects of our own misery? Quite possibly.

Our cities are the modern-day Capernaum, Tyre and Sodom. Many of us are unrepentant, ungrateful, callous, self-serving. Even when we do get round to repenting, ours is a fleeting contrition. I am reminded of the plaintive words of Abraham – “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Genesis 18: 23-24). That’s our lot. In our dogged pursuit of profit and our own interests, we have forgotten all about God. Are there fifty righteous people amongst us, that God should spare our communities? I’d like to think so. I’d like to hope so. Watching these first responders try to save our communities, I am reminded that so much more is expected of us, yet we’ve all mostly fallen short. We each have a part to play here, to rise to the occasion when these things happen, to go to the aid of our neighbours, to be the righteous people for whom God would spare a city. Faith lived requires us to be a people of action.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those whose homes have been destroyed by recent natural disasters. We pray that God guides them through the difficult task of rebuilding their lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who work as first responders and volunteers. May God protect them from harm and bring them home safely to their families.

16 Jul, Monday – Not In God’s House

Jul 16 – Memorial for Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Church celebrates on this day the feast of the Scapular of Mount Carmel. The scapular, which derives its name from the Latin word scapulæ, meaning shoulders, is a dress which covers the shoulders. It is best known among as the name of two little pieces of cloth worn out of devotion to the Blessed Virgin over the shoulders, under the ordinary garb, and connected by strings.

The devotion of the scapular began with the Carmelites. During the 13th century the Carmelite Order suffered great persecution, and on 16 July 1251, while Saint Simon Stock, then general of the Order, was at prayer, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, holding in her hand a scapular. Giving it to the saint, she said,

“Receive, my dear son, this scapular of thy Order, as the distinctive sign of my confraternity, and the mark of the privilege which I have obtained for thee and the children of Carmel. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in danger, and a special pledge of peace and protection till the end of time. Whosoever dies wearing this shall be preserved from eternal flames.”

It is much to be wished that people should everywhere join this confraternity, for the honour of Mary and for the salvation of souls, by a life fitted to that end. In order to have a share in the merits of the sodality, every member must:

  1. Shun sin and, according to his state of life, live chastely.
  2. Say everyday, if possible, seven times the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
  3. Strive to serve God by venerating Mary, and imitating her virtues.

Though not binding under penalty of sin, the breach of these rules deprives us of all merit.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 1:10-17

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the command of our God,
you people of Gomorrah.

‘What are your endless sacrifices to me?
says the Lord.
I am sick of holocausts of rams
and the fat of calves.
The blood of bulls and of goats revolts me.
When you come to present yourselves before me,
who asked you to trample over my courts?
Bring me your worthless offerings no more,
the smoke of them fills me with disgust.
New Moons, sabbaths, assemblies–
I cannot endure festival and solemnity.
Your New Moons and your pilgrimages
I hate with all my soul.
They lie heavy on me,
I am tired of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands
I turn my eyes away.
You may multiply your prayers,
I shall not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood,
wash, make yourselves clean.

‘Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good,
search for justice,
help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan,
plead for the widow.’

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Matthew 10:34-11:1

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.
‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.

‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.

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“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”

I scurried into church and slid into a pew, just as Mass was about to begin. Traffic in Los Angeles is not to be scoffed at! Secretly jubilant about making it on time, I crossed myself and reached for the hymnal – and that’s when I noticed her staring angrily at me. Her with the perfect perm, pursed lips and fierce eyes. She glared ferociously at me and shook her head from side to side, indicating that I could not sit there. It took me awhile to grasp what was going on… and then it dawned on me. Pretty shocking really, considering 1) there was lots of space on the other side of her so she could easily have moved over; 2) mass had already begun; 3) we were in God’s house; 4) this was an affluent and educated community — the last place you’d expect to find racial discrimination. I gathered up my things and skulked away, hot and red-faced from hurt and embarrassment. I was mostly angry. I was angry that I didn’t have the presence of mind to call out bad behaviour as it happened. I walked away to avoid confrontation. I walked away to ‘save face’. But for whom?

Racial discrimination is something you read about, but until it happens to you, it’s not something you internalize. And until it happens to you, you have no right to an opinion what one should or should not have done in that moment. When that moment arrives, you’d be surprised at what you won’t be prepared to do out of fear, shock and embarrassment. I most certainly didn’t expect to see it in church. This is God’s house! I expect more of the place I worship, more of the people who profess the Apostles’ Creed and take communion. It’s been two weeks now and it still hurts. The words of the prophet Isaiah have never resonated more than right now – “bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me”. How loathsome must it be to God when it happens in His house! When it happens in church, it gives us Christians a bad name. No wonder my husband won’t go to mass. Who would, if they had to deal with this kind of hypocrisy? Is this woman aware how poisonous her gesture has been? I am indignant. I’ve spewed, sputtered and searched the Bible. Jesus says, “… whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”. Well, I dropped the cross that day by not standing up to her. I realize now how blind and complacent I’ve been. Why I ever thought this was someone else’s fight is beyond me. No one should have to endure this, especially in God’s house. I’ve walked around with my eyes closed for so long. I’ve been so blind and so naïve. It had to happen to me, for me to understand and empathize. Well, I see now. I’m not blind anymore. I see.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10)

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray that all who enter God’s house do so with a contrite heart, with full awareness of the solemnity of communion. Our actions reflect not just on us but on God and the faith that we profess.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the moments of lucidity that come when we are thrust into painful situations. We pray for God’s guidance, that we respond not with anger, but with wisdom and restraint.

15 July, Sunday – On Finding Your Vocation

15 July 

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Amos 7:12-15

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Go away, seer;’ get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel; this is the royal sanctuary, the national temple.’ ‘I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets,’ Amos replied to Amaziah ‘I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

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Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
Such is the richness of the grace
which he has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose,
the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning
to act upon when the times had run their course to the end:
that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head,
everything in the heavens and everything on earth.
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him,
have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation,
and have believed it;
and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise,
the pledge of our inheritance
which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his
glory praised.

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Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’ And he said to them, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

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“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two”

It’s been 5 years since I left my job. I was reminded of this when I tried to log into my LinkedIn account this week and couldn’t remember my password. I don’t even know why I keep a LinkedIn profile anymore. That life seems so foreign now. I miss some aspects of it – the adrenaline rush, the buzz when trade strategies worked, the organized chaos. I had always dreamt of working at a hedge fund, so when it happened, it was like living a dream – for the first few years at least. And then life happened, and my career path became untenable.

Trading did help me find my way back to God though, which is a little ironic since Scripture tells us how we are to be “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14-16). I started reading Oxygen around 2009, and writing for it in 2010, just as the global financial crisis was beginning to trough. The whole concept of ‘reaching a trough’ is entirely backward looking. When you’re in the ‘trough’, there are few signs around to assure you that things are about to get better. Quite the opposite – my time in 2008-2010 was spent obsessing about how many months’ mortgage cover I had in my savings account. I watched people get fired around me. My boss got fired. I miraculously survived.

I’m a full-time housewife now. To my own surprise, I left my job, moved countries, got married and became stepmother to two lovely young adults. We got a dog, whose devotion reminds me daily how much farther you’ll get with love than ambition (he rules the roost, whether he intends to or not). People often ask, “What do you do?” and look terribly disappointed when I tell them that I am a housewife. Like Amos’ statement, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores”, there is something decidedly unglamorous and underachieving about tending a flock, or a garden, or a home. I myself chafed against the notion at first. But then I realized that there is a difference between one’s ‘career’ and one’s ‘vocation’. When the two intersect, you can have a long and satisfying career. When they don’t, is when you run into all kinds of issues with fulfilment – as I did towards the end. A career is something you choose for yourself; a vocation is what God chooses for you. You are called to a vocation. Jesus, ‘summoned’ his disciples. Amos was taken from following the flock and tending to sycamores, called by God to be a prophet. All the apostles had day jobs, but were called elsewhere to their life’s vocation.

As stepmother to a newly-minted college graduate, I know that the stress to find a job is real. This is when the rubber hits the road. If I could go back and tell my impatient twenty-year-old self something, it would be this — to be patient, to have fortitude, to be aware and vigilant. I would tell her to quieten her own ambition and listen instead, for the whispering voice of God. I would tell her to open her heart to instruction, to allow herself to be coached, to not bail for short-term gain. Because true and lasting fulfilment comes only when your dreams intersect with the will of God. And finding that vocation can sometimes take you the better part of a lifetime. But oh boy, is it going to be worth it in the end!!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are seeking employment or who may be trying to discern their vocation. We pray that God will help them to make good decisions. We ask that He send them mentors who will help them find their way.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks not just to all the doors that were open to us, but also for those that were closed in our face. There is blessing too in the path not taken, the path that would have led to certain destruction.

14 July, Saturday – Fear Not

Jul 14 – Memorial for St. Camillus de Lellis, Priest

St. Camillus (1550-1614) used to be a gambling addict. He lost so much, he had to take a job working construction on a building belonging to the Capuchins; they converted him. Because of a persistent injury, he moved into San Giacomo Hospital for the incurable, and eventually became its administrator.

Lacking education, he began to study with children when he was 32 years old. St. Camillus founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick (the Camellians) who care for the sick both in hospital and home. He honoured the sick as living images of Christ, and hoped that the service he gave them did penance for his wayward youth.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings: two to cover its face, two to cover its feet, and two for flying.

And they cried out to one another in this way,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.
His glory fills the whole earth.’

The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said:

‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said:

‘See now, this has touched your lips,
your sin is taken away,
your iniquity is purged.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:

‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’

I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’

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Matthew 10:24-33

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, what will they not say of his household?

‘Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.

‘So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’

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everything that is now covered will be uncovered…

A master is known to be knowledgeable about something. Usually, they are older because as they age, they gain experience and therefore they become wiser. In the gospel for today, Jesus is the master. He instructed the apostles that “the disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master.” It teaches the apostles that they must live like Jesus while staying humble. After learning from the teacher, a disciple must never think that he is better than his teacher. It also teaches that a slave must also strive harder to not remain a slave forever. He should work and learn more to become a master as well.

Another instruction of Jesus is for the apostles to not be afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, what we do not know scares us. Jesus says to the apostles, “everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.” Whatever it is that they do not know, they will know. This is only possible because of our faith in God. Our faith must always be greater than our fears. It is our weapon and shield to fight our greatest fears. Our God is all- knowing and if ever there are moments of doubt, let us pause and pray. Let us remember that God is always with us. If we live for Him, He stays within us. If we do otherwise, then our life will go astray.

God has great plans for us. We must always be ready to do His will. At times, our vision may seem fogged. But eventually, everything will be clearer. There will really be moments that we cannot understand. But in the right time, everything will be unfolded. It is our strong faith that will keep us moving forward though there will sometimes be a slight hesitance in our hearts. We must always remember that all that we do will bear fruit.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please help us keep our faith to drive out all our fears. Give us the courage to face everything that is in store for us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for calling us to follow you. We may be unworthy, but it is through Jesus that we can be the best we can.

13 July, Friday – Sheep And Doves

Jul 13 – Memorial for St. Henry II

Henry II (972–1024) was the son of Gisella of Burgundy and Henry II the Quarrelsome, Duke of Bavaria. He was educated at the cathedral school in Hildesheim by Bishop Wolfgang of Regensburg. He became Duke of Bavaria himself in 995 upon his father’s death, which ended Henry’s thoughts of becoming a priest. He ascended to the throne of Germany in 1002, and was crowned King of Pavia, Italy on 15 May 1004. He married St. Cunegunda, but was never a father. Some sources claim the two lived celibately, but there is no evidence either way.

Henry’s brother rebelled against his power, and Henry was forced to defeat him on the battlefield, but later forgave him, and the two reconciled. Henry was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1014 by Pope Benedict VIII; he was the last of the Saxon dynasty of emperors. He founded schools, quelled rebellions, protected the frontiers, worked to establish a stable peace in Europe, and to reform the Church while respecting its independence.

He fostered missions, and established Bamberg, Germany as a centre for missions to Slavic countries. He started the construction of the cathedral at Basel, Switzerland; it took nearly 400 years to complete. Both Henry and St. Cunegunda were prayerful people, and generous to the poor.

At one point he was cured of an unnamed illness by the touch of St. Benedict of Nursia at Monte Cassino. He became somewhat lame in his later years. Following Cunegunda’s death, he considered becoming a monk, but the abbot of Saint-Vanne at Verdun, France refused his application, and told him to keep his place in the world where he could do much good for people and the advancement of God’s kingdom.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 14:2-10

The Lord says this:

Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.

Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.

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Matthew 10:16-23

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.

‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you. ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’

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..I am sending you out like sheep among wolves…

Ever imagined yourself as a sheep and there were hungry wolves staring and grinning at you? That can really be scary. Jesus already foretold to the apostles that they would be facing a very challenging life. But even so, they had to overcome those challenges. They were instructed to be “cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves”. It is like being smart, yet staying humble.

Christ assured them about not having to worry about any hardship that they were going to face. “Whatever they are to say will be given to them when the time comes; because it is not them who will be speaking; the Spirit of the Father will be speaking in them.” The grace to know what they had to do would be granted to them in due time.

Jesus laid down all kinds of things that they will encounter. Their responses to those situations matters. “The man who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Can we also stand firm? Following Christ is a fulfilling yet uneasy task. It cannot just be like, “Voila! I followed Jesus!” It takes work, dedication, and grace from God. It is through Jesus Christ that we can stand firm to give glory to God. It is very easy to say, “Jesus I love you. Everything I do, all for You!” But are we actually doing something for Jesus? Do we admit that we are Catholics when other people ask? Do we stick with our Catholic faith even if other religions ridicule us? Are we able to explain that we are not worshipping idols? Defending our faith is not our work alone. The grace of God is poured upon us for us to stand up and defend our faith.

Most of the time, we worry about our own personal concerns. We think about our current hardships, our own fears and worries. Sometimes, we may feel that we are about to give up and surrender to what we believe in. As long as we put Christ in the midst of what we do, we will have the strength to surpass everything. Easier said and done. But nothing beats the power of prayer, faith, and the grace of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, I will continue, O my God, to do all my actions for the love of you.

Thanksgiving: Ever dearest God, we thank you for giving us endurance to surpass all the trials that we face.

12 July, Thursday – Peace Be With You

12 Jul

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Hosea 11:1-4,8-9

Thus says the Lord:

When Israel was a child I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to them, the further they went from me;
they have offered sacrifice to the Baals
and set their offerings smoking before the idols.
I myself taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them.
I led them with reins of kindness,
with leading-strings of love.
I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek;
stooping down to him I gave him his food.

Ephraim, how could I part with you?
Israel, how could I give you up?
How could I treat you like Admah,
or deal with you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils from it,
my whole being trembles at the thought.
I will not give rein to my fierce anger,
I will not destroy Ephraim again,
for I am God, not man:
I am the Holy One in your midst
and have no wish to destroy.

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Matthew 10:7-15

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep.

‘Whatever town or village you go into, ask for someone trustworthy and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his house, salute it, and if the house deserves it, let your peace descend upon it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you. And if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet. I tell you solemnly, on the day of Judgement it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town.’

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…let your peace come back to you…

The Gospel for today is a continuation of Christ’s instruction to the apostles. As I reflect on it more, the more we choose to follow Christ, the more it gets harder. Though they have the capacity to cure the sick and cast out evil spirits, they have to live simply. They have to do miracles for free. I believe that it is acceptable. But they are not allowed to bring any money at all. Not even a change of clothes and footwear. They will just have to rely to those people who would accept them in their homes. Nowadays, it is not very easy to welcome strangers in our homes, due to security and safety reasons. During the time of Jesus, it was the other way around. They were the ones who had to be more careful to “look for someone trustworthy and stay with him in his home.”

I think one of the highlights of their mission is bringing peace to the home that receives them. That scenario is similar when we give each other the sign of peace during mass. How do we say “peace be with you” to others? Do we really mean it, or are we saying it just for the sake of saying it? I hope we really want to spread peace to others. There could be someone who will benefit because of that very simple gesture. So next time when we attend mass, let us say “peace be with you” like we truly want to give peace to that person. We all deserve to receive genuine peace.

Even so, there will still be people who will not accept Christ. He promised that “it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah.” It denotes that we will not experience the worst scene ever again. This clearly shows how merciful our God is. As God is merciful Himself, we must also show mercy to others. We must be merciful like the Father.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father, please give us the grace to accept what you have given us. Grant that we may be able to produce fruits from these gifts.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the gift of faith. Thank you for those who accepted us as well as those who do not. Thank You for your mercy.

11 July, Wednesday – We Are Called

Jul 11 – Memorial for St. Benedict, abbot, religious founder

Born to Roman nobility, Benedict (c. 480–547) was the twin brother of St. Scholastica. He studied in Rome, Italy, but was dismayed at the lack of discipline and lackadaisical attitude of his fellow students. He fled to the mountains near Subiaco, living as a hermit in a cave for three years. He was reported to have been fed by a raven.

The virtues that St. Benedict (480-547) demonstrated as a hermit prompted an abbey to request that he lead them. His discipline was such that an attempt was made on his life; some monks tried to poison him, but he blessed the cup and rendered it harmless. He destroyed pagan statues and altars, and drove demons from groves sacred to pagans.

At one point there were over 40,000 monasteries guided by the Benedictine Rule that he wrote, which can be summed up as “Pray and work”.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12

Israel was a luxuriant vine
yielding plenty of fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
the richer his land became,
the richer he made the sacred stones.
Their heart is a divided heart;
very well, they must pay for it:
the Lord is going to break their altars down
and destroy their sacred stones.
Then they will say,
‘We have no king
because we have not feared the Lord.’

But what can a king do for us?
Samaria has had her day.
Her king is like a straw drifting on the water.
The idolatrous high places shall be destroyed –
that sin of Israel;
thorn and thistle will grow on their altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’
and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’

Sow integrity for yourselves,
reap a harvest of kindness,
break up your fallow ground:
it is time to go seeking the Lord
until he comes to rain salvation on you.

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Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows:

‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

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…proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand…

Would you agree that calling us by our name is very pleasant to our ears? When a person calls me by my name, I feel something special. How much more if it were Jesus Christ who was calling us!

Our gospel for today is about the summoning of the twelve apostles for their mission. We can only imagine how Jesus calls them one by one. That act itself was very special. They were specifically picked by Christ himself. I would really feel honoured if I had been with them. Another thing which is more honourable is that they were given privileges to have “authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.” But if we think about it more, great power comes with great responsibility. It may be a privilege for the apostles, but they also had to bear the weight that it carried.

The task given to the apostles is a bit challenging because Jesus instructed them to “not turn their steps to pagan territory, and to not enter any Samaritan town.” The pagan territory is the Gentiles, meaning they are not Jews while the Samaritans are half Jews and half Gentiles. I feel that Christ is telling the apostles to not go to a specific group of people. Rather, they must proclaim the good news to everyone.

It can be similar to us. Preaching is not exclusive to those ordained and religious. As lay people, we also shoulder the task to spread the gospel in our everyday life. Our statement that we are Catholics is not enough. We must act on it. Though it will not be very easy but doing good is habit forming. There will come a time that we are spreading the good news effortlessly. How can we do that? Do we say sorry when we accidently bump to a stranger? Do we offer our seat to someone who needs it more? Do we open the door for someone? Do we say ‘please’ and use kind words in our household? Do we easily forgive those who have wronged us? Those little acts of kindness go a long way. This will keep people believing that there is still hope in mankind.

“We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God!” – David Haas

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please give us the strength that we may only choose to do what You desire. St. Benedict, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father God, for calling us to do Your will.