Category Archives: Uncategorized

7 March, Saturday – Perfect Timing and Faith

7 March

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Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God today commands you to observe these laws and customs; you must keep and observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

‘You have today made this declaration about the Lord: that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice. And the Lord has today made this declaration about you: that you will be his very own people as he promised you, but only if you keep all his commandments; then for praise and renown and honour he will set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he promised.’

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Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

As I reflected on this account of the saints today, I was reminded of the toils the persecuted church had to endure. Today we are faced with a new form of persecution — indifference. Having a Christian badge has its own share of expectations from the public who claim to be guided by their conscience. This can be interpreted in many variants which confuses rather than directs

I recall a dialogue with a staunch Atheist professor some years ago. He saw I was passionate about my faith in God and asked one day after class if my God — being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent — could create something so heavy he could not lift. I was perplexed and posed the question to some religious and friends. They helped me realise it was a rhetorical question which should not warrant any of my time entertaining in the first place. Jesus advocates in the Gospels moral righteousness higher than the old covenant, and just as Israel was to imitate God in being holy, so we are called to imitate God’s perfect compassion (Lk 6:36).

I had a close relative who attended daily Mass, taught in a catholic school and volunteered with the Cadet Corp during World War II. He stood up against the Japanese invaders as long as they could but obeyed orders to surrender when his commanders told him so. He witnessed many atrocities and saw many of his fellow soldiers die from abuse and torture, especially when they were sent to build the bridge over River Kwai. He contracted malaria but miraculously recovered and stayed on as a medic in the field hospital. His strong faith in God’s providence helped him to survive the war. He was eventually honored by the Queen, which proved the passage in today’s first reading; “you shall be a consecrated people set high above all nations.” Now I just focus on sharing real life accounts of faith to encourage and help those who doubt.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Christian Eber )

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that through the intercession of Sts Perpetua and Felicity, we may be faithful witnesses to Your word, trusting that our love for others will overcome any hatred or scepticism and bring healing to all we come into contact with.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the martyrs and their faithful examples. Keep us ever closer to You that we may grow in humility, sincerity and courage to keep on sharing Your love.

2 March, Monday – Charity

2 March

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Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18

The Lord spoke to Moses; he said: ‘Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them:

‘“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
‘“You must not steal nor deal deceitfully or fraudulently with your neighbour. You must not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord. You must not exploit or rob your neighbour. You must not keep back the labourer’s wage until next morning.
You must not curse the dumb, nor put an obstacle in the blind man’s way, but you must fear your God. I am the Lord.
‘“You must not be guilty of unjust verdicts. You must neither be partial to the little man nor overawed by the great; you must pass judgement on your neighbour according to justice. You must not slander your own people, and you must not jeopardise your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord. You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way you will not take a sin upon yourself. You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”’

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Matthew 25:31-46

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

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

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

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

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“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Today we turn to charity, one of the three pillars of Lent – the other two being prayer and fasting. More often than not, when one speaks of charity, what comes to mind is a donation of cash or kind. There is nothing wrong with that. But what is charity? Merriam-Webster lists one of the definitions of charity as the “love of humanity”. Indeed, in Old English, charity was defined as “Christian love of one’s fellows”.

Our definition of charity should not be limited to that of a monetary or material perspective. Those are indeed helpful, if you have it to spare, but if you don’t, you can still spare your time, abilities, or even spare your heart – words of encouragement, a listening ear, some time to catch up with someone you know who is troubled, even if just to hear them out or bring them a smile (or coffee). God gave us the resources that we have so that we may be able to share it with others who would also need them. An example can be found in Acts 3:6 where Peter heals a lame man who had begged him for some money at the temple. In reply, Peter says to the lame man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” What we do have, given to us by God, we give to others in need – to help them, to enable them – regardless of how small we think our gifts may be. They do make a difference.

Giving of ourselves gives us a connection to the receiver and indirectly, to God Himself. Do you recall a time when you helped someone and brought joy to that person — did you feel your heart lift as well? Did not that person’s happiness bring you happiness as well? When we can do something for someone, we immerse ourselves into their situation and see for ourselves and understand their need. And if we can transform our giving into joy for them and see that joy for ourselves, we are repaid for our acts of kindness and generosity. When we give, we may not always have the recipient in our physical sight, but if we can imagine giving directly to God, would that not change our perspective on giving? We are all God’s creatures and God cares for each and everyone of us. If we care for each other, we would be caring for God too.

Therefore, give with a happy heart, regardless of what it is that you are giving. Give with love. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 13:3: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” God’s love abides in a cheerful giver, one whose heart is open to those in need. It is not enough to profess our faith in God with the words that we speak, but also in the deeds that we do. Faith without works is dead.

This Lenten period, as we contemplate our acts of charity and almsgiving, let us keep in mind the words of Jesus, that “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. (Acts 20:35).

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for an open heart to recognize those that need a helping hand, our helping hand. May we find ways to be useful and may we give with a cheerful and discerning heart.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us the resources and gifts that we have that we may be able to help those who are in need. May we keep them in our prayers, not just this Lenten period, but always.

29 Dec, Sunday – Pilgrims Searching for Love and Home

29 Dec 2019 – Feast of the Holy Family

[Let us adore Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.]

The feast of the Holy Family offers the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of family life. Every family and community share the perplexing, frustrating, demanding challenge Luke described. Put most simply, Mary and Joseph faced the difficult discovery that Jesus was not going along with them every step of the way. It is a real story of a family conflict and is symbolic of all kinds of relationships.

We know what it is like when family members do not go along with us on the journey. When Mary and Joseph confronted Jesus in the Temple, they confronted the fact that he would have to discover his own path in life. No matter what they might hope for him, he did not belong to them.

The story reminds us that love is rooted in profound reverence for the mystery of the other. Such reverence cultivates profound respect for the other’s mysterious freedom. In that, we learn to desire that the other will become who they are meant to be rather than what we would have them be.

Excerpt taken from: Feast of the Holy Family: The Mystery of Love (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/scripture-life/feast-holy-family-mystery-love) 

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Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children,
  and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
  he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
  he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
  he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
  do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
  do not despise him in your health and strength;
for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
  but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Colossians 3:12-21 

Family life in the Lord 

You are God’s chosen race his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful. 

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Wives give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.

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Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The Flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

 I called my son out of Egypt.
After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

 

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

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May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts… Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

I was prepared to write my reflection on this Feast day more than a week ago but I could not put words to my thoughts as I was facing struggles of my own in my family. I was dumbfounded to be assigned this specific day, and while I knew intellectually, that God had a message for me in here, it took some wresting within for me to finally sit down to listen to Him.

We are Pilgrims

In three days, my family would be collecting a new set of keys to our rental apartment. We had been praying to find a new home in Singapore after moving back from Hong Kong. By the new year, this would be the fifth house that I will setting up home in, notwithstanding the many interim roofs we have temporarily rested our heavy-laden bodies to rest in. All these moves were made within the span of three years, over three countries. Some of them are moves related to jobs, while some were a result of grave illnesses within our families that required us to either ‘stay-put’ or ‘return-home’.

Whenever I behold the idea of packing up house again, I am seized with anxiety first, and then sadness for the home my family will soon be leaving behind. All the memories and efforts to dream up and personalise a blank space…must be let go. As my two-year old son is old enough to remember our various homes, I have been met with puzzling questions of “where is mummy-daddy house?” or “is this mummy-daddy house?” or “let’s go home!” even if ‘home’ is just a room for one week. I have held up hopes of stability as well as shed many tears for each of these homes. God knows that my heart aches for a place to sink roots in.

In the face of so much impermanence and instability, it is my faith that holds my fragile emotions together – however imperfectly. I humbly and wistfully recognise that my little family of three walks a shared path with the Holy Family. This is a realisation that struck me after I spent two successive Christmases accompanying a loved one in hospital over a cancer diagnosis – one with my husband and one with my mother. Surely Mary and Joseph must have struggled with the question of “not again, God?” when each time an angel forewarned them to “hasten and pack up, for you must leave this place.” Even if they had great faith, each blow of news and the logistics of being on the move must have been daunting – with a donkey or not.

How do we understand these difficult times? In my experience, I realise my efforts at understanding always fall short. The greater the effort I make, the more my heart and mind are fixated on the framework I have, and my framework is always too human, too limited, and too impatient. I perceive the things that have to be done and the answers I am seeking to be resolved in hours and days… but God is not limited by my perception of time. God’s plan exists in the dimension of eternity.

This is why the words of the prophets are never accepted in the present and can only be understood looking backwards: “He will be called a Nazarene.” This is why Herod and his son would fail to locate the Holy Family. God’s plan would still be carried out because God is above and beyond our human manipulations and frantic calculations.

I am learning to accept my family’s pilgrim state, as well as to embrace this sojourn of often being ‘homeless’ and always seeking a resting place, because I recognise this as an invitation from God to be very, very close to His chosen family – Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The privilege of too much earthly stability and permanence can turn out to be a grave distraction from seeking and desiring Eternal truths. Truths that will save our souls.

In Search for Love and Home

What are we really seeking in our lives? In the face of diagnoses of inexplicable illnesses, our fragile mortality, the sudden loss of a young life, the loss of a home, we realise how helpless and incapable we really are to make anything of true value happen without God’s grace. Evidently, we are human and not God. This is the ultimate truth that will strike at the heart of even the most stubbornly atheistic amidst us. Why does God permit this to happen to those whom He loves? Is this the kind of God whom I should place my hopes and trust in?

Our answers to this question will depend very much of what we understand about love, and ultimately the nature of God. For God is Love in its most perfect sense – more perfect, more profound, and vastly more giving than our minds can conceive. As St Thomas Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of another.” Just as a parent would discipline a young child for the child’s own good, even if it involves certain pain or deprivation, so it is even more evident that God our loving Heavenly Father would desire the same for each of us in relation to our souls. We have a Father who suffers with us.

We need only look to the suffering person of Christ to understand the extent of God’s sacrificial love for us mankind. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). A God who would give the gift of His own self, to be born as flesh in the infant Jesus, and Himself choose to take on the sins of others and die on the cross for this purpose, in order to bring us into eternal communion with Him in heaven… who could this God be?

In the face of all earthly suffering and our perplexing unanswered questions, let us look to these images: the vagrant and obedient Holy Family, Christ the pilgrim boy and mocked messiah, and Christ the suffering saviour, who, with his wounds, points us to His Father – who is also our most loving Father. How beautiful it is to truly and intimately know this God who suffers alongside me, and who loves me so.

In Him all of our journeys end. With Him lies our final, eternal, most perfect Home.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Pray with me please, dear friends, as I journey with the ones I love on the difficult paths of pain and healing. Pray for the grace to see our lives as God sees, for consolation that will be tangible, for hope that will carry us beyond the physical senses. Pray for hope and an increase in faith. As we pray, I believe that many among us who need these words shall also be healed.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks and delight in joyful praise for each and every day we are given. To live, to love, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to mend and heal, to laugh and breathe deeply. The best and only life we have is right now. Let us give thanks with a grateful heart.

13 November, Wednesday – In search of wisdom

13 November

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Wisdom 6:1-11

Listen, kings, and understand;
rulers of remotest lands, take warning;
hear this, you who have thousands under your rule,
who boast of your hordes of subjects.
For power is a gift to you from the Lord,
sovereignty is from the Most High;
he himself will probe your acts and scrutinise your intentions.

If, as administrators of his kingdom, you have not governed justly
nor observed the law,
nor behaved as God would have you behave,
he will fall on you swiftly and terribly.
Ruthless judgement is reserved for the high and mighty;
the lowly will be compassionately pardoned,
the mighty will be mightily punished.
For the Lord of All does not cower before a personage,
he does not stand in awe of greatness,
since he himself has made small and great
and provides for all alike;
but strict scrutiny awaits those in power.

Yes, despots, my words are for you,
that you may learn what wisdom is and not transgress;
for they who observe holy things holily will be adjudged holy,
and, accepting instruction from them, will find their defence in them.
Look forward, therefore, to my words;
yearn for them, and they will instruct you.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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…yearn for them, and they will instruct you.

I had the privilege of sharing 5 days with 26 other extremely smart, gifted and kind people from 11 other countries this week at a leadership development programme. Right from day one when I entered the room, I sensed that this was going to be a special few days from the positive energy and the initial ‘check ins’ when we were asked to share a bit about ourselves.

As we progressed through the days, we bonded on various levels, especially when we shared our personal challenges at work as leaders who were caught in the middle – between senior management (the C-suite) and our own teams. It was interesting that in spite of our various cultural and situational differences, the challenges we faced were remarkably similar. The clincher came on day four when we were each assigned a coach/mentor for a more than 3 hour one-on-one session. What a time of sharing and input it was for me (from a career/work perspective) as she combined learnings from her years of experience with empathy, advice and some spirituality (we discovered we both serve in Catholic organisations and had some common interests). Truly, it helped spark so many ideas and thoughts for me to bring back to work in order to make me a more effective leader.

What hit home for me was the realization (I had already suspected it) that I could not be using the same strategies from way back when I had a team of 3 to 6 staff in the current environment (I now have 13). The ways of motivating each group/individual would have to be different and I would have to tailor my approaches rather than expect each one to ‘toe the line’. And while there was a need for some structure and discipline, I could not crack the whip all the time and expect the best. I would have to listen a lot more and be more approachable (I had a very low ‘need’ score for ‘connection’ in my self-analysis). This programme was timely for me as I had been struggling for answers the past few weeks and I guess they all came flooding in over the course of the five days, especially interacting with so many like-minded professionals.

Brothers and sisters, when we hit an impasse or come to a crossroad in our lives, what do we do in order to reset, reframe and rejuvenate? Do we avoid the situation at hand and look for a new environment (something which I came to realise in the context of my almost 10 years in this current job)? Or do we consult others and seek input from those who have been around the block, even our bosses? As we yearn for instruction, do we really open ourselves up to receive? Or do we put up defences and say, “Oh, this is not me”, “This does not apply to me” or “You don’t know my situation so you are in no position to comment”?

I left the training venue filled with thoughts and edified that people all round the world actually have much more in common than we think. Perhaps we need to look within ourselves and explore what we have in common with those who are suffering, those who languish in poverty, those who are oppressed, or those who feel they have no hope. More importantly, I left feeling hopeful that equipped with new tools, I can become an effective agent of change in my workplace…and even in my ministry.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Father, you shower us with your love and constantly speak to us your words of wisdom. Give us the grace to be able to seek you out in our daily challenges and listen to your voice. Fill us with the Spirit so that we can be better versions of who we are in our workplaces, in our communities, at home with our families.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Holy Spirit, for being our guiding light and His voice in our lives.

12 November – Tuesday, Enduring Faith in Love

Nov 12 – Memorial for St. Josaphat, bishop, religious, martyr

John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.

Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.

His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.

He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.

While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.

Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.

“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat

  • Patron Saint Index

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Wisdom 2:23-3:9

God made man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God,
no torment shall ever touch them.
In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die,
their going looked like a disaster,
their leaving us, like annihilation;
but they are in peace.
If they experienced punishment as men see it,
their hope was rich with immortality;
slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be.
God has put them to the test
and proved them worthy to be with him;
he has tested them like gold in a furnace,
and accepted them as a holocaust.
When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out;
as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.
They shall judge nations, rule over peoples,
and the Lord will be their king for ever.
They who trust in him will understand the truth,
those who are faithful will live with him in love;
for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.

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Luke 17:7-10

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’

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…those who are faithful will live with him in love

It is a tough ask to remain faithful to something, someone or a belief system when one has been let down or when all around, others begin to question you. At times like these, it is only natural that one retreats into a shell and either withers away or comes out renewed, re-energised and fighting to re-establish authority or a semblance of what was once true.

As I write this, I am midway through a 5-day leadership training programme, which could not have come at a timelier moment. Much of the programme is focused on the dynamics between individuals (your boss, peers and staff), between groups and the challenges that each faces when interacting with someone like myself. Needless to say, it has been an eye-opening experience thus far and I am eager to meet with my assigned career coach over the next two days as we begin to unpack my leadership style and zoom in on the personality traits that may hinder my progress.

In battling my inner demons (albeit, rather small) over the past few months, I have come to realise that the one overwhelming emotion which arises from putting your faith in God is – love. The love that comes when you decide to shield others from blame; the love that comes when you are called to lead a praise and worship session when issues at work are demanding your time; the love that comes when you see others doing their best for you in spite of your own dark moods; the love of friends who call you out of the blue and invite you for dinner; the love of a soulmate who doesn’t demand of you but only wants the best for you, even if it means a weekend sleeping in.

I wonder if this overwhelming love is what the apostles felt each and every single day in the presence of Jesus. Because it is the only explanation why they would give everything up to follow Him. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of doing the same in today’s modern world, filled with creature comforts and luxuries of all sorts that distract us from the love of Jesus. Or do we? Have we become so blind to others around us, only caring about ourselves that we have forgotten how to love others as Jesus loved us?

Have we become such an ‘entitled’ race that we have forgotten how important it is to treat each other with respect, dignity and a common decency expected from those who proclaim to be followers of Christ? In one of the exercises we did during the programme, I played the role of a ‘customer’ and a few of the comments from the sharing/debrief session highlighted a certain sense of entitlement with regards to how we treated the ‘vendor agency’. I began to ask myself if I had begun to also feel a sense of entitlement towards my staff, treating them not with the respect that were due, but more with disdain – that they could never measure up.

Perhaps that is why whenever I look around in times of crisis, I never see the people who I need to show up – kind of like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. But unlike Jesus, who treated every single one of his apostles with love, my staff don’t form a circle around me because they don’t feel appreciated nor trusted. Even worse, I treat other subordinates even better and spend more time with them instead of those who need my affirmation more.

Brothers and sisters, research has shown that for every bit of negative feedback we have to give someone, it is necessary to first give three times the amount of positive feedback. And for those who are married, the number rises to almost six times vis-à-vis feedback for your spouse. How are we doing in our interactions with those who we spend a more than significant portion of our lives with?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Dear Father, help us to model Christ-like behavior at work, especially to our subordinates, staff and fellow colleagues. Be our guiding light in the challenging times and show us your face each time we encounter a crisis or a difficult situation.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being our model of love.

2 September, Monday – Grace In All Guises

2 September 2019

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

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Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

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It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon

It saddens me each time to read about incidences of bullying, especially those that lead to suicide. This is bullying in all forms, either in politics or at the playground. Are we really such inhumane, uncompassionate creatures, the very opposite of what God made us to be? If we are made in His likeness, I’m sure it is meant to be in all aspects. Yet, we still choose the fruit of knowledge of evil to see how far we can go, how much we can get away with. And these perpetrators go about their lives thereafter as though nothing happened. Is there anything to be gained in making someone else miserable? Is there any pleasure at the thought of ridiculing and ending another’s existence? And then go about life like normal as though it was an entitlement to you? A moment of ‘fun’ for the perpetrator is a lifetime of scarring for the oppressed.

If you have ever felt oppressed, rejected, or like an outsider, the stress must be only too great and I do not say this lightly at all. If you find yourself in such a situation, reach out to someone you can trust — a parent, teacher, pastor, or helpline. Seek help — help is at hand, help will come. Remember that Jesus was rejected by his own people in his hometown, remember that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. Remember that they did eventually kill him on the cross, but not before humiliating and hurting him. Remember that he was abandoned, betrayed and denied by those who followed him, some who were closest to him. Yet, at the end, God delivered him from the clutches of death by raising him on the third day. The naysayers were silenced. Tears were turned to rejoicing, disbelief turned to belief.

Remember that you are worthy, we are all worthy in God’s eyes. Jesus reminds us today that God performed miracles in the unlikeliest of places — the widow from Zarephath in Sidon, an area considered to be an outsider, and Naaman from Syria, a foe of Israel. Miracles could have well been performed in Israel, but God wanted to prove a point – that His love knows no bounds. The downtrodden, the oppressed, the unloved – if the world has rejected you, know that God has not. God doesn’t only reserve His mercies and graces to people who are born Christians or high-ranking leaders or active people in ministry. His grace is open to all. His grace is overflowing, even to outsiders (see Eph 2:11-13). His love is for you and me; it is in rejecting His love, where we will lose it and He will move on to others who need Him, until the day we return to Him.

Remember as well the Gospel reading from yesterday (Luke 14:7-14), where Jesus told his host to invite to his banquet “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”. God sees these people worthy to be at His banquet, more so than people who have been invited but rejected the invitation (Luke 14:24). Do not think that God has forsaken you. Those that have oppressed you may enjoy their lives now but there will come a time when they will need help, only to find that help will be denied them.

I don’t think I will understand why people have to be so unkind. There is nothing to be gained from being unkind, only for it to come back and bite us some day. Our lives are given to us by the mercy and grace of God; if we abuse it or reject it, some day it will be taken away from us and given to another.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the oppressed, the rejected, the unloved. We pray that You will deliver them from their pain and persecution, and give to them the grace and mercy that You have promised for all of us.

Thanksgiving: Lord we give You thanks for deeming us worthy, regardless of our standing in life, or the value that others may place on us. We give You thanks for Your unending and unconditional love.

16 March, Saturday – Love your Enemies

16 March 2019

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Deuteronomy 26:16-19

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God today commands you to observe these laws and customs; you must keep and observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.

‘You have today made this declaration about the Lord: that he will be your God, but only if you follow his ways, keep his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and listen to his voice. And the Lord has today made this declaration about you: that you will be his very own people as he promised you, but only if you keep all his commandments; then for praise and renown and honour he will set you high above all the nations he has made, and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he promised.’

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Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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Pray for those who persecute you”

I had a very interesting conversation with my nephew, who is also my godson, one day before we went off to school. He had his arms extended and swung it from left to right while he was talking to me. He was upset with someone and I told him that, “Jesus said you must love your enemies and that you should pray for them.” He relented and said that he would not want to pray for them. Even an 8-year old knows that it does not make ‘sense’, he was in disbelief. But more often than not, I feel it is the way of our Lord. He asks of us and wills for something that makes us look at him in disbelief.

Is it possible to love our enemy? That to me is really hard because forgiving is one thing but loving them really, is a different ball game all together. I do not have any enemies, but I have ‘fallen friends’, people with whom I have estranged relationships with. I have been told that it is normal to have this group of people who have ‘fallen out of your list’. That never sat right with me, because I clearly know that Jesus is not like that. And so, I pray for them because that is the only thing that helps. Sometimes they don’t want to be friends, sometimes it’s me, but when it’s my decision, I feel really upset about it.

Friendships are important to me, although I have a tendency to grow out of people, and for this I seek His mercy and His grace. Because he wants me to be perfect, just like Him. During a recent sermon I heard, the priest said that Lent is a time of joy so that you have no more estranged relationships. “Let there be no lepers in your life”. Powerful and true. How are the enemies, lepers and perpetrators in our lives? Have we started loving them and praying for them? Today is the acceptable time for that because now is our time for salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, you said blessed are those who follow your footsteps, make us and mould us into the blessed person today. Clean the cobwebs off from all our relationships, including the one we have with you and also the one we have with ourselves. All angels and saints, watch over our enemies and pray for them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for keeping us free and for allowing us the grace to love and pray for people who most need it. Thank you Lord, for the difficult people in our lives, for through them we have learnt to see you.

22 January, Tuesday – Rules and Regulations

22 Jan – Memorial for St. Vincent, deacon and martyr

Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304) was a friend of St. Valerius of Saragossa in Spain, and served as his deacon. He was imprisoned and tortured in Valencia, some of it by burning on a gridiron, for his faith. He converted the jailer and was finally offered release if he would give up the sacred texts to the fire, but he refused. He was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 6:10-20

God would not be so unjust as to forget all you have done, the love that you have for his name or the services you have done, and are still doing, for the saints. Our one desire is that every one of you should go on showing the same earnestness to the end, to the perfect fulfilment of our hopes, never growing careless, but imitating those who have the faith and the perseverance to inherit the promises.

When God made the promise to Abraham, he swore by his own self, since it was impossible for him to swear by anyone greater: I will shower blessings on you and give you many descendants. Because of that, Abraham persevered and saw the promise fulfilled. Men, of course, swear an oath by something greater than themselves, and between men, confirmation by an oath puts an end to all dispute. In the same way, when God wanted to make the heirs to the promise thoroughly realise that his purpose was unalterable, he conveyed this by an oath; so that there would be two unalterable things in which it was impossible for God to be lying, and so that we, now we have found safety, should have a strong encouragement to take a firm grip on the hope that is held out to us. Here we have an anchor for our soul, as sure as it is firm, and reaching right through beyond the veil where Jesus has entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.

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Mark 2:23-28

One sabbath day, Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick ears of corn as they went along. And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the sabbath day that is forbidden?’ And he replied, ‘Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’

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2nd Week in Ordinary Time: Tuesday, 22 January

Rules and Regulations

 

Heb 6:10-20

Mk 2:23-28

 

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath

The secondary school I studied in had an elaborate code of conduct that students had to strictly follow. Some of the rules appear absurd at first glance, but they were put in place for good reason. Basically, no aspect of a student’s physical appearance could give any hint of ostentatiousness. Hence, there were to be no fanciful hair clips nor hair styles, bags had to be plain and mostly dull-coloured, and even the faces of the watches we wore had a size limit. That was not all — our attitude towards teachers and peers was also closely monitored, and we would be duly disciplined for misbehaviour of any sort.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time took pride in meticulously following a long list of rules and commands they enacted according to their interpretation of Jewish law. While focusing solely on appearing devout and religious, it seems that they might have missed the point by failing to adhere to the moral code that should be governing their hearts. They are featured several times in the gospels, and are usually chided by Jesus for their hypocrisy and lack of love.

Although we may not identify with Pharisees very much, it is a fact that most of us do not take kindly to people who do not adhere to rules. I am not referring to criminal behaviour here, but rather, social norms. Non-adherence to such norms tend to cause discomfort, which can lead to unkind treatment of others. A lot of times, the weird behaviour is the result of conditions or disorders not within the person’s control. Autism is a good example. It is a moral responsibility to treat those afflicted with kindness and love, rather than ridicule and aversion.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will keep learning to look beneath the surface, and seek to understand rather than condemn.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the courageous examples of those who prioritise the dignity and needs of others above the desire to conform to society’s expectations.

28 January, Sunday – Better Versions Of Ourselves

28 January
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Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’

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1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

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Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

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“… for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes”

This year, we have to do better, try harder, be better versions of ourselves. I’m not saying this because it’s January, and in January we make resolutions that are broken in March. I say this because I agreed to become a sponsor to a young mother looking to receive her Rite of Confirmation this year. I almost said no because what a huge responsibility that is! I see her looking at me and I find myself second guessing my thoughts and actions. It is as if someone has suddenly shone a light on me and made me feel more accountable, certainly more aware that I have an accountability to God. My faith is something I sometimes take for granted. Her request of me has been a potent reminder that it should not be the case. All I do, all I say, is testament to my faith, and I ought to safeguard it better.

People want leadership that inspires, that is authentic, that they can believe in. Most people just think of themselves and what’s in it for them. So few people actually think about how they can serve to be good examples, how they can make things better for others. The Hebrews were looking for an inspirational example and they did not find it in the self-serving Pharisees. People today are looking for inspirational examples too – will they find it in us? In this new year, 2018, maybe we could all try to be that better version of ourselves, the ones we think we are in our heads, but know we fall short of in our hearts. We are all flawed but the heart can aspire and pray for God’s infinite grace to help us to bridge that gap. Where is the fault in trying?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness and good judgement to be credible witnesses to our faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the opportunities that God gives us to be better versions of ourselves. He is truly a God of second chances.