9 December, Sunday – Hidden Glory

9 December 2018

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Baruch 5:1-9

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

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Philippians 1:4-6,8-11

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

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Luke 3:1-6

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

A voice cries in the wilderness:

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

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Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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

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

8 December, Saturday – Yes

8 December – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this and the following eight days, the Church celebrates, with particular solemnity, the immaculate conception of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary who, from all eternity, was chosen to be the daughter of the heavenly Father, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of the Divine Redeemer, and, by consequence, the queen of angels and of men.

The consideration of these prerogatives convinced the most enlightened fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church that she was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin. It is very remarkable that among the shining hosts of saints who have, in every century, adorned the Church, no one wrote against this belief, while we find it confirmed by the decisions of the holy fathers from the earliest times.

Pope Piux IX forced, as it were, by the faith and devotion of the faithful throughout the world, finally on 8 December 1854, sanctioned, as a dogma of faith falling within the infallible rule of Catholic traditions, this admirable prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.

It is, therefore, now no longer, as formerly, a pious belief, but an article of the faith that Mary, like the purest morning light which precedes the rising of the most brilliant sun, was, from the first instant of her conception, free from original sin.

– Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 3:9-15,20

After Adam had eaten of the tree the Lord God called to him. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’

Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,

‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’

The man named his wife ‘Eve’ because she was the mother of all those who live.

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Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.

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Luke 1:26-38 

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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“let what you have said be done to me.”

Last weekend, I was blessed to have attended a cosy, intimate concert in a small church at the invitation of my vocal coach. He had helped put together an 11-piece choir to celebrate the 1st Sunday of Advent and their concert was themed ‘Ordinary Baby’. While there were a few familiar favourites sung, 2 new songs resonated deeply with me – ‘Ordinary Baby’ and ‘My Heart, Your Bethlehem’.

I couldn’t help but be amazed at how a ‘Yes’ at the beginning of this year led me on a journey of discovering my voice (I had taken my vocal exams the day before) and also to this wonderful moment where I witnessed God’s hand at work through the energy and sincerity of the small Christian community. The message that resonated deep within me was whether or not our hearts were prepared to welcome Jesus this Christmas and to let Him be born within us.

Too often, we let allow sin to harden our hearts. We get so used to habitual transgressions that our hearts develop calluses and a hard exterior. And when we don’t go for regular confession, that wall gets thicker and thicker, so much so that God’s word cannot penetrate into our hearts. Consequently, we lose all connection to God and our ‘wifi signal’ (as our spiritual director likes to put it) becomes weak. How then are we going to be able to provide rest and a soft place to sleep for the newborn infant Jesus on Christmas Eve?

Many of us are more than willing to say ‘Yes’ whenever there is a call for volunteers to serve in church or to give of our time for a particular church project. But many of us put conditions on our ‘Yes’. We ask question after question, or place restrictions on our time and how much we are willing to give. Sure, we all have our crosses to bear and families to take care of. However, remember Mother Mary’s fiat when she said ‘Yes’ to the Lord. It was spoken out of true love for God and fully from her heart. There were no ‘buts’ nor ‘what ifs’. Her ‘Yes’ was the ultimate sign of humility and obedience.

Brothers and sisters, when we say our own fiat with our words and our deeds, that is when a conversion of heart takes place. And that is when we begin to reconnect with our heavenly Father. How many of us are willing to open our hearts and say to God that He can do what he wills to us so that His ultimate plans for each and every one of us can be fulfilled?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage and the strength to say ‘Yes’ unconditionally to you each and every day.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for all that you have done for us, O heavenly Father, and for all that you are going to do for us despite our fears and our doubts.

7 December, Friday – Acting In Faith

7 December – Memorial for St. Ambrose, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

Ambrose (c.340–397) was born to the Roman nobility. He was the brother of St. Marcellina and St. Satyrus. He was educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome, Italy. He was a poet and a noted orator. He was a convert to Christianity, and governor of Milan, Italy.

When the Bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement led to violence. Ambrose intervened to calm both sides; he impressed everyone involved so much that though he was still an unbaptized catechumen, he was chosen as the new bishop. He resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, but he assented to prevent further violence. On Dec 7, 374, he was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as bishop. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor, both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock.

He was a noted preacher and teacher, a Bible student of renown, and writer of liturgical hymns. He stood firm against paganism and Arianism. His preaching helped convert St. Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. Ambrose’s preaching brought Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

During his time as bishop, he also called and chaired several theological councils, many devoted to fighting heresy. He welcomed St. Ursus and St. Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution, and then sent them on to evangelize in Gaul and Germany. He was proclaimed a great Doctor of the Latin Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.

The title “Honey Tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 29:17-24

The Lord says this:

In a short time, a very short time,
shall not Lebanon become fertile land
and fertile land turn into forest?
The deaf, that day,
will hear the words of a book
and, after shadow and darkness,
the eyes of the blind will see.

But the lowly will rejoice in the Lord even more
and the poorest exult in the Holy One of Israel;
for tyrants shall be no more, and scoffers vanish,
and all be destroyed who are disposed to do evil:
those who gossip to incriminate others,
those who try at the gate to trip the arbitrator
and get the upright man’s case dismissed for groundless reasons.

Therefore the Lord speaks,
the God of the House of Jacob,
Abraham’s redeemer:
No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale,
for he shall see what my hands have done in his midst,
he shall hold my name holy.
They will hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Erring spirits will learn wisdom
and murmurers accept instruction.

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Matthew 9:27-31

As Jesus went on his way two blind men followed him shouting, ‘Take pity on us, Son of David.’ And when Jesus reached the house the blind men came up with him and he said to them, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do.’ Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.’ And their sight returned. Then Jesus sternly warned them, ‘Take care that no one learns about this.’ But when they had gone, they talked about him all over the countryside.

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“Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.”

When was the last time you took a leap of faith, fully trusting that nothing would happen to you? Over the years, I have plunged headlong into one adventure after another, trusting that the Lord would sustain me throughout my journeys; some of which I completed (my Camino in 2016), some of which are still going on (playing the violin for P&W, vocal lessons). Truly, when we lift any situation up to God in faith, He will take over and anoint us – as long as we do not waver in our faith.

We’re going through some tough times in our ministry and for some of us, the changes that we are trying to implement are taking a tad too long. In fact, some of the initial members who stepped up to take on leadership roles have decided to step down. In the aftermath of the recent Prayer Experience Retreat (PER), I am also considering focusing my energies on serving only in PER as I feel that the testimonies and encounters resonate deeper with me.

Yet, I recognize the struggle faced by our leaders as they too come to terms with being a little tired and jaded, some after serving for more than 20 years. Looking around, I too sense their concern that there are not enough ‘next generation’ leaders stepping up to take over some of the critical duties (though that is starting to happen slowly, thanks to technology). I appreciate how daunting it can be, to try to step into the shoes of others, yet have their shadows looming over you each time you assume a role previously handled by someone ‘senior’. Perhaps that’s where all of us need to act in faith, and to trust fully that God will take over; instead of trying to get things done the ‘tried and tested’ way.

Over the past few months, I have certainly learnt to trust more in the Lord and to ‘let go and let God’. I recall the words of one of my mentors, who said that there will be a point in any worship session where the spirit will take over. That is when I have to not try and wrest control back because He is the main worship leader

Brothers and sisters, how often do we actually step back and let God take over in our lives? How often do we think that He does not know what we are going through or that we know better because we face the same situation each and every day? Yes, it is not easy to let go, specially if some of us are the ‘alpha’ characters at work. But what have we got to lose by trusting in God’s providence and letting Him make the critical decisions we face? Of course, that is predicated on the fact that we keep in communion with him through regular prayer. So here’s the real question – are we speaking with Him each day so that our every action and thought is centred around Him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear God, we pray that you give us the will and the heart to commune with you in prayer each and every day of our lives.

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

6 December, Thursday – Foundation

6 December – Memorial for St. Nicholas, bishop

Nicholas (d. 346) was a priest and abbot, and the bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). He was generous to the poor, and a special protector of the innocent and wrong. Many stories grew up around him prior to his becoming Santa Claus.

One story is that upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholas went by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window, saving the girls from an evil life. These three bags, gold generously given in time of trouble, became the three golden balls that indicate a pawn broker’s shop.

Another story is that he raised to life three young boys who had been murdered and pickled in a barrel of brine to hide the crime. These stories led to his patronage of children in general, and of barrel-makers besides.

Another St. Nicholas story is that he induced some thieves to return their plunder, which led to his protection against theft and robbery, and his patronage of them – he is not helping them to steal, but to repent and change. In the past, thieves have been known as Saint Nicholas’ clerks or Knights of St. Nicholas.

A fourth story is that during a voyage to the Holy Lands, a fierce storm blew up, threatening the ship. He prayed about it, and the storm calmed – hence the patronage of sailors and those like dockworkers who work on the sea.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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…for the Lord is the everlasting Rock.

It is performance appraisal season at work and the oft-dreaded one-on-one conversations are going to come up soon. That is when I have to exercise a lot of patience and self-control, especially towards my staff, who may not have performed as strongly as I would have liked them to over the course of the year.

I have been fortunate to have staff who have been with me for more than 3 years and it is no easy task telling someone that he/she does not deserve to be given a certain rating, especially when it impacts on their performance bonuses. So the one thing I always fall back on is whether or not they have continued to build up a strong foundation that will enable them to weather any sort of organizational changes. Many people in communications tend to want the ‘sexy’ assignments or more ‘high value’ PR projects that will garner media attention. However, I always caution them that fame is fleeting and if they only focus on the superficial stuff that goes out into the news, they may be doing themselves a disservice by forgetting that by focusing on the substance, the stories will naturally emerge.

I believe it is the same when it comes to our faith. We can do all the ‘good’ things like going for Sunday mass, fasting, giving to causes and even giving our time to serve in various ministries. But if our foundation is not strong, if our faith is not built on solid ground, we will fall by the wayside at the first sign of trouble or when temptation rears its ugly head. This begs the oft-asked question – why are we serving Him? What are our motives? Are we trying to earn our way to heaven? Or are we trying to establish our own personal kingdoms within our parishes?

Sadly, where two or three are gathered in His name, that is also where the devil lurks. Pride, envy, greed, those are three predominant sins that tend to surface whenever there are opportunities for our own brethren to shine. Brothers and sisters, we must always remember that as we toil in His vineyard, we must not lose sight of the one goal – serving our God who has redeemed us with an ultimate sacrifice. If we can anchor ourselves on our faith in His love and mercy, that He is always present in our lives and that we are serving him in true humility and as a community united in faith and love, then we have nothing to fear.

Christ made St Peter the rock on which he built the church. A church that has certainly withstood the test of time and countless scandals over the centuries. Indeed, the ultimate master builder, the architect of our very faith made it extremely clear from the outset that our foundation needed to be strong. In going through our daily struggles, are we wavering all the time? If so, then perhaps a good look at our own foundation may be in order.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us the strength to persevere and to stand firm in the face of all our daily struggles.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your gift of fortitude in our lives.

5 December, Wednesday – Saved

5 December

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Isaiah 25:6-10

On this mountain,
the Lord of Hosts will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines,
of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.
On this mountain he will remove
the mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
he will destroy Death for ever.
The Lord will wipe away
the tears from every cheek;
he will take away his people’s shame
everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so.
That day, it will be said: See, this is our God
in whom we hoped for salvation;
the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.
We exult and we rejoice
that he has saved us;
for the hand of the Lord
rests on this mountain.

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Matthew 15:29-37

Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.

But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.

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We exult and we rejoice that He has saved us.

When was the last time someone ‘saved’ you, either from a potential accident or an embarrassing situation? Can you recall the relief that you felt as you thanked the person? Or did you even bother to thank the one who ‘rescued’ you? In today’s first reading, we see how God has lavished us with a banquet fit for a king, and how he has destroyed death and all that hinders us from fulfilling our true mission. What more can we ask for?

So how are we, mere mortals, ever going to repay a single ounce of what God has given to us? Our God is a benevolent and kind God; one who merely asks for us to strive to love each other as He has loved us. I, for one, would never be able to fathom the love a parent has for his child but for God to give up his only son in order to save humanity is something that can never be repaid no matter how much of the riches of this earth one can muster.

And so we are faced with a dilemma – can we ever do anything to return God’s love, even as a gesture of thanks? I know many who strive each day to spend time with Him in adoration or at daily mass. Those who give of themselves to others via charitable works. Volunteers who spend time with the elderly, the needy and the disadvantaged. These people have received in order to give and I believe they have acknowledged God’s presence in their lives – which means they know that they are saved.

Brothers and sisters, an act of kindness usually elicits a simple ‘Thank you’. But when our God has sacrificed his only Son in order to save us and prepare for us a place in heaven, then perhaps we should truly look deep within ourselves to see if we are doing what we can to thank our heavenly Father for rescuing us. And while we can never, ever repay God in this lifetime, perhaps we should stop using that as an excuse for not even trying. Whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, let us always appreciate that there are others around us who do need saving – through a simple act of kindness requiring a small sacrifice on our part.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, give us the wisdom and strength to acknowledge the sacrifices that others have made for us so that we, in turn, can give as much.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your ultimate sacrifice of love that saved us all.

4 December, Tuesday – Blessed to see

4 December – Memorial for St. John Damascene, priest, doctor of the Church

John was born in Damascus about 675. After holding public office for a time, he withdrew to the monastery of Sabas near Jerusalem. He wrote The Fount of Wisdom, in which he presented a comprehensive teaching on Christian doctrine, which had great influence on later theology. He died about 750.

– the Weekday Missal

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus 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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No one knows the Father except the Son and… who the Son chooses

In the course of life, we may not have always been chosen to belong to certain groups, although we may have had a strong desire to have wanted to belong. For instance, we did not win the race, were looked over for a promotion or salary increment, went unnoticed by someone we fancied, we did not make the dean’s list and not even the guest list of the wedding of someone we hold dear. Rejection really hurts, and not getting something we truly desire is a hard pill to swallow. Though it gets better with time, it’s acceptable for us to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge our feelings.

In a recent conversation with my nine year old godson, he had asked me not to join a party which includes his Sunday school friends and their parents. I was invited by his dad, who is my brother. And anyone who regularly interacts with children that age will know, that it is more important for us to dialogue on his selection (and omission) of guests rather than to go into a meltdown. I do get the feeling that if everyone was taught well, they would not be such ‘pickers and choosers’ and to be oblivious of the hurt they cause people who they wish to exclude. To me, this situation presented an opportunity for me to explain to my godson that excluding someone could be hurtful to that person, and it may not be what God would have wanted. Would we bother explaining this with love to someone under our care? If not, what is stopping us? How can we say that we have seen Him when we do not reflect His ways?

Look at what God offers us today as stated in the gospel – that His Son will choose people who ‘sees’ the Father. Clearly, as baptised Catholics, we hold this great privilege to be able to know and be known, love and to be loved by our Father God. But sometimes, we lose sight of the Father and the Son because we are too preoccupied on being chosen by mere men in materialistic matters. Unfortunately, we become that shallow because we simply fail to see the Father who has been made known to us. And for this, we seek His face and grace, so that we continue to strive to see Him, to recognise Him and honour Him with our lives and in the way we treat one another.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, help us to see you through the sun and the storm. Thank you for being our constant and our stronghold. Help us to shade off superficial approval and acceptance and to remain fulfilled in you alone.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I am loved and chosen by you. You are all that I adore.

3 December, Monday – Let’s go to God’s House

3 December – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Presbyter, Religious, Missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)

Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.

In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.

He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He traveled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Temple of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths;
since the Law will go out from Zion,
and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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Only say the word 

“How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103). Imagine this Psalm, that the word of our Lord is sweeter than honey and in today’s gospel we are reminded that His words healed and blessed the centurion who believed that.

We hold onto the words of so many people but we lose sight, hearing and do not taste the words of our Lord. This is really sad. It is as if we have a beloved whose words bring nothing but good for us, yet we either ignore or disbelieve them.

In a recent sermon, Fr Xavier reminded us that God is with us always and He loves us so much, but we decide to ignore His presence. It makes no sense that we do it, but I am also guilty as charged.

But just realising that God’s word is powerful and sweet is not enough. This is much like us being convinced that a certain diet will help us attain our ideal weight, yet simply resting in that knowledge without taking the necessary action.

The questions remain, what should we do? Here are some suggestions so that we can stay attuned and be blessed by His words.

  1. Read the bible daily

This is a habit that I have been practising for the past 20 years and sometimes I wonder if it really bears fruit. Surely it does. Reading the word of God in the morning helps to allow God to direct our days. I have read of many busy people, especially young mums who confess that the first few minutes of their day spent in prayer sustains them over the long and tiring day. If you cannot read the bible in the morning, I am sure God words can still speak to you at any other time of the day, just open the bible and read daily!

  1. Reflect on the word

Allow His word to take root in your heart. For me, I write short, daily reflections that help me to relate to the word best, by spending 5 minutes in silence with the Lord and allowing Him to speak to my heart and soul. This is much like eating a nutritious meal, but way better.

  1. Allow the word to come alive in your life

Our days can be busy and overwhelming, but I have to admit that in the past few years, I have never forgotten my meals. Just like how that came with practice, on some days I recall certain verses to be the light in my words and actions. If I did it all the time, imagine the results. This can also allow us to be a testimony of Christ to others. After all, no one is interested in our preaching but they will see our actions and hear our words.

Though these are 3 simple steps, I often fail to keep up and in those moments, I know that it is God who sustains me and leads me back. After all it was never about me, it is Him all along. It is He who makes all things beautiful and sweet and makes us the best version of ourselves.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, help us to read, reflect and live your word. When we go astray, lead us back to you O Lord. We yearn to be healed and caressed by your word, give us this grace O Lord. St Francis Xavier, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: Only say a word O Lord, and my servant and my soul shall be healed. Spill your wisdom on me so that I may live to taste your words as it was as sweet honey.

2 December, Sunday – To You O Lord I lift up my soul

2 December 2018

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Jeremiah 33:14-16

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I am going to fulfil the promise I made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah:
‘In those days and at that time,

I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David,
who shall practise honesty and integrity in the land.
In those days Judah shall be saved
and Israel shall dwell in confidence.
And this is the name the city will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.’

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1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

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Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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Beware that your heart does not get drowsy 

If you and I lift our souls to the Lord and allow Him to direct our paths (Psalm 25:4-5) our hearts will never get drowsy and we will never be consumed by the cares of our life. Most of us intend to be warriors of Christ but, despite our best intentions, we sometimes fall and become worriers. This happened to me recently, as I kept getting drunk by the words and actions of others who are close to me. It is as if I walk through the sea of life and every wave that I had expected would lift me up hurled me to the corners of a dry beach where I lay parched and defeated. It is by grace that I fully realised that I needed to hold on to God and not others, not because others were not important, but rather it is only God’s approval that is truly needed.

Somehow, I have been unknowingly seeking the approval and acceptance of others. Since, just like me, my friends and family are also striving to be better versions of themselves, their expectations and words and actions are not always life giving. And though it is human to get hurt, today’s gospel reminds us that we are not to allow our hearts to be drowsy and that our antidote is to pray and be vigilant always, without any exceptions.

Life can hurl you around in unexpected ways, but if we know how to trust the Lord with all that He has, we will not grow weary nor be defeated.

I hope to pray the following from Psalm 25 to strengthen myself for the days ahead

“Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior,
and for you I wait all the day.

Dear sisters and brothers, as we enter this season of waiting, may we prepare our hearts to be blameless before the Lord by going for confessions and also making an extra effort to attend mass more frequently. It is the Lord, who heals and restores our spirit, soul and body, no one can do it for us. Let us allow Him to be God of our lives and master of our hearts and the pilot of our journey.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us as we begin another liturgical year that we continue to strive to be children that would make you a proud parent. May we never lose sight of our hope and trust in you. Mary, help me to never lose sight of my God and His gentle guidance.

Thanksgiving: To you O Lord we lift up our souls. Direct our paths and instruct our ways, our ever loving God.

1 December, Satursday – Putting in Effort

1 December

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Apocalypse 22:1-7

The angel showed me, John, the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure for the pagans.

The ban will be lifted. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.

The angel said to me, ‘All that you have written is sure and will come true: the Lord God who gives the spirit to the prophets has sent his angel to reveal to his servants what is soon to take place. Very soon now, I shall be with you again.’ Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book.

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Luke 21:34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with dabauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life.

Some of us don’t really enjoy having a nagging mother, or mother-in-law. Well, many of us basically just don’t want to be nagged, or maybe even reminded of what we should do. I realize that really, many of us need someone to nag at us.

Think about it. Very few of us can draw a straight line without the use of a ruler. And even if some of us could, I doubt many could draw a long straight line. It seems as if it is in our nature to swerve, or to veer away from what is straight. I really believe that nagging is our mother’s way of making sure that we always keep to the straight line. Because if we don’t watch out, or if somebody doesn’t watch out for us, very soon we will be off the right path.

Unfortunately, this need for someone to constantly remind us does not go away even in our adulthood. True, we may have better control of ourselves and there are many things we would do right even if there is no one reminding us, but there are still some things we need to be reminded of. And if there is no one to remind us, we need to ask God to give us the grace to watch ourselves.

I’ve heard of how in some religious groups, they cover some unsightly images in newspapers just to protect chastity. This is what they would call not putting themselves in situations where they can be tempted. Because it’s really better to be safe than sorry.

I pray that we all have the humility to accept the fact that no matter how close we are to God, or how faithful we are with our prayers, we are always susceptible to committing sins. Let us continue to ask God, and our guardian angels to nag at us, to remind us to follow a straight line. Even the Saints knew how much of a sinner they were, and how much they were in need of God’s grace not to give in to temptation. So they watched out for themselves, because they knew they could fall any time.

Let’s put in as much effort as we can.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please give us the grace to flee from occasions of sin. Please feel free to always nag at us, even if we sometimes don’t like it.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for making sure we are surrounded with opportunities to refresh ourselves in our battle against sin and to be always reminded of the good we must do.

30 November, Friday – Full Speed Ahead

30 November – Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

I recently changed cars, having decided that I would purchase a livelier yet more affordable one than my outgoing ride. I settled on a ten-year old Japanese car with a manual transmission. God really blessed the entire process; the car was in good condition, accident-free, and had just undergone a full engine overhaul. It feels brand new!

Interestingly, it isn’t a pleasant car to drive in traffic or at very slow speeds. There is little sound insulation, and the suspension is very firm. The engine has very little torque in the lower RPM bands and really needs to be worked hard to get the car moving. However, on stretches of winding roads or on the highways, the car comes alive.

The suspension and handling tighten up, the increased aerodynamic forces plant the car firmly on the tarmac, and the engine sonorously and eagerly revs to right up to its limit. It truly is transformed once it is worked hard and pushed aggressively. The car reaches its full potential.

And this is the message that God has been trying to bring across to me. Opting for an easy life, or one where we merely cruise along is not the most satisfying way to live. We shortchange ourselves, and the beneficiaries of our gifts, when we do not fully evolve into the creations that God wants us to be. The process can be arduous and long, with stress and pain along the way. But when we function at our limits, when our bodies, hearts, minds, and consciousness are joyfully aligned, we begin to discover just how unfathomably vast the possibilities of life are.

Dear friends, I invite you to dig a little deeper, push a little harder, and grow a little faster in the days to come. Life is certainly more fun in sixth gear.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Anonymous)

Prayer: Dearest Lord, may we become fully alive in the days ahead. Grant us the courage to constantly push our limits.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Jesus, for making us just the way we should be.