14 May, Sunday – Being Authentic

May 14 – Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle

Matthias (d. 80) was an Apostle. As he could bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus, he was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. He preached the Gospel for more than 30 years in Judaea, Cappadocia, Egypt, and Ethopia. He is remembered for preaching the need for mortification of the flesh with regard to all its sensual and irregular desires. He was martyred in Colchis in AD 80 by stoning.

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Acts 6:1-7

About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.

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1 Peter 2:4-9

The Lord is the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him so that you too, the holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God, may be living stones making a spiritual house. As scripture says: See how I lay in Zion a precious cornerstone that I have chosen and the man who rests his trust on it will not be disappointed. That means that for you who are believers, it is precious; but for unbelievers, the stone rejected by the builders has proved to be the keystone, a stone to stumble over, a rock to bring men down. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the word; it was the fate in store for them.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

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John 14:1-12

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’ ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?

‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.’

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“If you know me, you know my Father too.”

Even now when I am already in my fifties, I have been called ‘idealistic’. Over the course of my work life, I have changed jobs, even careers, when I found out that people did not ‘walk their talk’. Many a person has sat me down and told me to be pragmatic and that it is the way of the world. While I am obviously far from perfection, I refuse to compromise my belief that one’s life must reflect his values, or at least his journey towards his values.

Jesus alludes to this in today’s gospel. When asked by the apostle Philip to let them ‘see’ the Father, Jesus’ answer was that one sees the Father when one sees Jesus.

Let us reflect on this.

What applies to Jesus certainly must apply to us. When others see us, they MUST see God. As humans, many of us are accustomed to compartmentalising our lives. If we choose the “way of the world” when we are working, how are we then to reflect the true image of God. How do others actually see God working in us?

We see the application of this in the first reading of today. In seeking to delegate their work of distributing goods daily, the disciples did not set criteria to select men strong in the area of logistics.  Instead, they sought “seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom”. Once in possession of these, it was easy to figure out the rest.

Let us be guided by Jesus and the early disciples, that who we are may always reflect the values of our Christian faith.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, we pray that You may always give us strength to be unafraid to be authentic; to show to the world our faith and belief.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father God, for always sending Your Spirit to show us the right thing to do. Thank You for never giving up on us, O God.

13 May, Saturday – Food for Thought

13 May 2017

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Acts 13:44-52

The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:

I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’

It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.
But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

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John 14:7-14

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him, ‘and you still do not know me?

‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.

I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask for anything in my name,
I will do it.’

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I have made you a light for the nations

Sometime back, I went on a low-carb diet after I was inspired by a couple of friends. Sharon, one of our other contributors in OXYGEN, also gave me lots of tips, since she’s been on this diet for many years. One thing I came to realize in the course of this diet is that, ‘Eating fat does not make you fat.’ Contrary to popular belief, the fat that we eat does not get stored in our body as fat. However, the carbohydrates that we eat do get stored in our body as fat if we eat an excess of it.

When we receive the Body of Christ during Mass, what happens to it? The bread breaks up and is dissolved in our saliva, but what happens to Christ’s presence in the bread? It is taken in and becomes a part of us. In other words, ‘Eating the body of Christ makes us the Body of Christ.’

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” When we receive Holy Communion, we can also say, “I am in Christ and Christ is in me.” What does it mean then to become the Body of Christ? We become the physical extensions of Christ in the world, living to fulfill his purpose.

That purpose is, as it says in the first reading, to be a light for the nations so that God’s salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

Let us reflect: How am I being a light for the nations? How am I contributing to extending God’s salvation to reach the ends of the earth?

(Today’s Oxygen by Daniel Tay)

Prayer: We pray for unity within the Body of Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the gift of himself

12 May, Friday – Why be Christian?

May 12 – Memorial for Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, Martyrs; Memorial for St. Pancras, Martyr

Nereus and Achilleus (d. 98) were soldiers in the imperial Roman army, and members of the Praetorian Guard. They were converts to Christianity and baptized by St. Peter the Apostle. They were exiled for their faith, suffered with St. Flavia Domitilla, and were martyred together by beheading.

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Pancras (c. 290) was a 14-year-old orphan brought to Rome by his uncle St. Dionysius. He was a convert to Christianity, and was martyred with St. Nereus, St. Achilleus, and St. Domitilla for publicly proclaiming his faith.

Pope St. Vitalian sent his relics from the cemetery of Calepodius in Rome to the British Isles as part of the evangelization of England, so they would have the relics of the Church at large, and to install in altars in new churches. St. Augustine of Canterbury dedicated the first church in England to St. Pancras, and subsequent churches throughout England are similarly named after him.

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Acts 13:26-33

Paul stood up in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:
‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you. What the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did, though they did not realise it, was in fact to fulfil the prophecies read on every sabbath. Though they found nothing to justify his death, they condemned him and asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the tree and buried him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem: and it is these same companions of his who are now his witnesses before our people.
‘We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead. As scripture says in the second psalm: You are my son: today I have become your father.’

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John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

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There are many rooms in my Father’s house

The other day, I read of a book written by an ex-Atheist who had become a born-again Catholic and I wondered, if God is love, and since the Catholic Church believes in ecumenism, would we too celebrate when a non-Catholic makes a commitment to other religions other than Catholicism, such as Islam or Buddhism? After all, they are making a commitment to a way of life that they believe will lead them to become better persons. Do we celebrate that as well? Or do we still see it as a ‘factional’ loss?

In today’s gospel reading, we see two seemingly contradictory phrases. In one paragraph, Jesus mentions going to his Father’s house to prepare a room for his disciples, in a place where there are many rooms. Conventionally, one would view it as Jesus saying that there are many rooms for all of us who are followers of Christ. However, Christ’s words struck me differently when I read it. If Christ was going to prepare a room for his disciples, does it mean that our Father’s house has many other rooms for those who are not conventionally regarded as Jesus’ disciples? For instance, if God is love, and we believe that other religions lead people to God, then wouldn’t it also mean that there are rooms for others in God’s house? Yet, Jesus says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.” What does that mean? The words of Christ are thought-provoking and they are a mystery.

Perhaps they are for all the people who lived before Jesus’ time, but who believed in God – the ones that Paul spoke about in the first reading. Perhaps, they are also meant for people who will live in the future, those who never had a chance to encounter Christ personally but who have come to know God by knowing love. After all, there are people who may be beyond the scope of the Church, but are within God’s mercy.

The crux of today’s reflection though is this: “Why are we Christian? Why do we believe in Christ?” Is it solely because we want a foothold in heaven? Or is there something about Him that has changed our lives and broadened our visions? Have we grown comfortable in our perceptions that we fail to see the underlying message of Christ? Namely, that God’s love and salvation transcends all boundaries. It wasn’t just limited to a special group of people whom God had chosen as his own. If our beliefs have led us to forsake the individual for the sake of doctrine, then we may be missing out on truly knowing the person of Christ.

Today, let us take some time and reflect on this question, “Why do I believe in Christ?”

 (Today’s Oxygen by Daniel Tay)

Prayer: We pray for Christians to gain greater clarity on why we believe in Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for his gift of love.

11 May, Thursday – Servant Leadership

11 May 2017

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Acts 13:13-25

Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem. The others carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats. After the lessons from the Law and the Prophets had been read, the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message: ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul stood up, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out, and for about forty years took care of them in the wilderness. When he had destroyed seven nations in Canaan, he put them in possession of their land for about four hundred and fifty years. After this he gave them judges, down to the prophet Samuel. Then they demanded a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. After forty years, he deposed him and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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John 13:16-20

After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.

‘Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.

‘I tell you this now, before it happens,
so that when it does happen
you may believe that I am He.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

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After he had washed the feet of his disciples

Last year I went for a company trip with my wife, some colleagues and our agency leader. On the first day when we reached our hotel, we alighted from the bus. While some of us stood around waiting for the luggage to be unloaded, our agency leader helped to unload and carry the bags from the bus to the hotel. This left a deep impression on my wife, who later remarked, “That’s a good leader.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus had some words for his disciples, but these were spoken only after he had performed the act that he wanted his disciples to emulate – he had washed their feet. Christ led by example and he asks us, his disciples, to practice servant leadership – to serve those who follow us.

In his first year as Pope, Pope Francis frequently spoke out against clerical careerism, where clergy see their role as a career, much like us in the corporate world. Yet, in Christianity, it is meant to be the other way around – where the higher is one’s position, the lower he is called to place himself in service to others. This is the way of Christ.

This is why the Pope, the highest position in the Catholic hierarchy, has the title “Servant of Servants”. The message that Pope Francis wants to send to the world is this – that Christianity is all about service to the lowest of society. It is ultimately about the individual and loving them, with God’s unconditional love for him or her.

Today, let us reflect on the opportunities we have to be Christ to another by serving them.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)

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Prayer: We pray for Christians who think they should be served; may Christ shine his light on them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for a wonderful servant leader.

10 May, Wednesday – Missionaries of Love

10 May 2017

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Acts 12:24-13:5

The word of God continued to spread and to gain followers. Barnabas and Saul completed their task and came back from Jerusalem, bringing John Mark with them.

In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

So these two, sent on their mission by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. They landed at Salamis and proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; John acted as their assistant.

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John 12:44-50

Jesus declared publicly:

‘Whoever believes in me
believes not in me
but in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me,
sees the one who sent me.
I, the light, have come into the world,
so that whoever believes in me
need not stay in the dark any more.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully,
it is not I who shall condemn him,
since I have come not to condemn the world,
but to save the world.
He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already:
the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
For what I have spoken does not come from myself;
no, what I was to say,
what I had to speak,
was commanded by the Father who sent me,
and I know that his commands mean eternal life.
And therefore what the Father has told me
is what I speak.’

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I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them

Would we believe that we have been set aside for great things? Sometimes our lives go on auto-pilot mode and we feel that there is a routine and rhythm for things which we can find comfort and solace in. This is especially so when our lives are going on without much difficulty. In times of turmoil, we often crave for the ‘good old days’. We are reminded that Christianity is about challenges and about pushing us forward towards uncharted territory so as to continue with our mission to proclaim the Word of God to the people who we meet.

The Bible is silent on the response of St Paul and Barnabas towards the commission which the Holy Spirit has imposed upon them but if it was me, I would be really scared because of the uncertainty which may come upon me. The Holy Spirit chose the two of them to continue the work of proclaiming the work of salvation to all around them. This meant that they had to put aside their own plans and allow God to work within them. It is almost like a dying to your own will and letting God take ownership of it.

This is not an easy task, but something which we must do. It is not that we should not feel comfortable with whatever we are doing or feeling but we should instead always remember what we are instructed to do at the end of Mass to “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives”. This does not mean we have to go to a foreign land to share the Word of God although that is one way which we can do it. The mission land is right before us – our workplaces, homes and even the best friends who we meet. Christianity is about being missionaries to people who have not heard the Word of God and we are called to proclaim this Word today.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, give us the boldness to spread the love we have for you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who preach the Gospel fearlessly

9 May, Tuesday – A Christian Identity

9 May 2017

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Acts 11:19-26

Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’

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John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

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The Father and I are one

There are many people who choose to be identified by the institutions they belong to, e.g. alumni clubs, members of a renowned society or through the workplace. In aligning their identity with these places, they choose to abide by the norms and beliefs which these institutions stand for. The readings of today remind us that we all have a common identity, that of belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first readings shares with us that it was in Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians. This marked a continuation of the separation from Judaism as a religion. There were some who thought that believing in Jesus was a sect of Judaism, perhaps like a variant of certain beliefs. However, as we have read in the past few days, the incorporation of Gentiles into the belief of Jesus Christ meant that Jesus came to save all men in the world, and not only the Jews. They then had to identify themselves separately as Christians. This was a significant step because it would mark the break from Judaism.

Indeed, Jesus Christ has shown us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The reason why the Jews could not see and accept that Jesus was the Christ was because they were stuck in their own assumptions and beliefs. This meant that they could not be open to hearing the call of Jesus to a way of love for one another, and the need to demonstrate charity to all regardless of their belief system. In our own lives today, we sometimes show concern to the people who matter to us but forget the others. Perhaps we can take some time today to say a kind word or show an act of kindness to the people who we may have forgotten.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the strength to remain close to you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many people who have touched our lives.

8 May, Monday – Ownership of our lives

8 May 2017

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First reading
Acts 11:1-18

The apostles and the brothers in Judaea heard that the pagans too had accepted the word of God, and when Peter came up to Jerusalem the Jews criticised him and said, ‘So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them, have you?’ Peter in reply gave them the details point by point: ‘One day, when I was in the town of Jaffa,’ he began ‘I fell into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a big sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners. This sheet reached the ground quite close to me. I watched it intently and saw all sorts of animals and wild beasts – everything possible that could walk, crawl or fly. Then I heard a voice that said to me, “Now, Peter; kill and eat!” But I answered: Certainly not, Lord; nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed my lips. And a second time the voice spoke from heaven, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” This was repeated three times, before the whole of it was drawn up to heaven again.

‘Just at that moment, three men stopped outside the house where we were staying; they had been sent from Caesarea to fetch me, and the Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going back with them. The six brothers here came with me as well, and we entered the man’s house. He told us he had seen an angel standing in his house who said, “Send to Jaffa and fetch Simon known as Peter; he has a message for you that will save you and your entire household.”

‘I had scarcely begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the same way as it came on us at the beginning, and I remembered that the Lord had said, “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” I realised then that God was giving them the identical thing he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?’

This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God. ‘God’ they said ‘can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life.’

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John 10:11-18

Jesus said:

‘I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.

‘I am the good shepherd;
I know my own
and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have
that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock,
and one shepherd.

‘The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’

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I am the good shepherd

There is a provision shop in the block of flats where I live and over the years, it has gone through many changes of hand. The owner was initially present and he was responsible for the opening and closing of the shop. This meant that he would begin operations as early as 6am in the morning and close only at 11pm in the evening. To avoid oversleeping, he would sleep within the shop space just to make sure that he could open the shop on time. Years went by and he handed the shop to his son, who leased it out to someone else. One noticeable thing was that the operating hours became shorter and there was a lack of ownership of the way he carried out his business. The readings of today, especially the Gospel, remind us of the need to remain faithful to the good shepherd who is Jesus Christ.

Some of us may feel that as faithful Christians, we may have faith in the one true God and hence will not be distracted by others who are non-believers. However, I have come to realise that the hired man does not need to take the shape of a human being, but could come very subtly in the form of pride, jealousy and envy. These capital sins do not start out as capital sins but mask themselves as a desire to do good for others. Like a parasite, it then leeches on our soul and then consumes us totally by making us want to feed it. In doing so, we lose focus on Jesus Christ, the good shepherd who stands ready to save us.

Like the hired man which I shared earlier, there is a lack of ownership of our lives because we do not let the Master of our life, Jesus Christ, take control of every action which we do. Jesus knows the paths we take some times lead us away from what He has asked from us but He respects our decision. He does not give up on us but sends various people to come and remind us to stay close to Him. As we continue with our lives, I ask that we set aside time today to examine our souls and find out if there are any issues in our lives which are preventing us from coming closer to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit into our hearts, to melt away all the areas which have been hardened by sin.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who help others find meaning in life.

7 May, Sunday – Call to Holiness

7 May 2017

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Acts 2:14,36-41

On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice: ‘The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.’
Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the apostles, ‘What must we do, brothers?’ ‘You must repent,’ Peter answered ‘and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.’ He spoke to them for a long time using many arguments, and he urged them, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation.’ They were convinced by his arguments, and they accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number.

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1 Peter 2:20-25

The merit, in the sight of God, is in bearing punishment patiently when you are punished after doing your duty.

This, in fact, is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow the way he took. He had not done anything wrong, and there had been no perjury in his mouth. He was insulted and did not retaliate with insults; when he was tortured he made no threats but he put his trust in the righteous judge. He was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross, so that we might die to our faults and live for holiness; through his wounds you have been healed. You had gone astray like sheep but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

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John 10:1-10

Jesus said:
‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
So Jesus spoke to them again:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

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I am the gate of the sheepfold

There are some tourist attractions where the entire building has been demolished and only the gate has been conserved as a memorial to the place where the building once stood. Whether it is a former school or performing arts venue, these gates serve as a memorial for the many people whom have passed through their doors. The readings of today remind us that Jesus Christ is the gate through which we must pass through in order to live life to the fullest.

A gate may seem insignificant, but it has an important role in allowing people to come in and out of a place. It serves as an indicator for people that they are entering into a different environment. The life of a Christian is also about entering through the gate of Jesus Christ where He has poured out upon us His precious blood to save us from all our sins. We depend on Christ for the strength to continue in our journey in life. The blows which He bore during the scourging and crowning of thorns is, as St Paul reminds us in the second reading, to allow us to be healed.

As Christians, we are marked with the sign of Christ from our Baptism. This means that we are called to a life of holiness where our actions and words are all examples for others to follow. Unlike the metal gates found in tourist attractions which are susceptible to rust and attacks by the weather, the gate which we pass through is the gate of life – the gate where we will be safe and can find eternal life.

It is with this in mind that the Church has designated today as Vocation Sunday. Traditionally, it has been the day where we are called to give thanks for the many men and women who have answered the call to religious and priestly life. For us who live in the secular world, it is also a reflection of our vocation as either married or single people. We are called each day to go deeper into our lives to find out if our plans are in alignment with what God’s plan is for us. This reflection process is supposed to help us then be an echo of God’s love to the world – to show the world that there is hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you open our hearts to let us be receptive to the plan you have for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who have found their vocation call in life.

6 May, Saturday – I will run to you

6 May 2017

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Acts 9:31-42

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

Peter visited one place after another and eventually came to the saints living down in Lydda. There he found a man called Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you: get up and fold up your sleeping mat.’ Aeneas got up immediately; everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they were all converted to the Lord.

At Jaffa there was a woman disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, who never tired of doing good or giving in charity. But the time came when she got ill and died, and they washed her and laid her out in a room upstairs. Lydda is not far from Jaffa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men with an urgent message for him, ‘Come and visit us as soon as possible.’

Peter went back with them straightaway, and on his arrival they took him to the upstairs room, where all the widows stood round him in tears, showing him tunics and other clothes Dorcas had made when she was with them. Peter sent them all out of the room and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up.’ She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet, then he called in the saints and widows and showed them she was alive. The whole of Jaffa heard about it and many believed in the Lord.

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John 6:60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life,
the flesh has nothing to offer.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit
and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

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Lord who shall we go to?

I recently watched a movie called ‘The Shack’. It’s about a man named Mack who leads a wonderful life with his wife and three children. One day however, his youngest child went missing during a camping trip and is abducted by a serial killer and presumed dead. This turns the man’s life upside down, his faith is questioned and he spirals into deep depression. Until one day, a note mysteriously appears in his mailbox signed off as ‘Papa’ inviting him to go back to the very place — ‘the shack’ – where his daughter was presumably murdered.

Now Mack’s faith in God wasn’t as deep as his wife’s. He always felt it was silly for her to refer to God as ‘Papa’. At first, he was filled with anger, thinking his neighbour played a cruel joke on him. However, something moved him to take that trip back, half believing that it was God who sent for him. This led him to spend a weekend with God the Father, Jesus and The Holy Spirit and that time with them transformed his spiritual life. While initially angry and resentful with God for taking away his daughter, that encounter eventually allowed him to understand, heal and forgive.

No one could come to me unless the Father allows him.

In our own circumstances, can we see how God is working in us? Or are we so blinded with our anger and pain that it blindsides what the Trinity is doing for us? Many a time, we see things in our own way and we are so convinced that we are right. We question how God, in all His goodness, would allow these bad situations in our lives to happen. In the movie, Mack asks Papa that very same question. God did not allow those bad things to happen. Sin and evil probably had something to do with it. But really, we will never know from our own finite perspective. We may not be able to make out all the details of why certain things happen, but when we need the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives, He is there to illuminate some points of light for us. And if we follow those lights, they will lead us toward some conclusions that can help satisfy our hearts and souls.

All we need to do is just to open the door of our heart, just a wee bit and God will come through for us. Lord who shall we go to? Run to Him! All we need to do is believe and He will heal us, and give us that peace in our hearts. Peace that surpasses all human understanding.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: I believe. Help my unbelief.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Papa, for saving us from the depths of our despair — when we run to you, when we feel like giving up on ourselves; thank you for not letting us go.

5 May, Friday – Everyone deserves a second chance

5 May 2017

Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.

In today’s first reading, we learn about Saul’s conversion – Saul desired to rise to the level of prestige and power that he believed was his destiny. He was bent to prove his worth and went all out to destroy the believers in Jesus; he hunted down and persecuted Christians. Years later, in obedience to the vision of Jesus Christ, he was converted and became Paul. He was to become one of the greatest evangelists in spreading Christianity after his encounter with Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. He also suffered much while preaching the gospel and eventually he was martyred in Rome. His writings make up much of the New Testament.

So you might be thinking now – how can Jesus pick someone as insolent and power hungry as Saul to become His instrument to bring the gospel to pagans? But Paul’s conversion proves that God can call and transform anyone he chooses, even the most hardened individual, to work for his kingdom.

I have heard stories of ex-convicts, the most hardened criminals convicted to life in prison or those facing death sentences change for the better. One such story is about a young man who was in prison and his job was to prepare meals for convicts in death row. Each time one of them was due to hang in a few days, the warden would alert him and he would take extra care in preparing their meals. He will even say a prayer for their souls. Eventually he got out of prison and started a social enterprise that employs ex-convicts to give them a second chance.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Yes, Jesus has a plan for everyone – even those we judge to be unworthy of our forgiveness and love. So each time we look at a fellow brother or sister who has made a wrong judgement along the way with disdain, we are persecuting Jesus. For those of us who have sinned and tell ourselves that God will never forgive us, you are wrong. Our God is a loving and merciful God. We have to open our hearts to be healed and forgiven. For those of us who have suffered under the burden of anger, resentment, unforgiveness, jealously – open your heart and let Jesus in. Don’t deprive yourselves of spiritual nutrients and every good and amazing thing God had planned for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: May we rise from the darkness of the tomb. That the Light of Christ shine in our hearts this Easter season. May we bring the light of love to those who we find hardest to love; may we be beacons of hope given to those who have given up on this life.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Jesus, for reminding us that each time we persecute others, we are in fact persecuting you. Thank you Risen Lord, for being our strength and our song.