13 October, Friday – Covetousness

13 October 2017

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Joel 1:13-15, 2:1-2

Priests, put on sackcloth and lament. Ministers of the altar, wail.

Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God. For the house of our God has been deprived of oblation and libation.

Order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly; elders, call together all the inhabitants of the country to the house of the Lord your God.

Cry out to the Lord, ‘Oh, what a day! For the day of the Lord is near, it comes as a devastation from Shaddai.’

Sound the trumpet in Zion, give the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the country tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, yes, it is near.

Day of darkness and gloom, day of cloud and blackness. Like the dawn there spreads across the mountains a vast and mighty host, such as has never been before, such as will never be again to the remotest ages.

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Luke 11:15-26

When Jesus had cast out a devil, some of the people said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – Since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you. So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.

‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.

‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a man it wanders through waterless country looking for a place to rest, and not finding one it says, “I will go back to the home I came from.” But on arrival, finding it swept and tidied, it then goes off and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and set up house there, so that the man ends up by being worse than he was before.’

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…his goods are undisturbed
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that, “When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.” (Lk 11:21). In my early years in advertising, I used to covet many things. I had collections of caps, Swatch watches, CDs, magazines (GQ, Arena and the like), even Mambo t-shirts (which I hardly wore). I don’t know what possessed me to regularly hit the stores on payday and just pick up whatever caught my eye. Looking back, I just wonder how much I spent over the years storing up all these possessions.
As I progressed in my career, I began spending on more expensive items. Blinded by my ego and pride, I always wanted to be seen in the latest jeans, wearing a cool timepiece or luxury accessory. Then, reality hit when I was retrenched twice. I realized how much I had simply thrown to the retail gods over nearly 15 years. So when Jesus speaks about a strong man fully armed, who is attacked and overcome by a stronger being, I identify with the weaker man who has been attacked by the devil. In my case, the evil one certainly knew my weaknesses and exploited them to the fullest, through a potent mix of pride, greed and covetousness. I discovered that at the end of the day, no amount of material possessions can help if deep within one’s heart, there is nothing of value.
Today, my perspective on the same verse is slightly different. I still identify with the strong man but I am now building up my armor not through material goods, but through formation. The past 6 years have been a blessing as I journey closer to God and attempt to walk in the footsteps of his disciples. And while I cannot proclaim to be strong in terms of my spirituality and prayer life, I know that every day, the Lord is building me up and strengthening my armor through the people and situations He sends my way.
Brothers and sisters, we are children of God, created in His image. What we possess in our hearts is much more important than what we possess in our lives. For me, the love of God resides deep in my heart. That is something that I will always cherish and keep safe within me. So too the fruits of the Holy Spirit – charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, modesty, self-control, gentleness and chastity. In whatever degree we possess them, let us pray that each of us strives to protect these ‘possessions’ and keep them safe in our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you continue to work within us to build up our spiritual armor so that we can protect ourselves from temptation and sin.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You all that you bless us with and, most importantly, for your unconditional love for all of us.

12 October, Thursday – Ode To My Home

12 October 2017

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Malachi 3:13-20

You say harsh things about me, says the Lord. You ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ You say, ‘It is useless to serve God; what is the good of keeping his commands or of walking mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? Now we have reached the point when we call the arrogant blessed; yes, they prosper, these evil-doers; they try God’s patience and yet go free.’ This is what those who fear the Lord used to say to one another. But the Lord took note and heard them: a book of remembrance was written in his presence recording those who fear him and take refuge in his name. On the day which I am preparing, says the Lord of Hosts, they are going to be my own special possession. I will make allowances for them as a man makes allowances for the son who obeys him. Then once again you will see the difference between an upright man and a wicked one, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve him. For the day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.

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Luke 11:5-13

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

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“Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an American. I read Emma Lazarus’ ‘New Colossus’ and it set my heart on fire. Our family was supposed to have emigrated when I was a child, but things didn’t work out. It is only now, as an adult, that I have found my way here. I love my adopted country deeply. We are going through an existential crisis at the moment but I know we will emerge more loving and more united. Though lost, we will find our way again. It’s a strange feeling to be praying for one’s country. But I feel we are in need of divine intervention to save us from ourselves. Perhaps this turmoil is so we might figure out who we are, and what we stand for. Perhaps this is a test — of our faith, our tenacity, our capacity to love and forgive each other and ourselves.

Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, that when we pray, we have to “ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Prayer works, but we have to be earnest in our pursuit of it. Our hearts have to be fully invested. And that’s what we are not – invested. So many of us have despaired that the only way to cope is to look away. So our prayers lack conviction. We say the words but don’t believe things can change because we can’t see that change. What is faith though, if not the belief in things yet unseen?

In Matthew 5:24, Jesus tells us we need to forgive each other before we approach God in prayer – “…leave your gift in front of the altar, go at once and make peace, and then come back and offer your gift to God”. And that’s what we don’t have – forgiveness. We refuse to make peace. We dredge up old grudges, define ourselves by our differences. But how can we stand on common ground if we refuse to even seek it?

If there is a God, and He is good, why are these things happening to us? I hear that a lot lately. People have lost their tenacity, they’re giving up even on God. But Scripture has so many examples of the fruits of persistence. God answers prayers. And He has a track record for sparing His people. So why are we giving up? Think of Moses interceding for the Hebrews as they wandered through the desert. And Abraham advocating for the Sodomites. If God could find ten good people, ten good Americans, might He not spare us too? Scripture shows that all it takes is a remnant to make a nation great again. If God could find ten good Americans, might He not save us from ourselves?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for my country, that we might find the resolve, the courage, the forgiveness to move beyond the things that are happening to us.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the peacekeepers, the first responders, all who labor in the belief that all it takes is a remnant to make a nation great again.

11 October, Wednesday – On Forgiveness

11 October 2017

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Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah was very indignant; he fell into a rage. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Ah, Lord, is not this just as I said would happen when I was still at home? That was why I went and fled to Tarshish: I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil. So now, Lord, please take away my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.’ The Lord replied, ‘Are you right to be angry?’

Jonah then went out of the city and sat down to the east of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God arranged that a castor-oil plant should grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour; Jonah was delighted with the castor-oil plant. But at dawn the next day, God arranged that a worm should attack the castor-oil plant – and it withered.

Next, when the sun rose, God arranged that there should be a scorching east wind; the sun beat down so hard on Jonah’s head that he was overcome and begged for death, saying, ‘I might as well be dead as go on living.’ God said to Jonah, ‘Are you right to be angry about the castor-oil plant?’ He replied, ‘I have every right to be angry, to the point of death.’ The Lord replied, ‘You are only upset about a castor-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?’

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Luke 11:1-4

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.”’

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“Have you reason to be angry?”

Today’s reading in Jonah is about forgiveness. Specifically, how to find it within ourselves to forgive someone who has wronged us, when all we want is for justice to be served. Jonah’s predicament was that he preached a future of hail and hellfire. And though he was calling for repentance, there was a part of Jonah who secretly wanted to see the Assyrians meet their sorry end. As we know, that never happened because the city of Nineveh turned from its wicked ways and thus, its people were spared the wrath of God. So the only ‘loser’ in this equation, if you can call it that, was Jonah.

Our sense of justice and morality almost demands that God mete out justice to those who have wronged us. When we see them flourishing instead, we suffer from a ‘You’ve got to be joking!’ moment. Like Jonah, we sputter with indignation, puff our cheeks with disbelief, shake our heads with incredulity. Why are the bad guys allowed to win, we lament? It’s so unfair!

The comforting thing about all this is that God understands our frustation and tries to come down to our level to explain it to us – “should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons, who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left”. Or more plainly put, “Should I not be concerned with people who I have made in my likeness, who are still such fledglings that they can’t tell wrong from right?” He implores us to be better men (and women), to rise to the occasion and to find within us the compassion to put aside our indignation and forgive those who have wronged us. Forgiveness can be a bitter pill to swallow yet that’s the way that God has chosen to move forward. So who are we to insist on having justice served our way when we too are in need of His forgiveness?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of self awareness and love, that sees beyond our puny demands and perceives God’s bigger picture.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that guides us to make good decisions, even when it doesn’t feel good to make them.

10 October, Tuesday – How Superheroines Handle Stress

10 October 2017

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Jonah 3:1-10

The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers, as follows: ‘Men and beasts, herds and flocks, are to taste nothing; they must not eat, they must not drink water. All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

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Luke 10:38-42

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

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“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?”

Today’s gospel reading is very special to me. St Martha is my confirmation saint. Her story has always resonated with me because of the two sisters, Martha is the one that’s more relatable. She’s the woman of action, the superheroine go-getter who has the gumption to invite Jesus for dinner in the first place (Luke 10:38). You can identify with her because her traits are so human. You’ve probably been in her position yourself – overworked, under-resourced and overwhelmed. That’s the predicament of the majority of people who work in service. It’s no wonder she’s our patron saint!

Though Scripture focuses on how Mary made better choices, it is Martha who inspires us with her courage and chutzpah. In John 11:21-22, a grieving Martha goes out to meet Jesus and scolds him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know thar whatever you ask from God, God will give you”, as if to demand of Jesus, “You had better fix this. He’s dead because you were late!”. Her tone is implied to be more forceful than Mary’s, because Mary ‘fell at his feet’ (John 11:32). In the same forthright manner, she matter-of-factly informs Jesus that she believes him to be Christ, the Messiah and Son of God. Her proclamation is similar to Peter’s in Matt 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Martha’s story is not without a happy ending, despite how Scripture paints her. In John 12 we are told that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where he had raised Lazarus, the dead man, to life. Now they gave a dinner for him and while Martha waited on them, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus” (John 12:1-2). It’s a simple verse, yet we can infer that Martha has made peace with herself and her vocation to be of service to Christ and his disciples. There’s no demanding, no scolding and no foot-stamping. She’s happy to simply wait on them.

There is a famous verse in the Book of Matthew for the overburdened and the fatigued – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I’d like to believe that in the midst of her domestic chaos, Martha would have whispered this prayer herself — and that God, in His infinite grace, heard her cry and gave her the resources she needed to complete her tasks. What an inspiration that is to all of us who labor in service!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who labor with limited resources, that they find what they need, just when they need it.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the reserves of strength that God sends us when we come to the end of our rope!

9 October, Monday – On The Road That Leads Away From God

Oct 9 – Memorial for Sts. Denis, Bishop, and Companions, Martyrs; Memorial for St. John Leonardi, Priest

Denis (d. 258) was a missionary to Paris, and its first bishop. His success roused the ire of local pagans, and he was imprisoned by the Roman governor. He was martyred in the persecutions of Valerius with Sts. Eleutherius and Rusticus. Legends have grown up around his torture and death including one that has his body carrying his severed head some distance from his execution site. St. Genevieve built a basilica over his grave. His feast was added to the Roman calendar in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V, though it has been celebrated since 800.

– Patron Saint Index

John Leonardi (1541–1609) was the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca. He was born in Lucca, Tuscany in 1541 and ordained a priest in 1572. He first dedicated himself to the Christian formation of young people in his parish of Lucca. Then he founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

In 1574, he founded a community charged to deepen faith and devotion; this foundation occurred as part of the movement known as the Counter-Reformation. He worked with this community to spread the devotion to the Virgin Mary, to the Forty Hours and to frequent Communion.

This foundation received approval from Pope Paul V in 1614. He took his work to Rome where he became friends with St. Philip Neri who held him in high regard for his qualities of firmness and judgement and entrusted him to delicate works such as the reform of the Benedictan congregation of Montevergine.

He then founded with J. Vives the seminary of the Propagation of the Faith. He died in 1609, dedicating himself to his brothers suffering from the influenza epidemic that was raging in Rome at that time.

The final Rule of his community was published in 1851. Two houses of the Clerks of the Mother of God were opened when he died; three others were opened during the 17th century. He was beatified in 1861 and canonised in 1938.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Jonah 1:1-2:1, 11

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah son of Amittai:

‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and inform them that their wickedness has become known to me.’ Jonah decided to run away from the Lord, and to go to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa and found a ship bound for Tarshish; he paid his fare and went aboard, to go with them to Tarshish, to get away from the Lord. But the Lord unleashed a violent wind on the sea, and there was such a great storm at sea that the ship threatened to break up. The sailors took fright, and each of them called on his own god, and to lighten the ship they threw the cargo overboard. Jonah, however, had gone below and lain down in the hold and fallen fast asleep. The boatswain came upon him and said, ‘What do you mean by sleeping? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps he will spare us a thought, and not leave us to die.’ Then they said to each other, ‘Come on, let us draw lots to find out who is responsible for bringing this evil on us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country? What is your nationality?’ He replied, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’ The sailors were seized with terror at this and said, ‘What have you done?’ They knew that he was trying to escape from the Lord, because he had told them so. They then said, ‘What are we to do with you, to make the sea grow calm for us?’ For the sea was growing rougher and rougher. He replied, ‘Take me and throw me into the sea, and then it will grow calm for you. For I can see it is my fault this violent storm has happened to you.’ The sailors rowed hard in an effort to reach the shore, but in vain, since the sea grew still rougher for them. They then called on the Lord and said, ‘O the Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, the Lord, have acted as you have thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again. At this the men were seized with dread of the Lord; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

The Lord had arranged that a great fish should be there to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. The Lord spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah on to the shore.

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Luke 10:25-37

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’

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But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord

The concept of sin causing us to run away from God has been evident since Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden. In today’s readings, we see people from different walks of life running from God – Jonah fleeing to Tarshish to get away from the Lord; the Priest who crossed to the other side of the street rather than confront the man lying half-dead in front of him; the Levite who did the same; the symbol of the sinner, the man on the road who had left the safety of Jerusalem for the dysfunction of Jericho, only to be robbed by vagabonds.

So why do we turn from God? And how do we end up on the road that leads away from Him in the first place? At the heart of our flight is the knowledge that we have fallen short. It is easier to walk away than to confront our shortcomings. In Jonah’s case, it was because he did not want to see God’s mercy extend to the Assyrians. In the time of Jonah, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were a wicked, ruthless people, sworn enemies of the Jews of Israel. The idea of having to preach repentance to them was too much for Jonah. Jonah felt that the Assyrians were undeserving of God’s forgiveness. He didn’t care if he was being unforgiving, that his hard heartedness was causing him to sin. What about the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Why were they on the road leading away from God? The Priest and the Levite in the parable are symbolic of the religious institutions of that time, who Jesus felt, had been tarnished by sin. Religion is depicted in the Parable of the Samaritan, as having no power to save and redeem; rather Religion is on the same road leading away from God.

Who else is on the road leading away from God? We see Jesus, in the guise of the Good Samaritan, filled with compassion and love for the fallen sinner. The Son himself, is on the road leading away from God, having been sent to seek, to save and redeem all who have lost their way. No matter how far we have fallen from Him, God finds us and offers us the chance to restore ourselves through Jesus Christ. The great truth at the heart of the Bible is God’s faith in us, His love for us, despite ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah sums it up beautifully – “‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord’” (Jeremiah 23:24) Even on the road leading away from Him, there waits God, ready to meet us in our sin. What a picture of grace and forgiveness that is!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who are true life Samaritans, who seek, who heal, who redeem and restore all who have been stripped of their dignity through sin.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the times God has found us and saved us while we languished on the road, bowed down by sin.

8 October, Sunday – Will Do For You

8 October 2017

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Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing to my friend the song of his love for his vineyard.

My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug the soil, cleared it of stones and planted choice vines in it. In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too. He expected it to yield grapes, but sour grapes were all that it gave.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, I ask you to judge between my vineyard and me. What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?

Very well, I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall for it to be trampled on. I will lay it waste, unpruned, undug; overgrown by the briar and the thorn. I will command the clouds to rain no rain on it. Yes, the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah that chosen plant. He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.

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Philippians 4:6-9

There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you.

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Matthew 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

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“The kingdom of heaven will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit”

A vineyard is a tangible example of the great beauty that can occur when God and Man work towards a common goal. We are in the middle of planting one in our home in the wine valley. I can attest to the healing power of growing something from a mere sapling, irrigating the soil, staking the vines, praying for forgiving weather. There is order and process in a vineyard. Its borders are defined, its soil is fertile. There are fixed seasons in a vineyard. There is a time for sowing, for planting, for harvesting, for pressing, for bottling. These seasons mark the passage of time, our progress as an individual, the growth of our family. A vineyard is purposeful. It bears fruit at harvest time and gives us much cause for rejoicing. Our vineyard may not necessarily be a profitable endeavour, but its lessons for life more than make up for it.

The image of the vineyard is used in much of Scripture to denote God’s creation and our roles as His appointed stewards. In the reading from Isaiah, the vineyard is symbolic of the people of Judah, who rebelled against God and turned their backs on His covenant. God delivered them into the Promised Land yet they repaid him with wilful rebellion. In the reading from Matthew, the same image of the vineyard is continued; only this time, we are introduced to the Tenants, God’s stewards of the Law who purpose is to guide His people. They too, break their social contract with God and abuse the power that is entrusted to them.

But how does all this relate to us? As believers, we are given the mission to tend His vineyard. We are told to proclaim our faith, to be apostles of His word. The image of the Tenants in His vineyard is how God sees us. He has entrusted us with the keys to the vineyard and asked us to harvest good fruit from the bounty of resources He has laid before us – our health, our wealth, our talents, our children, our families, our friends. In the fullness of time, God will demand from us an account of what we have achieved for Him. When that time comes, will we be able to say that we have brought forth good fruit — love, forgiveness, compassion, hope, healing, redemption – or that we have sown and reaped a harvest of hate, bitterness, anger, pride, greed and jealousy? As we embark on a new week in the vineyard, let’s reflect on the agrarian images from this Sunday’s readings. Where is there room for more love and less anger, less bitterness, less hatred in our lives?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to be good stewards of God’s vineyard, to make good decisions with the resources that He has blessed us with.

 Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the rich imagery in Scripture that helps us to understand His purpose for us.

7 October, Saturday – We Are Protected

Oct 7 – Memorial for Our Lady of the Rosary

This day was originally observed as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory. Its date was chosen to commemorate the European victory at the third naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571. This battle marked the high point of Turkish (Muslim) advance on European soil with the Balkans and the regions west and north of the Black Sea returning to Western (Christian) hands in the succeeding centuries. This victory, after two earlier defeats at the same location, was attributed to Our Lady of the Rosary as special processions were made on that same day in Rome for the sake of this crucial victory.

Pope Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the rosary should be made upon that day, and at the request of the Dominican Pope Gregory XIII in 1573 allowed this feast to be kept in all churches which possessed an altar dedicated to the rosary. In 1671, the observance of this festival was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain, and somewhat later Pope Clement XI, after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on 6 August 1716 at Peterwardein in Hungary, commanded the feast of the rosary to be celebrated by the universal Church.

– Wikipedia

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Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29

Take courage, my people, constant reminder of Israel. You were sold to the nations, but not for extermination. You provoked God; and so were delivered to your enemies, since you had angered your creator by offering sacrifices to demons, not to God.

You had forgotten the eternal God who reared you. You had also grieved Jerusalem who nursed you, for when she saw the anger fall on you from God, she said: Listen, you neighbours of Zion: God has sent me great sorrow. I have seen my sons and daughters taken into captivity, to which they have been sentenced by the Eternal. I had reared them joyfully; in tears, in sorrow, I watched them go away. Do not, any of you, exult over me, a widow, deserted by so many; I suffer loneliness because of the sins of my own children, who turned away from the Law of God. Take courage, my children, call on God: he who brought disaster on you will remember you. As by your will you first strayed away from God, so now turn back and search for him ten times as hard; for as he brought down those disasters on you, so will he rescue you and give you eternal joy.

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Luke 10:17-24

The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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Nothing shall ever hurt you

 Today, we celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Rosary. I am embarrassed to admit that it has been a long while since I prayed the rosary. I used to have the habit of praying the rosary on the train and buses, then the occasional rosary sessions with the neighbours. Then I downloaded a free rosary app which I hardly use, and which today, clearly reminds me that I should return to one of the most powerful weapons of the faith.

We as Catholics get criticised about our relationship with Mother Mary and, being Christians, there is nothing else as a reference other than the Holy Bible. From apparitions to miracles, to the power of the rosary, these were never recognised with others. The humility of Mother Mary carries on into the faith, always protecting us from the side and guiding us towards her Son Jesus.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples, “Happy the eyes that see, to hear what you hear.” How grateful are we to know Mary the Mother of God, as some have never gotten to experience her loveliness. To reject her is also to reject God’s love as Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Knowing that my faith involves not only Jesus but also every one of Christ’s brothers and sisters, the Saints, the Prophets and our beloved religious pastors, I truly feel protected and loved in this community. Truly, knowing that nothing shall ever hurt us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We lift up all our prayers to Our Lady of Rosary, who always watches over us and encourages us to be closer to her son, Jesus.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks to the Church community who provides a very wholesome environment for our families to grow and be safe in.

6 October, Friday – Turn Away, Turn Right

Oct 6 – Memorial for St. Bruno, Priest

Bruno (1030–1101) was educated in Paris and Rheims, France. He was ordained in 1055. He taught theology, and one of his students later became Blessed Pope Urban II. He presided over the cathedral school at Rheims from 1057 to 1075. He criticised the worldliness he saw in his fellow clergy. He opposed Manasses, Archbishop of Rheims, because of his laxity and mismanagement. He was chancellor of the Archdiocese of Rheims.

Following a vision he received of a secluded hermitage where he could spend his life becoming closer to God, he retired to a mountain near Chartreuse in Dauphiny in 1084 and with the help of St. Hugh of Grenoble, he founded what became the first house of the Carthusian Order. He and his brothers supported themselves as manuscript copyists.

He became assistant to Pope Urban in 1090, and supported his efforts at reform. Retiring from public life, he and his companions built a hermitage at Torre where the monastery of Saint Stephen was built in 1095. Bruno combined in the religious life living as a hermit and living in a community; his learning is apparent from his scriptural commentaries.

– Patron Saint Index

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Baruch 1:15-22

Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord, have disobeyed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us. From the day when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice. And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today. Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but, each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God.

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Luke 10:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. And still, it will not go as hard with Tyre and Sidon at the Judgement as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell.

‘Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.’

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We have been disloyal

Some have said, ‘what you have not tried, you will not desire’; that is also to say, what we have tried and liked, we desire even more. We face multiple temptations each day, and hundreds of thoughts race through our little minds on what we should do. Do we entertain the thought and fall victim to unfaithful desires? Or do we hold off and not be bothered by the desires that it could bring us? Clearly, we face them all the time. It may not be so serious as to saying that each temptation that we indulge in is sinful, but it does challenge us on an everyday basis in terms of making good decisions.

In today’s reading, we as followers of Christ have shown disobedience since the Father has led the people out of captivity. It is like children being set free being exposed to the secular influences — that we pick up our thoughts and beliefs, not from the Word of God, but through all the media that is out there for us to fall prey to. What I intend to share in today’s reflection is that, we face all sorts of opportunities to sin every day. How do we set ourselves apart from others, to be able to make decisions that are pleasing to God? We are to build in ourselves the maturity of the Spirit in us, so that we are able to have self-control, which ultimately leads to righteous actions.

Come this weekend, just be a little more fruitful in terms of building our faith when we find ourselves tempted for something worldly. Perhaps when you are online and thinking of buying something that you don’t really need, go get distracted by another website that actually tells you a little more about our faith. Or, if someone has made you mad over the past week, go have a lunch date with them and enjoy the weekend over a nice enjoyable meal and make peace. We are creatures that are weak at heart, but with the Lord’s guidance, He is able to make things beautiful around us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Think of the moments when the Lord has taken away painful moments and filled them with peaceful and beautiful ones. May those times be a reminder of how we can share Christ with others.

Thanksgiving: The gift of peace, love and joy is not only for the season of Christmas, but we thank the Lord for all these gifts because we believe that we will continue to experience all that when we repent and accept Him.

5 October, Thursday – At Your Doorstep

5 October 2017

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Nehemiah 8:1-12

When the seventh month came, all the people gathered as one man on the square before the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had prescribed for Israel. Accordingly Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This was the first day of the seventh month. On the square before the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and children old enough to understand, he read from the book from early morning till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden dais erected for the purpose; beside him stood, on his right, Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; on his left, Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. In full view of all the people – since he stood higher than all the people – Ezra opened the book; and when he opened it all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people raised their hands and answered, ‘Amen! Amen!’; then they bowed down and, face to the ground, prostrated themselves before the Lord. (Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabab, Hanan, Pelaiah, who were Levites, explained the Law to the people while the people remained standing.) And Ezra read from the Law of God, translating and giving the sense, so that the people understood what was read.

Then (Nehemiah – His Excellency – and) Ezra, priest and scribe (and the Levites who were instructing the people) said to all the people, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep.’ For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.

He then said, ‘Go, eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and send a portion to the man who has nothing prepared ready. For this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.’ And the Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be at ease; this is a sacred day. Do not be sad.’ And all the people went off to eat and drink and give shares away and begin to enjoy themselves since they had understood the meaning of what had been proclaimed to them.

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Luke 10:1-12

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

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We wipe off the very dust

What gets you around the business community or let yourself be known around a particular industry is not about what you know, but it is all about who you know. Ever since our childhood days in school, we form friendships based on interest, or because of sitting next to each other in the classroom and many other varied reasons. A kid may have wanted to be part of the ‘in-crowd’, to be able to associate with the coolest kid in school. He would go back to school on Monday, to tell everyone that he was invited to Ryan’s birthday over the weekend. We already know the importance of having associations since young and the kind of people which we would like to be associated with may change at different stages in our life.

In today’s gospel, Jesus sends his followers out to make peace with the people in the towns. He sent them to find out who has the willing heart to welcome the greetings given by Him and that will be an acceptance by that household being associated with God. Being Catholics, we are associated with our Father since baptism. We always have the choice of breaking this relationship however, if we choose not to accept the ‘peace’, we deny our association with the Father, and we will probably be missing out on what the kingdom of God is like. Then, we will not be part of the ‘coolest gang in school’. Our Lord is not a forceful person; when one does not appreciate the peace and love brought into his home, He breaks off an association with them, wiping off the very dust at the door.

I am proud to be associated with our Lord, the church and my Christian community. As I grow older and more mature in faith, I find the importance to return the peace and love given to me by our Father, but also to share them, bringing the same peace and love to other peoples’ houses. However, we have to be aware of people who detest the religion and also of our associations with them. Our Father teaches us to be people of peace, love, patience and kindness as we ourselves are a testimony of God’s work in us. Choose wisely, but do not fear and be uncertain when you are confronted because we are in the ‘coolest family’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, give me the strength and patience with those around me so that I may bring your genuine peace into their homes.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for my friends. The friends who are dear to me and keep them safe in your embrace, so they may feel Your warmth and love.

4 October, Wednesday – On A Mission

Oct 4 – Memorial for St. Francis of Assisi

Francis Bernardone (1181–1226) was the son of Pietro Bernadone, a rich cloth merchant. Though he had a good education and became part of his father’s business, he also had a somewhat misspent youth. He was a street brawler and some-time soldier. He was captured during a conflict between Assisi and Perugia, and spent over a year as prisoner of war. During this time, he had a conversion experience, including a reported message from Christ calling him to leave this worldly life. Upon release, Francis began taking his religion seriously.

He took the Gospel as the rule of his life, Jesus Christ as his literal example. He dressed in rough clothes, begged for his sustenance, and preached purity and peace. His family disapproved, and his father disinherited him; Francis formally renounced his wealth and inheritance. He visited hospitals, served the sick, preached in the streets, and took all men and women as siblings.

He began to attract followers in 1209, and with papal blessing founded the Franciscans based on a simple statement by Jesus: “Leave all and follow me.” In 1212, Clare of Assisi became his spiritual student, which led to the founding of the Poor Clares. He visited and preached to the Saracens. He composed songs and hymns to God and nature. He lived with animals, worked with his hands, cared for lepers, cleaned churches, and sent food to thieves. In 1221 he resigned direction of the Franciscans.

While in meditation on La Verna (Mount Alvernia) in the Apennines in September 1224, Francis received the stigmata, which periodically bled during the remaining two years of his life. This miracle has a separate memorial on 17 September.

In the Middle Ages, people who were believed to be possessed by Beelzebub especially called upon the intercession of St. Francis, the theory being that he was the demon’s opposite number in heaven.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” – St. Francis of Assisi

– Patron Saint Index

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Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the wine being my concern, I took up the wine and offered it to the king. Now I had never been downcast before. So the king said, ‘Why is your face so sad? You are not sick, surely? This must be a sadness of the heart.’ A great fear came over me and I said to the king, ‘May the king live for ever! How could my face be other than sad when the city where the tombs of my ancestors are lies in ruins, and its gates have been burnt down?’ ‘What’ the king asked ‘is your request?’ I called on the God of heaven and made this reply to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if you are satisfied with your servant, give me leave to go to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ tombs, and rebuild it.’ The king, with the queen sitting there beside him, said, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you return?’ So I named a date that seemed acceptable to the king and he gave me leave to go. I spoke to the king once more, ‘If it please the king, could letters be given me for the governors of Transeuphrates to allow me to pass through to Judah? And also a letter for Asaph, keeper of the king’s park, to supply me with timber for the gates of the citadel of the Temple, for the city walls and for the house I am to occupy?’ This the king granted me, for the kindly favour of my God was with me.

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Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

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Your duty is to go and spread the news

I left home early for the airport to avoid the mad, morning peak-hour traffic jam, and got to the departure gate in anticipation of the work I have to do in another city — get a status report on the project and come back home all in one day. I start every week as if I am on a mission, to clear off my to-do list by the end of the week, leaving as little loose ends as possible when the weekend arrives. I feel that I must be pretty focused on what is ahead of me.

St Francis of Assisi was a man on a mission as well, who truly never lost sight of the deep faith he had for the Lord. He was full of humility and embraced poverty so that he was free of distractions, spreading the truth and Good News wherever he set foot. Then, how about our own missions? Have we sorted out our everyday distractions in order to be effectively on our faith mission? Or have we been so engrossed in the work and pleasures of our lifestyle that we have lost sight of the duty to go and spread the news?

In today’s Gospel, we are reminded of God’s calling in whatever vocation we have chosen. To be able to drop the unimportant issues as it has already been taken care of, and to follow Christ. So often, our attention gets called away to non-productive and even worse, unfaithful directions that cause us to procrastinate and derail our mission – that of spreading the news to others. Perhaps, as we approach this weekend, let us not only set aside one hour of Mass time on Sunday, but pick up an additional ministry within our Church community, to bring the Good News to someone else’s ears.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for a more focused week, giving priority to the Lord and to keep away from negative secular motivations.

Thanksgiving: Give thanks for our health, wisdom and intellect; that we are able to sort right from wrong, to be able to share the Good News to others.