15 April, Saturday – Easter Vigil

15 April 2017 – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 5 from our writing team, along with 3 guest writers, Adele, Daryl and Cassandra have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Nicholas (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
_____________________

FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
________________

Responsarial: Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
________________

Exactly what you need to be

“Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”

In the run-up to Easter, there is the risk that we try to do too much and, in the process, lose sight of why we celebrate this spiritual season. We weigh ourselves down with so much of the ‘doing’ that we can’t find the time for ‘thinking’. Or ‘reflecting’. Or ‘praying’. Or ‘being’ with God.

Everything has its place in time. God could have created the world in an instant, yet He spread it out over 6 days, with a day of rest to reflect upon and appreciate all that was before him. Let’s take heed then and make this Vigil evening a time of thanksgiving for all that He has put in our lives – the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the friends, the foes, the blessings, the struggles, the triumphs and the disappointments. Everything in its proper place in time. This beautiful evening, let’s lay aside all of our ‘doing’ and focus on simply ‘being’ with God.

Lay down your cares. Right now, you are exactly where you need to be.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the awareness to appreciate the moments and the people in our lives, to not breeze past superficially, but fully breathe in the beauty of each.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the gifts and blessings that He has so generously showered upon us. May He give us the wisdom to be good stewards of them.

________________

SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
________________

Responsarial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
________________

Abraham tested, faith tested

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. And the two of them went on together.

It seems that God is asking for an impossible sacrifice from Abraham, his only son. When God speaks His will for me in no uncertain terms, do I have the courage to obey Him, if it seems that there is a high personal price to pay? Do I have faith that His plans for me are the best ones? Do I understand that He loves me so lavishly and wholly, that what He asks of me, is most certainly for my good?

What is God asking me to give up?

When I am asked to give up something that I treasure, is my instinct to give generously and unquestioningly? Or do I harbor resentment towards God for this costly price of obedience? It is human nature to be ‘loss averse’, since behaviourial economics tell us that ‘losses loom larger than gains’, and the pain of losing something is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something of equivalent value. As a result, people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid a loss, but will be less motivated to take risks for acquiring equivalent gains.

In the reading of Genesis today, Abraham is tested to his limits when God asks for Isaac to be offered as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. I can only imagine the shock, grief and disbelief of a father, when Abraham spots the place that God had identified, and proceeds to build an altar, bind up Isaac, and prepares to take his knife to his only beloved son.

Why would a loving God ask this immense sacrifice of the people who love Him? Perhaps Abraham, in his heart, was hoping for a miracle, or an intervention?

I cannot begin to even imagine, the fear that Isaac might have felt, as his father led him into the isolation and desolation of the mountains. What might Isaac be thinking, as his own father bound him up, and appeared to be on the verge of killing him? Why did the passage not speak of any struggle on Isaac’s part? Why did he appear to accept his fate so calmly?

God’s lavish providence transcends our human understanding. What are the big and little ways that God is providing for you?

When I think back at the times where I experienced inexplicable, gut-wrenching losses, such as the painful breakdown of long cherished relationships and friendships, or sudden upheavals in my career that throw my livelihood into question, do I surrender to His providence? Or do I fight and cling on stubbornly to what I think I am entitled to and have painstakingly built, or hold on ever more tightly to the sand that is slipping through my fingers?

In my moments of extreme doubt, unhappiness and fear, I remember asking God, “What is Your purpose of taking this person, happiness or opportunity away from me? What is Your point of making me lose something so precious to me?” However, once the internal strife subsides, or when the initial shock wears off, when I can remain calm enough to consider the situation more clearly, like in Psalm 16, God will not “abandon me to Sheol, He cannot allow His faithful servant to see the abyss”, the final resolution or outcomes are often far better than what my human mind could previously imagine. Many times over, what God asks of me to give up is often replaced by His grace and provision beyond what I deserved. Like the angel that points out the ram that is meant to take Isaac’s place for the offering, God offers the best solutions to our challenges, only if we trust Him enough, to be open to His promptings.

Only when we trust God completely, can we fully welcome His love for us.

In Psalm 16:11, God “will teach me the path of life, unbounded joy in His presence, at His right hand delight forever”. When I let go of my human expectations of what my life ought to be like, how others should respond or reciprocate to my efforts, what my success is meant to be in worldly terms, or how God should grant me particular blessings, only then do I become open to rejoice in the abundance, delights and joys that God has already laid out for me. I would suffer a lot less heartache, anxiety and grief, when I choose to surrender completely to the circumstances that God has made for me to experience. Let us open our hearts and minds to God’s plan for our lives. For it is only in holding lightly, do we experience the magic of resting in our Father’s lavish love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Adele Khee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the humility and wisdom to discern Your will for me. Grant me the courage to obey You completely and trust in Your providence, especially when the costs seem impossible or unacceptable in my limited human understanding.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for Your divine providence, and Your care for the biggest concerns and smallest details of my life. I am grateful to You, Lord, for the people, circumstances and blessings that You have granted me, to help me become more like You.

________________

THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
________________

Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

________________

A Close Partnership with God

“Tell the sons of Israel to march on”

Over the last few years, my son has taken a fascination to ‘special abilities’. We have been asked, repeatedly over a period of time, whether we prefer to be able to slow time, or be in two places at one time or even to know what others are thinking.

Very often, we hope to be saved in a very tangible way by our God. Like a superhero, we imagine the day we would have our Lord pop up and rescue us from whatever we need to be rescued from.

I have always known the song “The Horse and Rider” of Psalm 15. In it, we read of how God defeated the Egyptians as the slaves crossed the Red Sea, about how God turned up like a superhero, coming to save the day.

In the 3rd reading today, we read that before the events of Psalm 15 happened, God gave Moses two instructions. Firstly, to “tell the sons of Israel to march on”, and secondly, for Moses to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the sea and part it.  God asked Moses to play his part so that God could play His!

Rather than having God swoop in and solve our problems, I believe God asks us to be active participants in the solution. He wants us to first begin the process, then let Him take over and do the rest. Rather than being passive in the whole process, I feel that God wants us to be collaborators; to work in partnership with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we will have the courage to collaborate with You; to take the first steps in allowing You to work within our lives.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father for working within our lives; for teaching us to take the first step in working closely with You.

________________

FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
________________

Responsarial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
________________

Strength in Commitment

“With great love will I take you back”

I remember attending the Marriage Preparation Course twenty years ago. One of the most memorable takeaways I remember is that love was not just an emotion; it was also a decision. Many older married couples counseled us, saying that beyond the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, making love work would take conscious decisions, which need to be made and reaffirmed time and again.

In the 4th reading today, we get a sense of the level of commitment our God has for us. The reading reminds us that whatever difficulties a wife may face with the husband, they return to the marital promise of being there for each other.

My wife and I have been married 20 years this year. Indeed, the advice and words from our elders came true during the years. Many friends have told me that both my wife and I are blessed to have a successful marriage. The truth is, however, that our marriage took very hard work, with many ups and downs along the way. Ultimately though, the decision was, for the both of us, we would work on our marriage no matter how hard it took.

Let us cling to this strong commitment that our God has for us and remember that whatever happens, He is there for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, help us to always remember that You are always there for us, loving us.

ThanksgivingThank You Lord, for the deep commitment You have given us. Thank You for being there for us, no matter what.

________________

FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
________________

Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
________________

Jesus is waiting for you

Listen, that you may have life.

The end of 2016 wasn’t not easy going for me – spiritual dryness, praying was especially hard and I struggled to find meaning in my very existence. It was a time of sheer darkness. My God had abandoned me! So by January, I knew I needed to just get away from it all. To be completely alone, to come away from ‘life’ as I knew it.

I marked the beginning of Lent by spending a week away on a retreat. I had planned to go with a friend, but that friend pulled out due to work commitments. I found another willing companion but just days before, she too pulled out. Eventually I went alone. I have never before travelled on my own; work trips excluded. But the Lord planned that I would make this journey on my own. I needed this quiet time away but truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, learning from past experiences, nothing goes according to my plan. On previous silent retreats, I would list a slew of questions and our God of surprises would throw my list out of the window. Still, on the very first day, I wrote in my journal 4 objectives for my retreat. How typical of me to set ‘the agenda’ for this ‘meeting’. But even as I wrote in my book, I was thinking to myself “I bet none of these questions would be covered.”

On route to my destination, I was reading and came across this line which struck me. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? I had been worried about a situation I was facing and reading this was very comforting. Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money come! And so, my retreat began.

For some time, I kept questioning what my reason for being is – my vocation. I was convinced that the Lord was simply silent to that question. But during this time, when I shut out all my own thoughts and feelings, I heard it loud and clear — “Your vocation is not static. It moves and evolves”. It was like ‘wham!’ a lightning bolt, and it all became clear in my mind. While I was so busy wallowing in my self-constructed prison of darkness, the answer was as simple and clear as day, right before me and yet I never saw it. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.

God yearns to speak to us and lead us – we can choose to listen, or go our own merry way. He gives us free will. As for me, my head was so busy and noisy with my own thoughts and ways of fixing my problem that I practically shut out His voice. And of course, my way was not the best way. I found myself completely lost in a maze. Then like a spoilt child, I scream and throw a tantrum saying that God has abandoned me. It was only when I finally gave up, gave in and gave it all to Jesus that I heard Him. I acknowledged that it was I who walked away from Him, while all along, He never left my side. I came away from my vacation with Jesus refreshed, recharged, with a sense of hope and purpose. And yes, He did answer my questions this time!

So today, as we are just hours away from Easter, can we let ourselves out of the tomb of darkness? The darkness and pain that we are so accustomed to and walk out into the light?

Jesus is waiting just outside, my friends!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, teach us to silence our hearts and minds that we might hear you speaking. Teach us to seek you and call to you when we are lost and in need of your nourishment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for rejuvenating our souls. Your words are refreshing cool spring waters on a parched soul. Thank you for being our strength and comfort.


________________

SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
________________

Responsarial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
________________

To Listen is to Love

“Had you walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in enduring peace”

 I’ve heard it said many times before that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’m not so sure. For one it leaves me feeling foolish whenever I come across that mountain of bad decisions I’ve made in my life. What if I had done things differently or taken another path, would I be better off now? But then, what is better off? It would be what I perceived to be better off, maybe even what the world perceives to be ‘better off’.

But where would God fit into my life if I didn’t make bad decisions then beg for divine intervention? I might look back one day and say, if only I didn’t have it all together then God would have entered my life sooner. Much like the Israelites in slavery, did we ever find out what got them there in the first place? Then in being rescued, the journey took so long that while God was rescuing them, they wanted to abandon him again.

I think our journeys into the light are long and painful, filled with valleys and peaks so that we can stand tall at the end and say with true marvellous reverence, “My Lord and My God”.

How much more do we appreciate that which we fought so hard for, how much more do we appreciate the airport we land in when the flight was 24 hours long with 3 connections, when we find the place of wisdom and enter into her treasuries where we find peace, we can truly appreciate being there and dwelling there.

Our history is blessed, it had led us to where we are now, with all our failings and misdeeds. We have been called out of slavery and into everlasting life. Hindsight works for some, not so for others, but for me, I’m blessed to be able to look back at the journey that I am still on, in fact, and boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, he is strong and if I let him, he will carry me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: The path to you is narrow and filled with dangers; but you, my Saviour, can bring me home. Grant me that trust and reliance on you my Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for my blessed history. Let me gain wisdom by reflecting on my past to help me rely on you more every day.

________________

SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
________________

Responsarial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
________________

The Struggles in Prayer

Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.

Often in prayer, I have to overcome a barrier — my sense of unworthiness. I frequently enter into prayer with a sense of shame. A shame that I have not been living as closely with God as ‘I should’; that I have not been talking to God as ‘I should’. Needless to say, these thoughts keep me focused on myself and my inadequacies, causing prayer to be a very heavy and burdensome experience.

The verse above provides a sense of liberation. God treats me well not because I deserve it, but because of His own name. Perhaps it would help to think about how I treat certain individuals that I dislike in order to understand how God treats me when I act poorly.

When I am tempted to be unkind to people I dislike, I refrain from acting like this because I cannot live with myself being an unkind and cruel person. I find myself instead extending general courtesy towards them. If I, a human being and a sinner, can withhold from acting nastily or cruelly because it is not in my nature to do so, what more God?

In fact, God goes further. He doesn’t just treat me civilly; the way I do with people I am not fond of. He doesn’t just keep me at arm’s length when He is displeased with me. On the contrary, He pursues and gathers me home, cleanses me, changes my heart and calls me, a sinner, “Mine”. He does this because His nature is that of a loving Father – one who patiently woos and changes hearts, one that always welcomes His children home, one that does His best to let His children feel safe at home.

If I imagined God as this loving Father who is here to welcome me, hold me, help me, renew my heart, make me more like Him, would I enter into prayer differently? Would I still shrink into the darkness of self-condemnation or would I relax into His loving and compassionate light?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Nathalia)

Prayer: Dear Father, I pray to relax into Your loving and compassionate embrace. I pray to let go of my habit of judging myself, and build a new habit of focusing on who You are and how You will always act in accordance with Your loving nature.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that because God’s nature is good, He will always be good to us. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’.


________________

EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

________________

Responsarial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

________________

All you who long for Life

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.

This scripture passage reminds me of the story of Lazarus having died and been buried in the tomb for three days. We have encountered this story during Lent. And so we know that Jesus arrived late, he witnessed the grief of Mary and Martha, and he mourned with them. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Jesus called Lazarus to arise from his death and walk out from the tomb.

Tonight, we will witness the baptism of new members into our Catholic family. It is a tremendously joyous occasion, one filled with jubilation and hope and new life! At the same time, the readings also call us to a powerful reality we must contend with as Christians, and that is the fact of death, or the need to die. Dying is such an important part of life, that God uses death to reveal to us a conundrum – it does not only happen at the end of one’s life. Death is a powerful gateway to true and eternal Life. ‘But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him… in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:8,11).

Many of us may never fully understand this until we are finitely confronted with death in its literal sense. We realize how helpless we truly are in the face of our mortality, and those of our loved ones, or even, the millions of refugees in war-torn lands. Even so, how would this knowledge touch our souls?

From my experience, dying will happen to us on three levels of our reality, although each may be felt differently. The first is literal (the loss of life), the second metaphorical or emotional (the loss of a relationship, a dream), and the third being spiritual (death to one’s sin, death to the spiritual life, the loss of hope, depression).

In the light of baptism and our renewal of our baptismal vows together with the congregation, we are called to choose to die to our sin, to reject Satan and his lies, to trust that our redemption and true life will come with His Resurrection. It will not be easy, as some of us struggle with addictions, compulsions and even blindness to our wrongs. Still, we pray humbly for the courage to wage this battle, knowing full well that our hope and victory come through the power of Christ’s Precious Blood and Body. We are called and chosen to hold the great I AM in our hands and taste of His true flesh and blood. May we never take the Eucharist for granted.

At the same time, I feel called to address my brothers and sisters who are struggling with your faith, with elements of our faith, with your own desolation, depression, and despair, who feel daily dead in their spirits or lost in loneliness. As Jesus comforts Mary and Martha, “this [illness, pain, doubt or suffering] does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). This is a death that is hardest to talk about amongst even the closest of friends and family. But the Christ whom you have once professed faith in and who has chosen you, He sees you. He sees through, hidden as it may be. He feels your pain and struggles, your doubts and confusion, your despair and sorrow.

Oftentimes, there are no quick fixes, no three-day empowerment programs, no majestic resurrection moments. Do not be discouraged. Do not shudder or recoil at the glory of these “Alleluia!” Scriptures that are promised you tonight, simply because you can not presently feel the joy or hope.

This is the heroism of our faith, that we, human as we are, are called upon to defy the darkness, in spite of our own darkness. Trust! Hold fast! The glory of God and His Son is still germinating in the dark soil beneath wherever you are standing, and it will take time. It must take time. We have the Christ, who is King over all of the living and the dead, and especially these agonising in-between spaces. He has traversed these boundaries and revealed His Eternal Dominion over all of time and space. Have faith. I know that three days can sometimes feel like forever. I know because I have been stuck before. But I know Christ has always remained faithful in these spaces with me. Even if I had been blind to it. He has never let me go, and He has raised me up. He will never let you go, and He will raise you up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, please make known your love and presence to those who are struggling with sorrow, doubt, depression. May they sense the warmth of your Precious Blood even in the darkness.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for the gift of faith, the grace of baptism, and the Holy Spirit who protects me at all times.

 
________________

GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

________________

Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

14 April, Friday – Appreciating Jesus Humanity

14 April 2017

_______

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.
_____________________

Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
_____________________

John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
‘I am thirsty.’
A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.
_____________________

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us

Today marks the first day of week 38. My husband and I are both nervous because we don’t know what to expect. It feels like I’m walking around with a ticking time-bomb, waiting for ‘the moment’ our little one will arrive. The past month has been an overwhelming flurry of activity – getting the nursery in order and the hospital bag packed, reading up on labour, episiotomies and post-natal care. But amidst all the hurry, there are moments of quietness when I start to question myself, “Will I ever be a good Mum? Will I be able to bring up my child with patience?” And then there are other worries, like, “Will he be healthy?” and “Will everything be alright?”. Attending mass every Sunday helps me to surrender my burdens to God.

What strikes me most about Holy Week is the focus on Jesus’ humanity. It begins with Passion Sunday, when we relive and participate in the Last Supper and Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane. It strikes me that he had to pray three times to his Father. Not just once, but thrice. And in between each prayer, he would look for his disciples, desperately urging them to pray. However, none could stay awake. I can only imagine the fear and anxiety that Jesus must have felt. He eventually submits himself to God’s will – but not without inner turmoil. It then culminates in the events of Good Friday.

The first reading reminds us that “like a sapling he grew up in front of us”. Imagine watching a little child grow up in front of you — innocent, loved and hopeful of the future ahead. Jesus too was somebody’s child – held dearly and deeply loved by his mother, Mary. Having watched him grow, she probably knew how he fussed at night, what foods he liked and what made him laugh or cry. He was as ordinary as any of us or our children. Yet, “ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrow he carried… on him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed”.

The reason why we can find peace in the presence of God is because of the price that Jesus paid through his humanity. He is the reason why we can find healing and comfort, grace and mercy, strength and hope through our trials and adversities when we are in need. It is through his humanity that we are made whole again in his divinity.

As we participate in the Gospel reading today, let us appreciate fully how Jesus had suffered in his humanity so that we may rejoice and partake in his divinity.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Cassandra Cheong)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the patience to carry my cross with humility and love.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the gift of Jesus, your Son. 

13 April, Thursday – Remembering the Lord’s Supper

13 April 2017

___________________

Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal.

It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord.

That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’

_____________

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

______________

John 13:1-15

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

_________________

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Holy Thursday has always held a special place in my heart. I remember first attending Holy Thursday as a Cathecumen, marveling at the humility of Jesus, who would kneel before His disciples to wash their feet. Furthermore, He washed their feet not for His own good, but for theirs. Like many of the things that God has done for us, it is always for our own good, for there is nothing that anyone can do for the good of God, who is Himself the personification of all goodness.

It is this humility and self-giving that continues to touch and amaze me every Maundy Thursday, as I watch the priest re-enact the washing of the disciples’ feet during mass. As we have seen on Palm Sunday, the Lordship of Jesus is one that defies all conventions and human understanding. While kings (and indeed, even our modern day leaders) desired to be served, Jesus chose instead to serve others. While a king would encourage his subjects to serve him, Jesus encouraged us to serve each other. This is why He said in today’s gospel, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do”.

More importantly, today’s gospel is a timely reminder, as we prepare for Good Friday, that Jesus suffered death on the cross not just for His disciples, but for all humanity. Indeed, Jesus has already called us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:31). He did not say ‘love your Christian neighbour’, but to love all our neighbours, regardless of who they are. In a world that is rife with conflict and divisions, it is sometimes difficult to do so, especially when we face persecution for others.

But as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday, we remember that Our Lord has suffered even more persecution for us. What is a hostile glare or a nasty comment, compared to what He had gone through for us? Like Jesus, we have to focus on living and doing the will of God, even when doing so involves going against the grain of societal expectations. Yet we also know that it is so difficult and tiring to be swimming against the tides of the increasingly secular and materialistic societies that we find ourselves in.

Thankfully, we have been given a gift and a sacrament that can refresh our souls whenever we find ourselves weary from having to live our faith in a hostile world — the Holy Eucharist. On this night, we should keep in mind of the body and blood of Christ that was given to us on the last supper. As St Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes”. Let us never forget to proclaim His death, for He died not for Himself for for the salvation of our souls.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace and humility to continue serving each other, especially those who are most in need, whether physically or spiritually.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for giving us the Sacrament of the Eucharist, for continuing to give Yourself to us, so that in these troubled times, we may continue to receive Your love and graces.  

13 April, Thursday – Call to Holiness

13 April 2017

_______________

Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

______________________

Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

________________

Luke 4:16-21

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.’

_________________

This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”

The readings of today remind us of the priestly role which all of us are called to answer. It may appear that such duties are meant for those who have received Holy Orders but all of us are called to a life of holiness. The manner in which we go about doing so is not found buried in the Scriptures, but can be found in the readings of today and the significance of the priests renewing their vows before the local Bishop.

The priests today renew the vows which they have made on their priestly Ordination to remain in the service of the Lord and to remain obedient to the local Bishop and his successor. This is a continued renewal and conversion towards Jesus Christ. All of us are in need of reminders in our lives and some of us do so by having a diary or updating our calendars. Today’s Mass is, in a special way, allowing the priests to remember the reasons why they joined the priesthood and to rekindle in them the fervour which they first had on the date of their Ordination.

For those who are lay-people, this renewal is just as relevant. We are called to be the salt and light of the earth. There are people in this world who have been blinded by the pursuit of material goods, deafened by the music of a secular world and bound by chains of despair and darkness. As Christians, we are reminded of our common priesthood to reach out to these people and to share with them the joy of living the Christian Faith. In doing so, we continue to do the work of God by being the leaven in a world hungry for God’s touch.

The priests who are ministers of God nourish us in the Liturgy of the Word with the homily and our souls in the Liturgy of the Eucharist through confecting the Holy Eucharist. Having been strengthened by the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we can then carry out the command made by the priest at the end of Mass to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to remain faithful to you and allow us to discover what your plan is for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all priests in the world.

12 April, Wednesday – Not knowing the Day or Hour

12 April 2017

_________________

Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

______________________

Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

________________________

The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”

As I reflect on Jesus’s words: “My appointed time draws near”, I realize that it is something that He has said from the beginning of His public ministry. We often hear Jesus telling us to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2) or “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17). Indeed, Jesus has long been telling telling us that the time for His Passion is near, for the Passion can also be seen as the fulfilment of scripture, as Jesus, through His death and resurrection, becomes for us, the gateway into heaven.

Yet we also know that these are words have often fallen upon deaf ears, both during Jesus’s public ministry and in our time today. Indeed, it is often easy to procrastinate when it comes to the kingdom of heaven. How often have we put off our nightly prayers because we are tired and worn out from the day? How often have we told ourselves: “It’s okay, prayer can wait. It’s okay, God will also wait. I am just so tired and busy”? It is most certainly the case for me, as I wrestle with the day to day hustle and bustle of life in academia.

But we also know from scripture that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Ths 5:2). Taking our cue from the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, we do not want to be found asleep when the Lord comes to find us. Similarly, in the parable of the ten virgins, we do not want to be like the five unfortunate virgins who did not have oil for the lamp and were hence locked out of the wedding banquet. In that parable, Jesus has told us to “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Mt 25: 13).

In the modern parlance of today, we should strive to be ‘safe rather than sorry’. Indeed, there is much safety to be found in the love and protection of the Lord. Our safehaven is in the kingdom of heaven, in the presence of our Lord. We should therefore keep praying and hoping, so that we will be ready when our Lord comes for each of us, rather than sorry and left out of the kingdom, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:42). In a way, our not knowing the day nor hour is a bit of a blessing. For this keeps our hearts ever ready and focused on the kingdom of heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: As we await the coming of Your Kingdom Lord, keep us ever steadfast in our faith and prayers, so that at Your appointed time, we will not be found wanting. 

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His loving patience in always tolerating and forgiving our human waywardness.

11 April, Tuesday – Following our Lord

11 April 2017

______________

Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

_________________

John 13:21-33,36-38

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,
where I am going, you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’

_________________

Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later”

In today’s gospel, we are shown the beginning of Jesus’s Passion. Indeed, we are told of the very moment that Satan entered Judas, and the betrayal began. This image of Satan entering Judas is particularly salient to many of us who have struggled with sin. How often have we sensed the beginnings of a sinful act – whether it is an angry thought that has entered our mind or a little excuse we give ourselves for turning a blind eye to a personal transgression – but done nothing about it?

We are often told that it is far easier to nip sin in the bud before it can take root, to deny the words of the evil spirit before they make us do something we may regret. But in reality, we know how hard it is. Like in the movie ‘Inception’, the seeds of sin and doubt can take root so quickly and innocuously, and the consequences of these seeds are often painful not only to ourselves, but to our loved ones as well. Furthermore, we are told that Judas is not the only one who was susceptible to the evil spirit. Even Peter, the chosen ‘rock’ of the church, was plagued with doubt and fear. While he did not betray Jesus, Peter nonetheless denied Him when faced with the fear of persecution.

Such is our human nature, plagued by original sin and often filled with fear and anxiety, that it often does not take a lot for Satan to push us down the wrong path. But such is also the grace of God, that it is not difficult to fight our ways back to sanctity and holiness. All we need to do, as Jesus has told us time and again, is to repent and denounce sin. And should we, having repented, continue to fall into sin, all we need to do, again, is simply to repent once more. Being fully aware of our human nature, Jesus nonetheless chose to love and save us. Indeed, He continued to love Peter and Thomas, despite their denial and doubt, and grant them admittance to His Kingdom.

This is the promise that we find at the end of today’s gospel reading: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later”. Jesus is telling us that where He has gone (heaven), we will also follow. Yet at the same time, He is also telling us that where He was going (to the Cross), we would also need to go. Yes, as Jesus has suffered, we are also called to suffer. But this suffering that we often face is not for naught. Rather, and as St Teresa of Calcutta has taught us, we must see our suffering as redemptive suffering, both for the salvation of our own souls and those of others.

As we face all our fears and doubts this Holy Week, let us remind ourselves that in following our Lord to the cross, we are also following Him to holiness and salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for your grace and guidance, as well face our daily struggles and doubts, and we ask for your patience and forgivness, for the times when we have not loved You enough. 

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for being the head to the body of our Church. For where the Head has gone, so will the body. May we follow You in faithful discipleship.

10 April, Monday – To Praise, Love and Serve Him

10 April 2017

______________

Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

____________________

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.

Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

__________________________

You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Being Catholic, I am often asked some rather uncomfortable questions about the alleged opulence of our churches (adorned as they are with gold ornaments and ornate sculptures). Indeed, it is almost logical to wonder — wouldn’t it be better to sell all this gold and art pieces, and give the money to the poor? On a recent trip to Rome, the same thought crossed my mind, as I was praying in the beautiful and ornate Church of the Gesu. In catechism, we are often taught that gold is used because we want to give our best to God.

But again, this answer may not always be theologically appealing. After all, doesn’t feeding the poor constitute giving our best to God? No, the answer to this niggling doubt lies not in the physical realm. Rather, it has something to do with our desire to detach ourselves from material objects and desire. In using gold to adorn our churches, we have not only chosen to give our best and most precious (material) possession to God, but we show that we treat such possessions with a healthy sense of detachment.

Indeed, it is a fundamental precept of Ignatian spirtuality that we should hold our possessions lightly and use them in service of God, for nothing we own (or indeed, nothing we do) would mean anything if they are not used in the service of God. As St Ignatus puts it: “The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul. All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created” (The First Principle and Foundation, St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises).

In washing our Lord’s feet with perfumed oil, Mary is using what is materially precious to serve a greater and more spiritual purpose — worship of our Lord. In contrast, Judas cannot see beyond the material value of the oil, and hence is unable to serve the Lord with all his heart and soul. Like Mary, we too should make use of all our possessions and talents in the praise and service of our Lord. In doing so, we are, as St Ignatius teaches us, simply doing the purpose that God has designed and made us for — to praise, reverence (or love), and serve Him.

This is even more crucial at the beginning of this Holy Week, as we accompany Jesus towards His Passion. For without our Lord’s sacrificial love for us, our talents and possessions will be of little use, for none of these could ever save our souls.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the wisdom to look beyond the veil of our material world, so that we can see your spiritual presence in all its splendour, and in doing so, hope to praise, reverence and serve You in all the days of our lives.

Thanksgiving: We are thankful for all the gifts, little and big, that the Lord has showered upon us, and for the chance to use these gifts in service of Him.  

9 April, Sunday – Welcoming the King

9 April 2017

_____________

Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

__________________

Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

_________________

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew

Key: N. Narrator. + Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

N. One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
O. What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?
N. They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say,
C. Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?
N. He replied:
+ Go to so-and-so in the city and say to him, ‘The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’
N. The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said:
+ I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.
N. They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn,
C. Not I, Lord, surely?
N. He answered,
+ Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!
N. Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn,
O. Not I, Rabbi, surely?
N. Jesus answered:
+ They are your own words.
N. Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples and said:
+ Take it and eat; this is my body.
N. Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, saying:
+ Drink, all of you, from this, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.
N. After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them,
+ You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, but after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.
N. At this, Peter said,
O. Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith.
N. Jesus answered him,
+ I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.
N. Peter said to him,
O. Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.
N. And all the disciples said the same.
Then Jesus came with them to a small estate called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,
+ Stay here while I go over there to pray.
N. He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And sadness came over him, and great distress. Then he said to them,
+ My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and keep awake with me.
N. And going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed:
+ My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.
N. He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter:
+ So you had not the strength to keep awake with me one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
N. Again, a second time, he went away and prayed:
+ My Father, if this cup cannot pass by without my drinking it, your will be done!
N. And he came back again and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy. Leaving them there, he went away again and prayed for the third time, repeating the same words. Then he came back to the disciples and said to them,
+ You can sleep on now and take your rest. Now the hour has come when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is already close at hand.
N. He was still speaking when Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him a large number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. Now the traitor had arranged a sign with them. He had said,
O. ‘The one I kiss, he is the man. Take him in charge.’
N. So he went straight up to Jesus and said,
O. Greetings, Rabbi.
N. and kissed him. Jesus said to him,
+ My friend, do what you are here for.
N. Then they came forward, seized Jesus and took him in charge. At that, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it; he struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. Jesus then said,
+ Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defence? But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?
N. It was at this time that Jesus said to the crowds,
+ Am I a brigand, that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me.
N. Now all this happened to fulfil the prophecies in scripture. Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.
The men who had arrested Jesus led him off to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. Peter followed him at a distance, and when he reached the high priest’s palace, he went in and sat down with the attendants to see what the end would be.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus, however false, on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any, though several lying witnesses came forward. Eventually two stepped forward and made a statement,
O. This man said: ‘I have power to destroy the Temple of God and in three days build it up.’
N. The high priest then stood up and said to him,
O. Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?
N. But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him,
O. I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.
N. Jesus answered:
+ The words are your own. Moreover, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.
N. At this, the high priest tore his clothes and said,
O. He has blasphemed. What need of witnesses have we now? There! You have just heard the blasphemy. What is your opinion?
N. They answered,
C. He deserves to die.
N. Then they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him,
C. Play the prophet, Christ! Who hit you then?
N. Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came up to him and said,
O. You too were with Jesus the Galilean.
N. But he denied it in front of them all, saying:
O. I do not know what you are talking about.
N. When he went out to the gateway another servant-girl saw him and said to the people there,
O. This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.
N. And again, with an oath, he denied it:
O. I do not know the man.
N. A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter,
C. You are one of them for sure! Why, your accent gives you away.
Then he started calling down curses on himself and swearing:
O. I do not know the man.
N. At that moment the cock crew, and Peter remembered what Jesus had said, ‘Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus. They had him bound, and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor.
When he found that Jesus had been condemned, Judas his betrayer was filled with remorse and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders, saying:
O. I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.
N. They replied:
C. What is that to us? That is your concern.
N. And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off and hanged himself. The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said,
C. It is against the Law to put this into the treasury: it is blood-money.
N. So they discussed the matter and bought the potter’s field with it as a graveyard for foreigners, and this is why the field is called the Field of Blood today. The words of the prophet Jeremiah were then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by children of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, just as the Lord directed me.
Jesus, then, was brought before the governor, and the governor put to him this question:
O. Are you the king of the Jews?
N. Jesus replied,
+ It is you who say it.
N. But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders he refused to answer at all. Pilate then said to him,
O. Do you not hear how many charges they have brought against you?
N. But to the governor’s complete amazement, he offered no reply to any of the charges.
At festival time it was the governor’s practice to release a prisoner for the people, anyone they chose. Now there was at that time a notorious prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them,
O. Which do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?
N. For Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. Now as he was seated in the chair of judgement, his wife sent him a message,
O. Have nothing to do with that man; I have been upset all day by a dream I had about him.
N. The chief priests and the elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. So when the governor spoke and asked them,
O. Which of the two do you want me to release for you?
N. they said,
C. Barabbas.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?
N. They all said:
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Pilate asked:
O. Why? What harm has he done?
N. But they shouted all the louder,
C. Let him be crucified!
N. Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said,
O. I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.
N. And the people, to a man, shouted back,
C. His blood be on us and on our children!
N. Then he released Barabbas for them. He ordered Jesus to be first scourged and then handed over to be crucified.
The governor’s soldiers took Jesus with them into the Praetorium and collected the whole cohort round him. Then they stripped him and made him wear a scarlet cloak, and having twisted some thorns into a crown they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand. To make fun of him they knelt to him saying,
C. Hail, king of the Jews!
N. And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucify him.
On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, Simon by name, and enlisted him to carry his cross. When they had reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull, they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink. When they had finished crucifying him they shared out his clothing by casting lots, and then sat down and stayed there keeping guard over him.
Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ At the same time two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said,
C. So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself! If you are God’s son, come down from the cross!
N. The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way, saying:
C. He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He puts his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, ‘I am the son of God.’
N. Even the robbers who were crucified with him taunted him in the same way.
From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
+ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
N. That is, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood there heard this, they said,
C. The man is calling on Elijah.
N. and one of them quickly ran to get a sponge which he dipped in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink. The rest of them said:
C. Wait! See if Elijah will come to save him.
N. But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
At that, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked; the rocks were split; the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead, and these, after his resurrection, came out of the tombs, entered the Holy City and appeared to a number of people. Meanwhile the centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said,
C. In truth this was a son of God.
N. And many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
When it was evening, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, called Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate thereupon ordered it to be handed over. So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud and put it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. Now Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.
Next day, that is, when Preparation Day was over, the chief priests and the Pharisees went in a body to Pilate and said to him,
C. Your Excellency, we recall that this impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I shall rise again.’ Therefore give the order to have the sepulchre kept secure until the third day, for fear his disciples come and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ This last piece of fraud would be worse than what went before.
N. Pilate said to them:
O. You may have your guard. Go and make all as secure as you know how.
N. So they went and made the sepulchre secure, putting seals on the stone and mounting a guard.

_______________________

This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”

Today, we re-enact the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem by receiving palm fronds. In the Greco-Roman tradition, palms were used as a symbol of victory and triumph, and often used to welcome triumphant kings. It is in this context that Palm Sunday came about, as the people of Jerusalem lined the streets with palms to welcome the entry of Jesus into their city. However, the readings also tell us that the whole city was ‘shaken’ upon seeing Jesus.

One reason for this could be that Jesus did not, in the minds of the people in Jerusalem then at least, appear to fulfill their expectations of what a king should look like. First, he rode in on a donkey. Unlike the strong steeds that kings tended to ride on, a donkey symbolizes humility rather than triumph in battle. Futhermore, Jesus was humbly dressed and accompanied by a rag tag band of disciples. Kings were expected to be lavishly dressed and surrounded by a whole coterie of royal subjects and even troops.

Indeed, the confusion that Jerusalem had felt continues to reverbrate in our societies today. Like the people of Jerusalem, we are still waiting for that king who will vanquish all our foes and solve all our problems. And when we pray, we frequently ask God to help us decipher some conundrum that we are facing, or right a wrong that we have been saddled with. But when we do not get the answer that we are looking for, we too are shaken with confusion.

The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and His subsequent Passion serve to remind us that even the Son of God had to suffer. Even when Jesus asked for God to ‘let this cup pass from me’, or when He asked His Father “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, He did not always receive an answer. But being obedient to death, Jesus showed us the perfect model of Holiness, expressed through subservience to the Will of God. It is this kingship that we are preparing for today: a kingship based on humility and obedience to God – a kingship that is directed to a divine Other, rather than its human self.

A kingship that, while manifested in the person of Jesus, is really a conduit to the reality of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, grant us the grace and humility to welcome You into the cities of our hearts. Let our hearts and souls be fertile grounds for the sowing of Your Word.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His sacrificial love for us, and for allowing us to love Him in return. 

8 April, Saturday – On Quarrelling

8 April 2017

_______________

Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins.

I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them.

I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

___________________

John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’

One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

_________________________

“Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

I was at a church event recently, hosted by a group of women parishioners at my church who hate each other’s guts. While on the surface, everything seemed cordial enough, you could feel the tension when people spoke to one another. I’ve known this group for some time, so I was aware of the context going in to it. Everything was just a little forced – smiles, hugs, well-wishes. Why do we bother with false pretenses in church? Isn’t this the one place where we are allowed to be genuine with one another? So why do we pollute this space with our human angst? If God has a personal relationship with each one of us, how does He mediate when we fight amongst ourselves? How does He help us to find a path to peace?

We’ve always been a divided group of people, especially within the context of our beliefs. The people of the Sanhedrin in today’s gospel are no more quarrelsome and ambitious than the people of our parishes. We may not sit around and plot the death of prophets anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t actively participate in complaining, gossip and black balling. We are all accountable to each other, and for one another. If one person falters, the whole group stumbles as well. Knowing this, why do we still attack each other?

The reading from Ezekiel shows us an ideal that we can aspire to — that of a united church. One that does not focus on the small, insignificant human dramas of daily life. Christ died for us so that we might be free to live by his principles and teachings. God calls his church, but its members must still put in the hard work of living by that calling. That includes giving up that part of ourselves that does not serve His purpose. If our lives were ransomed with the precious blood of His son, isn’t it only fair then, that we try to honour him by putting an end to our quarrelsome ways?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience to overlook the slights and sharp words that are levelled at us by our brethren in Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit, who mediates for us and tries to keep the peace amongst us.

7 April, Friday – You will know them by their fruits

7 Apr – Memorial for St. John Baptist de la Salle, priest

John (1651–1719) studied for the priesthood in Paris, France, but quit to care for his brothers and sisters upon the death of his parents. When his siblings were grown, John returned to the seminary. He was canon of Rheims, France in 1667 and was ordained in 1678. He became a doctor of theology in 1680.

He was spiritual director of the Sisters of the Holy Infant who were devoted to teaching poor girls. He founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (Christian Brothers) in 1681, and established and supported academic education for all boys.

He liquidated his personal fortune, and his Brothers expected him to use it to further his education goals, but he surprised them by saying they would have to depend on Providence. The money (about $400,000) was given away to the poor in the form of bread during the great famine of 1683-1684. St. John kept enough to endow a salary for himself similar to that which the Brothers received so that he wouldn’t be a burden on them.

He instituted the process of dividing students into grades, established the first teachers’ school, started high schools and trade schools, and was proclaimed the patron of all teachers of all youth by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

  • Patron Saint Index

________________________

Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.

But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

_________________

John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

___________________________

Even if you do not believe me, believe the works so that you might realize and understand

The concept of ‘frenemies’ is as old as the days of Christ it seems – false friends who pretend to come to your aid, but who in reality, can’t wait till you screw up, so that they can renounce you. Stoning may have gone out of fashion, but gossiping and backstabbing never will. Many of the men looking to persecute Jesus in today’s gospel reading would have witnesssed for themselves the miracles he performed. Some might even have been his followers who, at the first sign of hardship, turned and deserted him. It is heart-breaking when people you think you can count on disappoint you. Jesus may have been able to discern his genuine followers from his fairweather friends, but it would still have hurt him to be betrayed.

Our actions speak volumes about what’s in our hearts. How genuine we are becomes plainly obvious when we are put to the test. Jesus said, even if you don’t believe who I say I am, look at what I have done. “Believe the works, so that you may realize and understand”. In his life’s work there was a consistency. When we look at our own lives, is there a disconnect between our words and our actions? When we reflect on our faith journey, do we find that we often say what we don’t do?

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing… You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20)

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the presence of mind to be consistent in our thoughts, in our words, in what we do and what we restrain ourselves from doing.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the examples from Scripture, of men who live, think and speak their convictions.