Category Archives: Ordinary Time

5 March, Tuesday – Going Beyond 40%

5 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 35:2-15

A man multiplies offerings by keeping the Law;
he offers communion sacrifices by following the commandments.
By showing gratitude he makes an offering of fine flour,
by giving alms he offers a sacrifice of praise.
Withdraw from wickedness and the Lord will be pleased,
withdraw from injustice and you make atonement.
Do not appear empty-handed in the Lord’s presence;
for all these things are due under the commandment.
A virtuous man’s offering graces the altar,
and its savour rises before the Most High.
A virtuous man’s sacrifice is acceptable,
its memorial will not be forgotten.
Honour the Lord with generosity,
do not stint the first-fruits you bring.
Add a smiling face to all your gifts,
and be cheerful as you dedicate your tithes.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously as your means can afford;
for the Lord is a good rewarder,
he will reward you seven times over.
Offer him no bribe, he will not accept it,
do not put your faith in an unvirtuous sacrifice;
since the Lord is a judge
who is no respecter of personages.

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Mark 10:28-31

At that time Peter began to tell Jesus, ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.

‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

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Many who are first will be last, and the last first

I was reading this story about how this guy (Jessie) was running in a 100-mile (160 kilometres) race when he noticed an even bigger 120 kg man running the same race. The ‘big’ man did not have a typical build for ultramarathon running. Yet, complete it he did, despite breaking all the small bones in his feet.

Jessie subsequently hired this man to teach him the secret of his mental toughness. It was simple; when his mind told him it was time to quit, “he is only 40% done”.

While the anecdote above seems more suitable for a seminar on success, it does relate very much to our faith.

In the Gospel, Peter tells Jesus that the disciples have already given up everything to follow Him. While promising that all their sacrifices would be rewarded a hundredfold, our Lord Jesus also talked about persecutions when serving Him. This brings to mine Matthew 18:21-22, where Jesus told Peter that he needed to forgive those who sin against him. Not once, nor seven times, but seventy-seven times.

This passage tells me that as Christians, we WILL face challenges and persecutions and despite us thinking that we have given my all, it is our calling and our duty to continue serving our Lord and those around us.

Because in the end, once our days on earth are done, we are promised an eternal reward.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we may will be able to go beyond our own comfort zone and to serve You.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus for giving us Your all, even dying on the cross for us.

4 March, Monday – God and People above Things

4 Mar – Memorial for St. Casimir

Casimir (1458-1484) was a 15th century Polish prince who became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1471. He was third in line for the throne.

Hungarian nobles had prevailed upon Casimir’s father to send his 15-year-old son to be their king. Casimir obeyed, taking the crown, but refusing to exercise power. His army was outnumbered, and his troops deserted because they were not paid. Casimir returned home, and was a conscientious objector from that time on.

He returned to prayer and study, maintaining his decision to remain celibate even under pressure to marry the emperor’s daughter. He reigned briefly as king during his father’s absence.

He lived a highly disciplined, even severe life, sleeping on the ground, spending a great part of the night in prayer, and dedicating himself to lifelong celibacy. He had a great devotion to Mary, supported the poor, and lived a virtuous life amid the dissolute court.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Ecclesiasticus 17:20-28

To those who repent, God permits return,
and he encourages those who were losing hope.
Return to the Lord and leave sin behind,
plead before his face and lessen your offence.
Come back to the Most High and turn away from iniquity,
and hold in abhorrence all that is foul.
Who will praise the Most High in Sheol,
if the living do not do so by giving glory to him?
To the dead, as to those who do not exist, praise is unknown,
only those with life and health can praise the Lord.
How great is the mercy of the Lord,
his pardon on all those who turn towards him!

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Mark 10:17-27

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

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Who can be saved?

I recently came across two very different stories.

In the first, a man was working on his car when his three-year-old son took a screwdriver and scratched the car. Enraged, the man spanked his son’s hand, not realising that he was holding onto a spanner. The boy was hospitalised, and his hand had to be amputated. The man was distraught. Subsequently, he looked at his car and saw that his son was scratching out the words ‘I love my daddy’ across the paintwork.

In the next story, a man was driving his nephew in his newly-purchased car. The nephew was drinking a soft drink and inadvertently spilt it onto the car seat. The child was upset, but the man coolly took the rest of the can and nonchalantly poured it over the back seat.

Growing up, I had puzzled over today’s Gospel reading. I wondered what God had against riches and was even more confused when I realised a lot of Christians were extremely wealthy. I wondered how these people could go to heaven and why they were not doing anything about it.

It was only later that I realized what Jesus was talking about was the attachment that people have to their wealth. Rather than looking at these riches as gifts from God to be used for blessing others, these gifts become an end in itself, and people end up clinging to these earthly ‘treasures’. It is this attachment that makes it difficult to ‘enter the kingdom of God’.

Brothers and sisters, like the man in the second story, let us strive to place people above things, not things above people.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray, Father, that we may always place You first in our lives. Help us to focus our eyes on You, Lord.

Thanksgiving: Father, we praise and thank you for showing us the importance of detachment from our earthly wealth in our journey back to Your kingdom.

3 March, Sunday – Working on Ourselves

3 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 27:5-8

In a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind,
so too the defects of a man appear in his talk.
The kiln tests the work of the potter,
the test of a man is in his conversation.
The orchard where a tree grows is judged on the quality of its fruit,
similarly a man’s words betray what he feels.
Do not praise a man before he has spoken,
since this is the test of men.

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1 Corinthians 15:54

When this perishable nature has put on imperishability, and when this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the words of scripture will come true: Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. So let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Never give in then, my dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.

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Luke 6:39-45

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

‘There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.’

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The defects of a man appear in his talk.

I have been working on attaining a professional qualification and, for the past few months, have been attending nightly classes to master the material. I have met many amazing folks from various walks of life, all wanting to improve themselves.

As happens in life, we might come across people who may, for one reason or another, through no fault of theirs, rub us the wrong way. I found myself getting increasingly angry and agitated by two of these people, and without realising it, spent a significant amount of time getting angry and upset with them. In my mind, I kept thinking about how they should behave with others.

On a particular day, I was irritated when one of my classmates kept yawning loudly. Again, I whipped myself into a state of irritation. It was only later in the day when someone in the group mentioned that this classmate had stayed up the previous night because of a family issue.

I have never felt more ashamed of myself.

In the Gospel of today, our Lord Jesus talks about the planks within our own eyes. Too often, we spend time judging others, without realising that we could be carrying even more significant faults. The Lord teaches us that because we are all cut from the same cloth, we inherently are no better than each other. Rather than focusing on the faults of others, we need to work on removing our flaws. It is only by this work can we improve ourselves.

Brothers and sisters, this process of change, however, is not based on our strengths. Instead, we need to depend on our Lord Jesus, as through Him, we do not labour in vain.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that You may grant us the humility, and strength to face our own ‘planks’ and to remove them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, O Heavenly Father, for showing us the right path; to work on ourselves instead of focusing on the flaws of others.

2 March, Saturday – Rosie

2 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 17:1-13

The Lord fashioned man from the earth,
  to consign him back to it.
He gave them so many days’ determined time,
  he gave them authority over everything on earth.
He clothed them with strength like his own,
  and made them in his own image.
He filled all living things with dread of man,
  making him master over beasts and birds.
He shaped for them a mouth and tongue, eyes and ears,
  and gave them a heart to think with.
He filled them with knowledge and understanding,
  and revealed to them good and evil.
He put his own light in their hearts
  to show them the magnificence of his works.
They will praise his holy name,
  as they tell of his magnificent works.
He set knowledge before them,
  he endowed them with the law of life.
Their eyes saw his glorious majesty,
  and their ears heard the glory of his voice.
He said to them, ‘Beware of all wrong-doing’;
  he gave each a commandment concerning his neighbour.
Their ways are always under his eye,
  they cannot be hidden from his sight.

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Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

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He gave them so many days’ determined time, he gave them authority over everything on earth.

We had a death in the family just before Christmas. Our niece, Rosie, passed away in her sleep. One day she was a hopeful 26-yr-old planning a new life with her fiancé, the next she had slipped away. It’s been a surreal few months. I have not reconciled myself to the fact that she is gone. It doesn’t seem real. When God decides to take a young person back to Himself, it is as if the natural order of things has been broken. Though my head understands it is His prerogative, that I cannot know the when and why of His ways, my heart is having a hard time with it. And along with denial is a terrible sense of regret – regret over words spoken and unspoken, over intentions good and bad, over things I should have done and things I wished I had not.

One of the inevitabilities of grief is an awareness of time. This isn’t new territory for me, but I had allowed myself to let my guard down. Our time with someone is finite and it can get taken away from us. Quite brutally too. My father passed away 3 years ago after a long battle with cancer. With him, I had a long time to say goodbye, to bank as many beautiful memories as I could. And still, I was careless and our last words were angry ones. After he died, I told myself that I would henceforth be more watchful over my tongue and my thoughts. Yet my last thoughts of Rosie were, if not angry, then certainly frustrated ones. And oh, how deeply I regret that.

The gospel in Mark talks about how only childlike faith will grant us citizenship in the kingdom of God. I know this to be true because it is only with childlike faith and wonder that one is able to rise above the cynicism, scepticism and jadedness of adulthood. I had lost that wonder, not just with Rosie, but with a lot of other people in my life. Just before she died, I was going through what I can only describe as a very angry period. Now she is gone, I wish that I had tempered myself more. I wish that I had prayed more. I wish that I had overlooked more things. But it’s a little late for all that now. Regret doesn’t bring back the dead, it only fills the living with grief and remorse. I am glad that Rosie is back with God. At least she no longer has to deal with the likes of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for the self-awareness to be more restrained in both my thoughts and my words.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the time that I did have with my father and Rosie. I give thanks for all the memories, both the good and the bad.

1 March, Friday – Husbands And Wives

1 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 6:5-17
A kindly turn of speech multiplies a man’s friends,
  and a courteous way of speaking invites many a friendly reply.
Let your acquaintances be many,
  but your advisers one in a thousand.
If you want to make a friend, take him on trial,
  and be in no hurry to trust him;
for one kind of friend is only so when it suits him
  but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.
Another kind of friend will fall out with you
  and to your dismay make the quarrel public,
and a third kind of friend will share your table,
  but not stand by you in your day of trouble:
when you are doing well he will be your second self,
  ordering your servants about;
but if ever you are brought low he will turn against you
  and will hide himself from you.
Keep well clear of your enemies,
  and be wary of your friends.
A faithful friend is a sure shelter,
  whoever finds one has found a rare treasure.
A faithful friend is something beyond price,
  there is no measuring his worth.
A faithful friend is the elixir of life,
  and those who fear the Lord will find one.
Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends,
  for as a man is, so is his friend.

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Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’

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So they are no longer two but one flesh.

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on my own, is to sit and watch old married couples interact with each other. Whether at airports, in cafes, at the grocery store or in crowded restaurants, the miracle of an enduring marriage is something I think about a lot. What lives must they have led, to get to this point where they’re at peace with themselves and content just to be in each other’s company? What struggles and arguments must they have endured to know and love each other so much now? You can always tell the ones who are uneasily yoked – someone is usually rolling their eyes or making some backhanded remark. Granted, it is not easy to live with the same person for so many years. Why then, do some marriages grow strong with age, while others wither and die out?

It takes divine grace to go the distance, to build something that endures. Our first reading talks about how one is to discern one’s friends. Those same qualities apply to our life partner as well. Are they compassionate and trustworthy? Do they have our backs? Can they be found when we’re laid low? These are not the things that we consider in the first blush of romance. Rather, more weight is given to whether they ‘make us happy’, as if happiness were something to be traded and acquired.

I was very nearly married once, before I met my current husband. We were so young. He was someone who ticked all the ‘right boxes’, someone who on paper fulfilled the ‘requirements’ I thought would make for a happy life – the right pedigree, the right education, the right career path. No thought was given to whether or not we might be good companions for the long haul. We never made it to the altar. He and I faltered at the first hurdle, planning the wedding, and were exposed for the frauds that we were. You’re not ready to be married until you’re ready to sacrifice. And neither he nor I were prepared to yield even one inch for the other.

The enduring marriage is a miracle of God. It is a triumph of patience and sacrifice, a testament to love that puts the other ahead of itself. “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”– no longer the wants of their individual selves, but rather the shared hopes and dreams of both together. At the heart of it, the enduring marriage is a three-pronged relationship – husband, wife and God, all bound together by those beautiful wedding vows. “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate”. God bless all of our long-suffering husbands and wives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are about to take their marriage vows. We pray that God helps them to discern carefully, to understand the gravity of the decision they are about to make.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our husbands and our wives; for their patience, their humour, their love and the sacrifice they make daily, when they put us before themselves. We give thanks that we met them. We give thanks for the brightness that they bring to our lives.

28 February, Thursday – On Cucumbers

28 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10

Do not give your heart to your money,
  or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy
  to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’
  for the Lord will certainly be avenged on you.
Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’
  for the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness
  that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great,
  he will forgive me my many sins’;
for with him are both mercy and wrath,
  and his rage bears heavy on sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord,
  do not put it off day after day;
for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out,
  and at the time of vengeance you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains,
  they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

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Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples:
  ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

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Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.

Not many people know this but Saint Martha – patron saint of all who toil in the kitchen – was my confirmation saint. There is a lot to learn about God in the culinary arts. For instance — pickled cucumbers. Most of us take them for granted. Why bother with making them when Vlasic retails them for $3.99/jar? But if you did that, you would miss out on one of the great joys of eating. I learned how to salt and pickle fresh cucumbers from my mother. She would cut out the soft, delicate hearts, treat the firm outer flesh to an exfoliating salt scrub, then leave the cucumbers to ‘leak’ their excess moisture, before storing them in a bath of salt, vinegar and sugar. Pickled cucumbers were a mainstay in our house, adorning pan-fried pork cutlets, garnishing minced beef noodles, elevating fatty hunks of roast. I snacked on them by the handfuls. But it is only as an adult, through the filter of Scripture, that I have come to appreciate the lowly, pickled cucumber as more than instant gastronomic gratification.

In the Old Testament, the ‘Covenant of Salt’ (Num 18:19) was the covenant that God made with the tribe of Moses’ brother, Aaron, when He set them apart as priests of the Holy Sanctuary. The Hebrews at the time were an unenlightened, ungrateful people, incapable of approaching the Holy Sanctuary without being struck down by death and pestilence. Aaron’s family was the go-between, a line of priests set apart for serving God. Salt was used to consecrate all of the offerings in the Sanctuary. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he did away with all that and allowed us believers to return to God, to be His consecrated people. By God’s grace, we have been ‘salted’ and granted citizenship in His new kingdom. For our part, we are told to ‘keep salt in yourselves’ (Mark 9:50), to maintain a leanness of spirit, to not clutter ourselves with the distractions of wealth, power and fruitless desires (Sir 5:1-8). God wants us to remember why we have been consecrated.

There is much Scriptural wisdom in the culinary arts. Fresh off its vine, the cucumber might look glorious for a few days, but would end up rotting worthlessly at the bottom of our refrigerator drawer, if we did not bother to salt and pickle it. By losing some of its unwanted water weight, the pickled cucumber is transformed into something purer, leaner, crisper – and a great deal more enduring. The same can be said for us. We could all benefit from a little spiritual ‘salting’, an exfoliation of all the unnecessary distractions that drag us down. That which emerges is very likely to be leaner, purer and more spiritually pleasing to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s grace when we endure the struggles that serve to ‘salt’ our souls, so that we might be pleasing in His eyes.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His infinite grace and mercy, that while we were unenlightened, ungrateful sinners, God sent His Son to die for our sins and grant us citizenship in His everlasting kingdom.

27 February, Wednesday – Do Re Mi

27 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 4:12-22

Wisdom brings up her own sons,
and cares for those who seek her.
Whoever loves her loves life,
those who wait on her early will be filled with happiness.
Whoever holds her close will inherit honour,
and wherever he walks the Lord will bless him.
Those who serve her minister to the Holy One,
and the Lord loves those who love her.
Whoever obeys her judges aright,
and whoever pays attention to her dwells secure.
If he trusts himself to her he will inherit her,
and his descendants will remain in possession of her;
for though she takes him at first through winding ways,
bringing fear and faintness on him,
plaguing him with her discipline until she can trust him,
and testing him with her ordeals,
in the end she will lead him back to the straight road
and reveal her secrets to him.
If he wanders away she will abandon him,
and hand him over to his fate.

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Mark 9:38-40

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’

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Anyone who is not against us is for us.

I was recently asked if I could help by singing at a wedding mass, just a week before the actual wedding.  When I asked the bride why the last-minute arrangements, she said that the original choir she picked had some reservations about a few of the songs she had chosen. She said they were not confident that they could pull off two or three of them. In a nutshell, she ended up with 4 singers (myself the only male) and a pipe organist from the choir. I guessed that she wasn’t too fussed about the music and also learnt that the groom and his family were Protestants. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought to myself as I pulled up to the cathedral for the rehearsal two evenings before the wedding.

In the end, it all turned out well. The mass, celebrated by Msgr Vaz, was meaningful and his homily hit home. I sang ‘Ave Maria’ (it was my vocal exam song anyway) and we ended up not doing ‘Hallelujah’. At the end of the mass, as we chatted with the organist, we shared about how some of the songs were actually not usually done at weddings and why the original choir may have been a bit ‘hesitant’ as the only liturgical hymn was ‘We Remember’, which we did for communion.

As I drove home, I reflected on how we tend to get ourselves into a conundrum when choosing songs for Masses. For me, as long as the hymns fit the general theme of the gospel of the day, it shouldn’t matter whether they are liturgical or not. I know there are some choirmasters who would never pick a Don Moen song (for example) or something from Hillsong United. But at the end of the day, if they are songs that glorify God, then I don’t see how they can be inappropriate. Because if we are all worshipping with one heart and one voice, surely God will not nitpick.

I wonder if that is why some of our Christian brethren tend to think of us Catholics as ‘old fashioned’ and ‘traditional’. While I am absolutely for the rituals of the mass and all the strict traditions (which other religion can say that it celebrates the same sacraments in every country on each and every single day?), I hope that when it comes to our worshipping in song, we can be a bit more ‘relaxed’ so that we can truly sing from our hearts. After nearly 8 years in a music ministry that does P&W and constantly seeks to refresh our repertoire of songs, I have begun to understand the deeper intention of connecting through worship. That no matter how much one tries to hone his or her vocal technique, it is from within our hearts that true worship begins. As I continue on my learning journey in classical vocals and also begin another in leading worship, I wonder what doors He will open for me to step through and explore.

Brothers and sisters, the next time we attend a wedding at another church, take a glance over at the choir or worship leaders and see if they are singing from their hearts. You will certainly be able to tell very easily if indeed true joy is present in the singing.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we ask you to always open up our hearts as we worship you at masses and in the privacy of our homes. Fill us with joy to sing out your praises.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gift of song and for the gift of our talented brothers and sisters who practice each week and sing at our places of worship.

26 February, Tuesday – Getting in shape

26 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11

My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart, be steadfast,
and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Cling to him and do not leave him,
so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you, accept it,
and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient,
since gold is tested in the fire,
and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust him and he will uphold you,
follow a straight path and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
do not turn aside in case you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and you will not be baulked of your reward.
You who fear the Lord hope for good things,
for everlasting happiness and mercy.
Look at the generations of old and see:
who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?
Or who ever feared him steadfastly and was left forsaken?
Or who ever called out to him, and was ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful,
he forgives sins, and saves in days of distress.

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Mark 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.

They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

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“…prepare yourself for an ordeal”

This is going to be a milestone year for me at work. I would have started my tenth year in the organization this month and yet, we continue to grow and to achieve great things. We will be celebrating the year with various milestone events and I am preparing and planning ahead with my team to secure all the necessary key stakeholders for the various milestone events (seven in all). While it is no walk in the park, I believe that we are in a good position, having already secured budgets as well as senior management approval on the overall plan for the year.

I too know that this is the year where I will be expected to step up in ministry. This is where there is a degree of uncertainty that I am not generally used to, especially since I have been put in charge of one or two areas in our ministry. I guess this is what the more seasoned leaders will say, “Leave it to God.” And, unlike the corporate world where we determine KPIs in advance and get the whip out when things are not going to plan, we deal with a lot of ad hoc issues each week and talk about pretty much the same things in our monthly Core meetings. There is certainly a need for a lot more compassion and patience when it comes to ministry work.

And I am not 100% sure I am cut out for this leadership role. Not because I do not have the perseverance nor the determination to see things through. I just wonder whether I possess the right heart for this season in ministry. I am typically a go-getter – I will get something done to the best of my ability by rallying those around me and achieve what is needed within a set timeframe. However, when it comes to dealing with ministry members who are volunteering their time and effort, I just don’t have that same ‘drive’. I have had to bite my tongue a few times and to be more understanding when things have fallen apart or not worked according to the eleventh-hour arrangements that have been made.

So I have found myself wondering if I am that round peg in a square hole. One part of me wants to bring my ‘work’ self and drive excellence. Another part of me wants to just let God mould me and shape me as a significant contributor to this life-giving ministry that I have devoted 8 years to. Let Him take the lead and guide me along, because I know that backing away is not an option. I have found myself wondering if I am in the right shape to do the work that He is calling me to perform. Ordinarily, I would do a self-analysis of my skills and competencies but in this instance, I am not so sure that is what is required.

Brothers and sisters, while we strive hard at work to achieve our KPIs, volunteering in ministry may require a whole different mindset. The ‘fitness levels’ required are different and call for exercise in a different kind of gym. And while some of us may think ourselves ‘fit for purpose’, the work God calls us to do requires a fitness that only comes through regular prayer so that our hearts are able to expand beyond our normal human capacity. Are you truly prepared for the ordeals that will come your way as you toil in His vineyard?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father help us. We are mere mortals and lack the fitness required to perform what you ask. Give us the grace to rely on your strength and your infinite love for all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for blessing us always with more than we deserve.

25 February, Monday – In Desolation

25 February 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10

All wisdom is from the Lord,
and it is his own for ever.
The sand of the sea and the raindrops,
and the days of eternity, who can assess them?
The height of the sky and the breadth of the earth,
and the depth of the abyss, who can probe them?
Before all other things wisdom was created,
shrewd understanding is everlasting.
For whom has the root of wisdom ever been uncovered?
Her resourceful ways, who knows them?
One only is wise, terrible indeed,
seated on his throne, the Lord.
He himself has created her, looked on her and assessed her,
and poured her out on all his works
to be with all mankind as his gift,
and he conveyed her to those who love him.

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Mark 9:14-29

When Jesus, with Peter, James and John came down from the mountain and rejoined the disciples, they saw a large crowd round them and some scribes arguing with them. The moment they saw him the whole crowd were struck with amazement and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ he asked. A man answered him from the crowd, ‘Master, I have brought my son to you; there is a spirit of dumbness in him, and when it takes hold of him it throws him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and goes rigid. And I asked your disciples to cast it out and they were unable to.’ ‘You faithless generation’ he said to them in reply. ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’

They brought the boy to him, and as soon as the spirit saw Jesus it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell to the ground and lay writhing there, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ ‘From childhood,’ he replied ‘and it has often thrown him into the fire and into the water, in order to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can?’ retorted Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for anyone who has faith.’ Immediately the father of the boy cried out, ‘I do have faith. Help the little faith I have!’

And when Jesus saw how many people were pressing round him, he rebuked the unclean spirit. ‘Deaf and dumb spirit,’ he said ‘I command you: come out of him and never enter him again.’ Then throwing the boy into violent convulsions it came out shouting, and the boy lay there so like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him up, and he was able to stand. When he had gone indoors his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ ‘This is the kind’ he answered ‘that can only be driven out by prayer.’

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“This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer”

Despair, desperation and desolation — words that begin with the 3 first letters in my name. I have had occasion to deal with them over the past few months and while they aren’t pleasant states to be in, I believe that everyone will encounter them during their lives here on earth. When someone is in desolation, nothing you can say or do will cheer up that person. It is a season in their life that they are going through and they themselves have to work out their own timeline as to when or how quickly they are going to emerge from their private cocoon.

It is private; because in public, they might seem normal and alright. Someone in desolation is unlikely to adopt a ‘woe is me’ or ‘the world is against me’ sort of attitude in public. No one can understand their suffering because to those around them, there is probably nothing wrong with their life. They have a career (or not), a loving family (or not), a nice house (or not) and a decent bank account (or not). So what could be so wrong that nothing seems to provide any source of gratitude or solace to those in desolation?

I believe that people in desolation are living in a desert (there you go, those 3 letters again), where they wander searching for sustenance – an oasis or a well – so that they can quench their thirst for whatever it is they seek. It could be something as simple as an affirmation from a particular person at work (which may never come, especially if that person is several rungs above them), a windfall, or perhaps a reconciliation with a lost relative. It may never happen in their lifetime, it may require an intervention from someone else, or it may require divine intervention – the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.

If the person suffering is wandering around aimlessly, then he/she may be destined to do so for the whole of their earthly life. But if the person recognizes the dilemma they are in and takes active steps in seeking out a solution, there is a chance that they will emerge from this season of their life stronger and better-equipped to negotiate life’s challenges in future.

I am no trained counselor nor the most reliable of compasses in the grand journey of life. All I know is that people in desolation simply need us to be there and to listen. Most of all, they do not need us to judge nor react to any negative emotions because it is not personal. They just need to go deal with the sandstorms, the changing desert-scapes and the unrelenting heat knowing that we will be there to hold their hand and to be gentle with them when they need to put their heads down and rest for the night. Because each day is a new journey for them and until they see the glimmer of an oasis or the light reflecting off what could be water from a well, they wander about in hope.

Brothers and sisters, if you know of someone who needs that hope, reach out and offer it just by saying, “I am here and I will pray for you.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we are like the woman at the well, seeking answers for our predicaments. Give us the grace to recognize others who seek this well, who are despairing and need to feel hope in their lives. Give us the courage and heart to reach out in spite of our own challenges.

Thanksgiving:  We thank you for all the blessings, however small, you send our way.

24 February, Sunday – It Takes Two

24 February 2019

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1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,11-13,22-23

Saul set off and went down to the wilderness of Ziph, accompanied by three thousand men chosen from Israel to search for David in the wilderness of Ziph.

In the dark David and Abishai made their way towards the force, where they found Saul lying asleep inside the camp, his spear stuck in the ground beside his head, with Abner and the troops lying round him.

Then Abishai said to David, ‘Today God has put your enemy in your power; so now let me pin him to the ground with his own spear. Just one stroke! I will not need to strike him twice.’ David answered Abishai, ‘Do not kill him, for who can lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be without guilt? The Lord forbid that I should raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed! But now take the spear beside his head and the pitcher of water and let us go away.’ David took the spear and the pitcher of water from beside Saul’s head, and they made off. No one saw, no one knew, no one woke up; they were all asleep, for a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.

David crossed to the other side and halted on the top of the mountain a long way off; there was a wide space between them. He called out, ‘Here is the king’s spear. Let one of the soldiers come across and take it. The Lord repays everyone for his uprightness and loyalty. Today the Lord put you in my power, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed.’

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1 Corinthians 15:45-49

The first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul; but the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit. That is, first the one with the soul, not the spirit, and after that, the one with the spirit. The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven. As this earthly man was, so are we on earth; and as the heavenly man is, so are we in heaven. And we, who have been modelled on the earthly man, will be modelled on the heavenly man.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.

In the face of injustice and sheer ineptitude, how does one remain compassionate when people are paid a decent wage to perform in a job? I was struggling last year with a situation that, thankfully, resolved itself just before the Christmas break. That made the turn of the new year and my planning for my division retreat that much easier and less fraught with uncertainty. I am convinced that God’s hand was at work when I received the much-awaited resignation letter in the middle of December.

Hypothetically, let’s take the same circumstances (frustration and all) into ministry, where everyone is a volunteer. Is it possible for us to also ‘wish away’ those who don’t pull their weight and just appear when things are resolved and everything is hunky-dory? I had that conversation recently with a colleague and he shook his head and agreed that when it comes to labouring in God’s vineyard, we cannot apply the same ‘corporate lens’ to situations and people. So what happens then? Do we just let things fester and deteriorate? What about those of us who are eager and willing to change things and to improve on simple processes that would make things smoother, less fraught with tension, and a lot more ‘idiot-proof’ so that we can all focus on the bigger picture – worshipping God and providing those around us with a conducive environment to pray and receive God’s blessings?

Inevitably, many well-meaning, ‘gung ho’ ministry members fall by the wayside when they don’t see the fruits of their efforts after a certain timeframe. I made a quick calculation (with some assumptions) and worked out that what usually takes an organization (500 to 600-strong) a year to implement takes a parish council or religious organization between 3 to 10 years, given a very lean administrative office of 10 to 15 paid staff (mind you, they are likely to be lowly-paid and not even competently trained in the areas they are handling such as HR, IT or Finance – the ‘square pegs in round holes’ conundrum).

I think it would be fair to surmise that should we, as ministry members, ever be appraised by our leaders, we would be found seriously wanting in hitting our KPIs (not that we ever had any to begin with). It is precisely because we give of our time, effort and talent that our leaders have no choice but to be compassionate when equipment starts to fail, when programmes take who knows how long to implement, when after a year of meetings/discussions/gatherings, the proverbial needle hasn’t moved much because the person tasked to lead change in one area hardly even turns up.

Brothers and sisters, if you are involved in church ministry, take care that you be compassionate not only to those around you, but to yourself as well. While it is good to set expectations, don’t let them overwhelm and dictate how you look at those who are perhaps wounded themselves and seek ministry as a sanctuary from their everyday work in the office. Because at work, we are answerable to a superior, but in ministry, the only one we answer to is God. And when it comes to dealing with God, we know that it is never a one-way street.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, you know us through and through, and our deepest motives for working in your vineyard. Give us the grace to recognize that sometimes, we may falter as we serve you but let us not chide ourselves or feel inadequate because you have something greater for us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your gifts and talents so that we can serve you mightily and without fear of being judged.