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7 January, Saturday – Devoted in Prayer

7 Jan – Memorial for St. Raymond of Penyafort, priest

St. Raymond (1175-1275) was of Aragonian nobility. He was educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona, and became a philosophy teacher at the age of 20. He was a priest. He graduated from law school in Bologna, Italy, and joined the Dominicans in 1218. He was summoned to Rome in 1230 by Pope Gregory IX, and assigned to collect all official letters of the popes since 1150. Raymond gathered and published five volumes, and helped write Church law.

He was made Master General of the Dominicans in 1238. He reviewed the Order’s Rule, made sure everything was legally correct, then resigned his position in 1240 to dedicate himself to parish work. The pope wanted to make Raymond an archbishop, but he declined, instead returning to Spain and the parish work he loved. His compassion helped many people return to God through Reconciliation.

During his years in Rome, Raymond heard of the difficulties missionaries faced trying to reach non-Christians of Northern Africa and Spain. Raymond started a school to teach the language and culture of the people to be evangelized. With St. Thomas Aquinas, he wrote a booklet to explain the truths of faith in a way non-believers could understand. His great influence on Church law led to his patronage of lawyers.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 John 5:14-21

We are quite confident that if we ask the Son of God for anything,
and it is in accordance with his will,
he will hear us;
and, knowing that whatever we may ask, he hears us,
we know that we have already been granted what we asked of him.
If anybody sees his brother commit a sin
that is not a deadly sin,
he has only to pray, and God will give life to the sinner
– not those who commit a deadly sin;
for there is a sin that is death,
and I will not say that you must pray about that.
Every kind of wrong-doing is sin,
but not all sin is deadly.

We know that anyone who has been begotten by God
does not sin,
because the begotten Son of God protects him,
and the Evil One does not touch him.
We know that we belong to God,
but the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One.
We know, too, that the Son of God has come,
and has given us the power
to know the true God.
We are in the true God,
as we are in his Son, Jesus Christ.
This is the true God,
this is eternal life.
Children, be on your guard against false gods.

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John 2:1-11

There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited. When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said ‘Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ There were six stone water jars standing there, meant for the ablutions that are customary among the Jews: each could hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’, and they filled them to the brim. ‘Draw some out now’ he told them ‘and take it to the steward.’ They did this; the steward tasted the water, and it had turned into wine.

Having no idea where it came from – only the servants who had drawn the water knew – the steward called the bridegroom and said; ‘People generally serve the best wine first, and keep the cheaper sort till the guests have had plenty to drink; but you have kept the best wine till now.’

This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him.

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Do whatever he tells you

Obedience to God’s message is something which is very important for all of us to adhere to. However, it seems quite remarkable that there are folks who really believe that their way of doing things is the correct way. Perhaps it comes from being in a society where everything is planned and that everything must follow a plan or else one will be looked down upon by others. The Gospel of today is a familiar passage but this time, I would like to turn our attention towards the steward.

The steward tastes and acknowledges that the wine he drinks is far superior compared to the wine served earlier. To him, some aberration to the norm has occurred. Whilst not life-threatening and not a major issue which will disrupt the wedding banquet, perhaps it would have done him well to ask the servants what happened that resulted in a disruption of the dinner plans. Indeed,  we sometimes grumble and question God about why things happen in a way which is not according to plan; but perhaps we need to ask God the Holy Spirit to show us why is it that such a disruption was allowed to happen? Instead of asking why this happened to me, perhaps we could ask God how we could make the best of this scenario before us?

Mother Mary is the best example we can follow. She had to put up with great hardship, from having to risk being stoned because she was bearing a child before marriage, to being a refugee as Herod was out to kill her child, to seeing her Son falsely accused. These incidents would have caused some others to lose hope in God and in life, but Mary continued to hold on to her Faith and not waver. This is an example we can follow through a devoted and dedicated prayer life, which allows us to be in communion with God; so that we can face all the challenges in our life with a prayer-like attitude, always trusting that God will be with us, if we let Him take control of our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer Heavenly Father, we pray for us to remain faithful to you in our prayer life.

ThanksgivingWe give thanks for all who engage in humanitarian work.

3 January, Tuesday – Remaining Faithful

3 Jan – Memorial for the Most Holy Name of Jesus

Today’s feast day is a remembrance and celebration of the conferral of the Holy Name of Jesus. A separate votive Mass under this title is found in the revised Roman Missal, and may be used for an annual celebration (e.g. titular of a Church), or as an expression of devotion which is part of the tradition and spirituality of a religious order. It was formerly listed as the Sunday between 1 and 6 January, if one occurs. It was instituted in the 15th century by the bishops of Germany, Scotland, England, and Belgium. It was extended to the universal Church in 1721. There is a commemoration in the Mass of the Octave of St. Stephen if the feast is kept on the second, of St. John on the third, and of the Holy Innocents on the fourth of January.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 John 2:29-3:6

You know that God is righteous –
then you must recognise that everyone whose life is righteous
has been begotten by him.

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.

Surely everyone who entertains this hope
must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.
Anyone who sins at all
breaks the law,
because to sin is to break the law.
Now you know that he appeared in order to abolish sin,
and that in him there is no sin;
anyone who lives in God does not sin,
and anyone who sins
has never seen him or known him.

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John 1:29-34

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

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My dear people, we are already the children of God.

Being called a child of God is indeed a great privilege and this allows us to share in the inheritance of what Christ has promised, which is Eternal Life. However, something which keeps me going on despite being assured as God’s child is the deepest desire to be one with God. This means that I will need to discover the richness of the Catholic Faith and be willing to accept the challenges it poses to my way of life.

This continued struggle between what God wants us to do and what we want to do is definitely an ongoing one, but it is one which will allow us to grow in maturity in our Faith. Like John the Baptist in today’s readings, we are called to be a witness to the people whom we meet, of the great love of God which has touched us. This witness we are called to give includes the need to show the struggles we face in our daily lives and how we continue to hold onto our Faith despite the many difficulties it brings.

God invites us to remain faithful to Him and we can only do so if we turn to Him in continued prayer and devotion to what He asks of us. As we continue in this season of Christmas, let us put our hearts and souls towards accepting the challenge which has been put before us and to let others see that various challenges we are facing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, let us accept our Cross with Faith and Courage.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who help people cope in their struggles against addictions.

11 April, Monday – Till Death Do Us Part

11 April – Saint Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr

Anyone who reads the history of Eastern Europe cannot help but chance on the name of Stanislaus, the saintly but tragic bishop of Kraków, patron of Poland. He is remembered with Saints Thomas More (June 22) and Thomas Becket (December 29) for vigorous opposition to the evils of an unjust government.

Born in Szczepanow near Kraków on July 26, 1030, he was ordained a priest after being educated in the cathedral schools of Gniezno, then capital of Poland, and at Paris. He was appointed preacher and archdeacon to the bishop of Kraków, where his eloquence and example brought about real conversion in many of his penitents, both clergy and laity. He became bishop of Kraków in 1072.

During an expedition against the Grand Duchy of Kiev, Stanislaus became involved in the political situation of Poland. Known for his outspokenness, he aimed his attacks at the evils of the peasantry and the king, especially the unjust wars and immoral acts of King Boleslaus II.

The king first excused himself, then made a show of penance, then relapsed into his old ways. Stanislaus continued his open opposition in spite of charges of treason and threats of death, finally excommunicating the king. The latter, enraged, ordered soldiers to kill the bishop. When they refused, the king killed him with his own hands.

Forced to flee to Hungary, Boleslaus supposedly spent the rest of his life as a penitent in the Benedictine abbey in Osiak.

-Source: AmericanCatholic.org
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Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.
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John 6:22-29

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’
Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’
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This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.

My dad used to tell me that sometimes, jobs requiring the individual to wear a uniform may make the person’s life easy in terms of fashion sense because he need not think of what to wear every day. For me, it is not a matter of convenience but also the fact that when one wears a uniform, the person represents what the uniform stands for; either as a representative of the school or the ethos and values which the institution he is standing for. Believing in Christ is no different because it requires all believers to stand up for their faith and put it into action when the going gets tough.

We have with us a very positive example in the form of St Stephen, whose process of martyrdom looks similar to what Jesus had to go through. St Stephen was bold in his preaching and did not flinch away from correcting the wrong teachings of others, even if that meant possible death for him. As I was reflecting on this passage, I feel that it could be due to the ‘grace and power’ (Acts 6:8) that he obtained through a deep and close relationship with God. Jesus calls us to encounter Him in a deep and personal way, but this encounter is not meant to be kept within ourselves; it is to be shared with the people around us, to join us in this wonderful experience which we have had with Christ.

As Christians, the ‘uniform’ we wear is the one of good works and the motivation behind the good works is not for us to develop a warm fuzzy feeling within ourselves, but because we believe in Jesus. The main motivation and driver has to be the fact that Jesus loves us and wants us to be just as generous with the rest in sharing the joys of having such a wonderful God in our lives. This love for Jesus must be greater than our desire to be accepted by humans. The ways of the world can often corrupt the simple but very powerful message of the Bible — that Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of God made in the past and this belief in Him is all that we need to continue journeying with our lives. Once we learn how to die to the sins preventing us from coming closer to God, and this means even physical death, we will be able to live fully in Christ.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer – Dear Father, we pray that we be your worthy children to share the love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving – We give thanks for all who seek God with a sincere heart.

Wednesday, 16 March – Living Free

16 March

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Daniel 3:14-20,24-25,28

King Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is it true that you do not serve my gods, and that you refuse to worship the golden statue I have erected? When you hear the sound of horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, or any other instrument, are you prepared to prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made? If you refuse to worship it, you must be thrown straight away into the burning fiery furnace; and where is the god who could save you from my power?’ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your question hardly requires an answer: if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, O king, he will save us; and even if he does not, then you must know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have erected.’ These words infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was very different now as he looked at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He gave orders for the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual, and commanded certain stalwarts from his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar sprang to his feet in amazement. He said to his advisers, ‘Did we not have these three men thrown bound into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ ‘But,’ he went on ‘I can see four men walking about freely in the heart of the fire without coming to any harm. And the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’

Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego: he has sent his angel to rescue the servants who, putting their trust in him, defied the order of the king, and preferred to forfeit their bodies rather than serve or worship any god but their own.’

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John 8:31-42

To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said:

‘If you make my word your home
you will indeed be my disciples,
you will learn the truth
and the truth will make you free.’

They answered, ‘We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
everyone who commits sin is a slave.
Now the slave’s place in the house is not assured,
but the son’s place is assured.
So if the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed.
I know that you are descended from Abraham;
but in spite of that you want to kill me
because nothing I say has penetrated into you.
What I, for my part, speak of
is what I have seen with my Father;
but you, you put into action
the lessons learnt from your father.’

They repeated, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them:

‘If you were Abraham’s children,
you would do as Abraham did.
As it is, you want to kill me
when I tell you the truth
as I have learnt it from God;
that is not what Abraham did.
What you are doing is what your father does.’

‘We were not born of prostitution,’ they went on ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus answered:

‘If God were your father, you would love me,
since I have come here from God;
yes, I have come from him;
not that I came because I chose,
no, I was sent, and by him.’

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So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.

I was recently invited to help critique a few groups of final year students reading a communications degree in one of the local universities. One of the final year projects focussed on verbal abuse in a relationship. The project struck a chord with me as nearly two decades ago, I was in such a relationship.

Looking back, I know that the person I became while in the relationship was not only a victim of abuse but also became an abuser. It is truly by the grace of God that I chose to break free of that unhealthy bondage and begin anew. I remember feeling so trapped in my own shell back then that I resorted to alcohol and cigarettes to escape my reality. I truly don’t recall what the breaking point was but I knew that I had to consciously choose to free myself in order to be happy again. Today, I am healed because God has blessed me abundantly with a loving, caring partner who possesses a heart of gold and is generous to a fault. Indeed, in choosing to set myself free, I have found the freedom to love and to be loved.

Our Archbishop recently issued a statement about how there is no neutrality in faith. We are either for Christ or not. Many of us cling on to things that, in the grand scheme of things, really do not matter. Power, money, forbidden love, idols (musical, fictional, etc) and many more. I was once a slave to them but again, by the grace of God, I have gradually learnt to break free of the bonds and to live freely in the love of our merciful, heavenly Father. The son who set me free was none other than Fr William, who was then spiritual director at the Catholic Spirituality Centre and who still conducts the CERs. Till then, I had never made such a heartfelt Sacrament of Reconciliation nor experienced such mercy and love from a priest.

Brothers and sisters, God gives us free will to choose. Each and every day, we are given choices at home, at work, with family, with colleagues, with friends, with those who we don’t get along with. And whatever we choose, God already knows what the consequences will be. But God, in all His mercy, is also ready to forgive and to love us in spite of the choices we make. So if you truly want to live free as a son and daughter of God, make a choice to give God a chance to free you. Because He is knocking at the door of your heart. And the doorknob is within, for He will never force His way in.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, guide us each day as we face the choices you put in front of us. Show us the way to your loving and merciful heart.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for always being there for us.

Monday, 8 February – Effort

8 February – Memorial for St. Jerome Emiliani; Memorial for St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin

Jerome (1481–1537) was born wealthy, the son of Angelo and Eleanor Mauroceni Emiliani. His father died when Jerome was a teenager, and he ran away from home at age 15. After a dissolute youth, he became a soldier in Venice in 1506. He commanded the League of Cambrai forces at the fortress of Castelnuovo near Trevso. He was captured by Venetian forces on Aug 27, 1511, and was chained in a dungeon. Here, he prayed to Our Lady for help and was miraculously freed by an apparition. He hung his chains on a church wall as an offering. He became Mayor of Treviso while studying for the priesthood, and was ordained in the spotted-fever plague year of 1518.

He cared for the sick, and housed orphans in his own home. At night he roamed the streets, burying those who had collapsed and died unattended. He contracted the fever himself, but survived. He founded six orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes, and a hospital.

He founded the Order of Somaschi (Company of Servants of the Poor, or Samascan Fathers) in 1532. It is a congregation of clerks regular vowed to the care of orphans, and named after the town of Somasca where they started, and where they founded a seminary. The society was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 and it continues its work today in a dozen countries. Jerome is believed to have developed the question-and-answer catechism technique for teaching children religion.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI declared him the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children.

– Patron Saint Index

Josephine (1868–1947) was born to a wealthy Sudanese family. At age 9, she was kidnapped by slave-traders who gave her the name Bakhita. She was sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum, finally purchased in 1883 by Callisto Legnani, an Italian consul who planned to free her. She accompanied Legnani to Italy in 1885, and worked for the family of Augusto Michieli as nanny. She was treated well in Italy and grew to love the country. She joined the Church as an adult convert on Jan 9, 1890, taking the name Josephine as a symbol of her new life.

She entered the Institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, Italy, in 1893, taking her vows on Dec 8, 1896 in Verona, and served as a Canossian Sister for the next 50 years. Her gentle presence, her warm, amiable voice, and her willingness to help with any menial task were a comfort to the poor and suffering people who came to the door of the Institute. After a biography of her was published in 1930, she became a noted and sought-after speaker, raising funds to support missions.

She was canonized on Oct 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and is thought to be the only saint originally from Sudan.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Kings 8:1-7,9-13

Solomon called the elders of Israel together in Jerusalem to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord up from the Citadel of David, which is Zion. All the men of Israel assembled round King Solomon in the month of Ethanim, at the time of the feast (that is, the seventh month), and the priests took up the ark and the Tent of Meeting with all the sacred vessels that were in it. In the presence of the ark, King Solomon and all Israel sacrificed sheep and oxen, countless, innumerable. The priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the Debir of the Temple, that is, in the Holy of Holies, under the cherubs’ wings. For there where the ark was placed the cherubs spread out their wings and sheltered the ark and its shafts. There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets Moses had placed in it at Horeb, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord had made with the Israelites when they came out of the land of Egypt; they are still there today.

Now when the priests came out of the sanctuary, the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud the priests could no longer perform their duties: the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s Temple.

Then Solomon said:
‘The Lord has chosen to dwell in the thick cloud.
Yes, I have built you a dwelling,
a place for you to live in for ever.’

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Mark 6:53-56

Having made the crossing, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and tied up. No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognised him, and started hurrying all through the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, to village, or town, or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched him were cured.

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They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was

When I first became a Catholic, some of my non-Catholic friends would ask me, “ How do you justify being part of a faith that condones the building of palatial places of worship while its faithful in some parts of the world starve from their hunger and poverty?” I used to get tripped up by that all the time. It would make me angry and defensive. Yes, why DID we condone that? Why wasn’t every dime spent alleviating pain, healing the sick and comforting the poor? As I grew older though, I began to understand that the glory of God is manifest not just in acts of charity. He inspires art, music, literature, architecture. He moves the body and mind to create things of transcendental beauty. We look upon something like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and it fills us with wonder. What motivates a man to create art that is so breathtaking? What is the root of inspiration? Is it a gift that is given to everyone, but only those who would struggle and expend the effort, can reap its glorious fruit?

Effort, by definition, is ‘a vigorous or determined attempt, a strenuous physical or mental exertion’. Solomon’s purpose was to build the Temple of The Lord, and he gave his life and the vast resources of his country’s coffers over to achieving that end. Today’s reading shows him celebrating all the years of planning and hard work, his reward being the Lord’s glory filling the temple of the Lord. In the gospel reading of Mark, the people tirelessly bring their sick to wherever Jesus might be, in the hope that they might be healed by his touch. “They scurried about the surrounding countryside”, searching the market places, villages and towns. There was no telling where Jesus would be, but the people never gave up.

Man’s struggle in life has always been to seek a higher purpose, to reach for something greater than himself. For those of us called to the faith, that struggle is evident in our daily walk of faith. We do not do this alone though. If we will expend the effort, God gives us the grace to stay true to the path; not stray nor be distracted, nor tire from the strain required to walk the path, nor become angry and disillusioned by failure. He gives us grace enough for the journey. All He asks is that we make the effort.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for His grace to help us to persevere when we grow weary and discouraged on our faith journeys. Let not disillusion, anger and resentment take root in our hearts and keep us from doing our work in His ministry.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that moves us to create beautiful things for His glory.

Sunday, 6 December – Hidden Glory

6 December

Dear Readers,
Advent is fast approaching us.
As with OXYGEN tradition, we would like to invite our readers to contribute reflections for the four Christmas Masses on the Nativity of the Lord (you’ll only need to write one). Write to us at oxygen@thecatholicwriter.com with your intention via email subject ‘Invitation for Christmas reflections’ by 12 Dec. We will assign the scriptures to you for your reflections. Fret not about style nor aptitude, all we need is a willing and fervent heart to share! We hope you will be respond to the prompts of the Holy Spirit and share your love and testimony for our Lord Jesus Christ on the day He took on the flesh of humanity. God bless!
– The Oxygen Team

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Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,
put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,
wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,
put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:
since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,
since the name God gives you for ever will be,
‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east:
see your sons reassembled from west and east
at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.
Though they left you on foot,
with enemies for an escort,
now God brings them back to you
like royal princes carried back in glory.
For God has decreed the flattening
of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,
the filling of the valleys to make the ground level
so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.
And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade
for Israel at the command of God;
for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory
with his mercy and integrity for escort.

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Philippians 1:4-6,8-11

Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes; and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.

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Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

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Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.

The words ‘peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness’ in our First Reading of Baruch caught my imagination today. That word ‘integrity’ is used more often these days in referring to honesty and moral principles, especially when we think of work ethics or corruption, or the mismanagement of funds in public or private arenas. We think less of the intrinsic value that ‘integrity’ points towards: the state of being whole and undivided; completeness, coherence, unity.

It is this yearning for a deep wholeness and peace that our world today lacks – peace through a ‘complete, united, whole and undivided’ love and respect for God. I realised that the yearning for a source of Divine Peace is truly universal. Otherwise, all of the world would not recognise, in solidarity, that the outbreak of terror and war has destroyed peace in the world and our families. And peace in our own hearts. Isn’t it true that the realisation of lack implies the need for that which is lacking? The same goes for the moments when we feel unloved and rejected. This feeling opens our eyes to realising our deep ache for acceptance and love.

It is a great sadness that when we do have love, we think little of it or may wish to be loved with greater thrill; when we have peace and stability, we see our mundanity as boring and routine; when we have the joys of waking up each new day, that we wish we could snooze longer and not have to wake up to face the daily grind. I find myself in this struggle, and it is indeed a hallmark of being human – the never ending ability to tend towards feeling disgruntled and ungrateful. And it is true too that those of us who do know God, have sometimes grieved Him so much. After all, our Heavenly Maker did give us this coveted ‘free will’.

At the same time, this freedom we have been given puts before us a task to ‘choose’ peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness. Peace and honour, joy, beauty and glory, love and compassion do not come without our striving. These come from our choosing to respond to our deep inmost desires for wholeness, completeness and unity with God through Jesus Christ. This is why the book of Baruch exhorts Jerusalem to ‘take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head…’

Likewise, the joy of claiming the Gospel, the good news of our salvation, is written beautifully by St Paul in the Second Reading. ‘Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present… the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes… My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more… This will help you… and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.’ (Philippians 1:4-11)

Our wait for Jesus this Advent, and indeed the everyday advent of our lives, requires of us an active participation in cleaving to the joy and zeal of our missionary faith and our filial love and devotion to God who is our Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek you first in all my ways and days. Help me to wait in active hope and joy of Your promises and blessings in the ups and downs of life.

Thanksgiving: Jesus, in this time of worldly crisis, we thank you for the memory of your reign on earth in a form that people could not recognise. We trust therefore that murky as the times are today, your Glory is hidden but not absent. Jesus, we continue to trust in you.

 

Monday, 7 September – Revenge or Charity?

7 September

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Colossians 1:24-2:3

It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ. It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped only by his power driving me irresistibly.

Yes, I want you to know that I do have to struggle hard for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for so many others who have never seen me face to face. It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development, until you really know God’s secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

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Luke 6:6-11

On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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… they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul emphasized that Christ lives within us, carrying the hope for our glory. It is Christ whom we proclaim as our Saviour, living within us. Therefore, we possess the treasures of divine wisdom and knowledge that will be revealed in God’s time as we grow in holiness and love.

So we should mindful of your actions and deeds towards others because what we do to others, we also do to Jesus. As a golden rule, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It is inevitable that some people may act unpleasantly towards us even though we have been generous and kind to them. These people probably have not met with kindness in the past and therefore would tend to only think for themselves. Keep in mind that anyone who does something to us, also does the same to Christ in us.

We are called to manifest the good behaviour of Christ as Jesus showed in today’s Gospel. Yes, we are obliged to fulfill our full participation in the Holy Mass on Sunday. In addition, we have to manifest our faith as active and practical witnesses of Christ to others. In time, people will come and recognize Christ within you.

Take time and reflect on your situation where you were very angry towards others. It may not easy but ask yourself, “Am I called to execute my revenge or act with charity towards others?”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Michael Goo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us graces to practice the charity and remove our evil root of anger and hatred for we seek to imitate Lord Jesus Christ, Your Beloved Son. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the good examples that Lord Jesus and all the Saints had shown us. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, 17 August – Time vs Money

17 August 

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Judges 2:11-19

The sons of Israel did what displeases the Lord, and served the Baals. They deserted the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from the gods of the peoples round them. They bowed down to these; they provoked the Lord; they deserted the Lord to serve Baal and Astarte. Then the Lord’s anger flamed out against Israel. He handed them over to pillagers who plundered them; he delivered them to the enemies surrounding them, and they were not able to resist them. In every warlike venture, the hand of the Lord was there to foil them, as the Lord had warned, as the Lord had sworn to them. Thus he reduced them to dire distress.

Then the Lord appointed judges for them, and rescued the men of Israel from the hands of their plunderers. But they would not listen to their judges. They prostituted themselves to other gods, and bowed down before these. Very quickly they left the path their ancestors had trodden in obedience to the orders of the Lord; they did not follow their example. When the Lord appointed judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and rescued them from the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord felt pity for them as they groaned under the iron grip of their oppressors. But once the judge was dead, they relapsed and behaved even worse than their ancestors. They followed other gods; they served them and bowed before them, and would not give up the practices and stubborn ways of their ancestors at all.

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Matthew 19:16-22

There was a man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said, ‘Which?’ ‘These:’ Jesus replied ‘You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

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…sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

I recently discovered Carousell and have started to list items for sale at very affordable prices. In case you misunderstand, I am not selling all of my possessions but rather, trying to clear up some of the clutter in my room; especially those unopened presents or door gifts from attending golf tournaments. Of course, I could easily have transported all the items to the Salvation Army but I just wanted to see how much some of these items could fetch.

While I can relate to the young man in today’s gospel, I wonder how much he possessed and whether he was sad at the prospect of selling everything or sad at the prospect of having to give what he collected to the poor. For me, the exhortation consists of two things: not only does Jesus ask the man to abandon his current lifestyle, He also asked him to give away all the money to the poor.

Brother and sisters, I for one would probably struggle, just as the young man did, to give all my possessions away. At this point, I think I have only reached the stage of abandoning my previous lifestyle (and not totally at that) in my walk with Christ, which alone can be a rather challenging affair. And while I have not much in terms of money to give, I try as far as possible to give of my time and effort in service within His vineyard. In other words, the ‘currency’ I am using is time rather than money.

So rather than focus on the material dimension, because not all of us are millionaires, perhaps we should all reflect on how much time we waste on the weekends window shopping, trawling the internet and just lazing the time away when we could be devoting ourselves to serving our Father in church, in a ministry or anywhere else that needs our time and effort.

What this means then is that our ‘treasure in heaven’ can be measured using time rather than riches. For what good is all the gold and precious gems on earth when we are going to be busy praising and worshipping the Lord in the heavenly kingdom?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to be mindful of every second in the day that we waste on trivial matters rather than focussing on your plan for us. And that we learn to spend more time in your vineyard toiling away so that others can produce the fruits of our labour.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the time spent with us in adoration and in prayer.

Tuesday, 23 June – No Brainer Decisions

23 June

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Genesis 13:2,5-18

Abram was a very rich man, with livestock, silver and gold. Lot, who was travelling with Abram, had flocks and cattle of his own, and tents too. The land was not sufficient to accommodate them both at once, for they had too many possessions to be able to live together. Dispute broke out between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and those of Lot’s. (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were then living in the land.) Accordingly Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no dispute between me and you, nor between my herdsmen and yours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me: if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.’

Looking round, Lot saw all the Jordan plain, irrigated everywhere – this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – like the garden of the Lord or the land of Egypt, as far as Zoar. So Lot chose all the Jordan plain for himself and moved off eastwards. Thus they parted company: Abram settled in the land of Canaan; Lot settled among the towns of the plain, pitching his tents on the outskirts of Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were vicious men, great sinners against the Lord.

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted company with him, ‘Look all round from where you are towards the north and the south, towards the east and the west. All the land within sight I will give to you and your descendants for ever. I will make your descendants like the dust on the ground: when men succeed in counting the specks of dust on the ground, then they will be able to count your descendants! Come, travel through the length and breadth of the land, for I mean to give it to you.’

So Abram went with his tents to settle at the Oak of Mamre, at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

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Matthew 7:6,12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.

‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.

‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’

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It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Some years have now passed since Lot and Abraham’s epic journey from Haran. They’ve adjusted and assimilated themselves into their new surroundings and grown wealthy in livestock, silver and gold. Life has just started to get comfortable again. Abraham and Lot could have just coasted along at this point. Except that every time we become comfortable or complacent, life events happen to derail us and throw off our balance – death, divorce, children, illness, economic meltdowns are all change agents. For Abraham, change arrived in the form of depleting resources and labor unrest.

During the time of Genesis, pasture land was like fuel. It fed the animals, who provided the people with their means of transportation. Finding well-watered pasture land was the economic equivalent of striking oil in our time. Yet Abraham was willing to cede the green pastures of the Jordan plain to Lot in order to preserve their kinship. And not just that, by giving Lot first dibs on their land, Abraham was stuck with occupied Canaan, land that wasn’t even technically his as yet. He only had the as-yet-unfulfiled promise of the Lord to hold on to. We all know how this story ends, with the Lord’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. But most of us would have simply chosen as Lot did. We would have made the ‘no-brainer’ decision of keeping the best resources for ourselves – not Abraham.

The path of least resistance is often the one that leads to our ruin. Think back to all the ‘no-brainer’ decisions that you have made through the years – the job you took for the money only to find that your new workplace was a political snakepit. The investments you made that seemed too good to pass up. All the people you have had relationships with because they were available and it was ‘convenient’. The Gospel warns against taking the easy way out because broad is the road that leads to destruction. With each step along our journey of faith, it is important to ask ourselves does this lead to the road that God would want me to walk? Am I doing this for me or for Him? The Lord doesn’t tell us that the road to Life will be easy. On the contrary, it is the hard road, ‘narrow the gate and constricted the path’. We can walk it in faith though, because like Abraham we know we will find His purpose for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience and the endurance to walk the narrow road to life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to discern the paths that He wants us to walk.

Sunday, 21 June – A New Life

21 June 

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Job 38:1,8-11

From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer. He said:
Who pent up the sea behind closed doors
when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb,
when I wrapped it in a robe of mist
and made black clouds its swaddling bands;
when I marked the bounds it was not to cross
and made it fast with a bolted gate?
Come thus far, I said, and no farther:
here your proud waves shall break.

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2 Corinthians 5:14-17

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.

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Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’

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The old things have passed away; behold new things have come.

Come this Fall, I would have left Hong Kong for two years. Time has a way of sneaking up on you. Before you know it, you’re a little older, celebrating a milestone birthday (I turned 40 in the Spring) and embarking on a second act. You have a new home, you have new friends, you are even getting involved in the community. And then you look back and wonder, how did that just happen?! My first few months in LA were filled with terror. With no job, no income and no idea about the path ahead, I woke up each day with a sense of dread. What if I had made a terrible mistake coming here? I had always been employed; my work was how I defined my self worth. The reality of my new circumstances was that I was completely dependent on someone else. And though the chance to be a ‘good wife’ was something I had been praying for, one is never fully prepared for when God answers our prayers. So when I should have been grateful, I was busy looking back and lamenting the loss of my independence and my identity. Fear kept me from being present for the first year of my time here. Like the disciples in today’s gospel, I was on the cusp of a new life and I was completely terrified.

Change is one of those things that is easier to talk about than to put into practice. There is a famous line from the Old Testament where the Hebrews complain to Moses about their new circumstances as free (albeit nomadic) men, “We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5). We are often the architects of our own misery, so eager to go back to the familiarity of our shackles just because… well, it’s what we know.

Thankfully, God persists with us. He keeps us rooted in our new paths, even when we turn our gaze back to that which no longer serves us. God persists – until we slowly open our eyes. God blessed me with a wonderful husband, whose patience has helped me to find a new home here. To all my lamentations, my husband’s response has always been the same – a steadfast ‘Yes you gave up so much, but look at what you have gained’.  And like the disciples in the boat, I am quietened. I am stilled.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to open our eyes and embrace the blessings of answered prayers

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who loving and patiently support us through all our insecurities, who love us despite ourselves.