5 August, Sunday – Heavenly Crumbs

5 August 

________________

Exodus 16:2-4,12-15

The whole community of the sons of Israel began to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our heart’s content! As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people are to go out and gather the day’s portion; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.

‘I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel. Say this to them, “Between the two evenings you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have bread to your heart’s content. Then you will learn that I, the Lord, am your God.”’

And so it came about: quails flew up in the evening, and they covered the camp; in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thing delicate, powdery, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When they saw this, the sons of Israel said to one another, ‘What is that?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’ said Moses to them ‘is the bread the Lord gives you to eat.’

________________ 

Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal for you to be set free when the day comes. Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.

Try, then, to imitate God as children of his that he loves and follow Christ loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.

________________ 

John 6:41-51

The Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop complaining to each other.

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

________________

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation.

We’ve heard of the saying we lead by example. Our children see how we act and mimic our ways, good or bad, to our amazement sometimes. We may not be entirely conscious of this but every day, every moment, someone is observing us, and vice versa, and observers make judgments. We emulate, or criticize, we applaud or abhor.

God wants us to lead lives dedicated to Him, and in unity not just with the Holy Trinity, but with each and every one of us. The values that St Paul exhorts to in his letter to the Ephesians – charity, selflessness, gentleness, patience – are borne out of love… for God and for each other. If our lives reflect love, then people who observe us may be drawn to emulate the love, and in due course, come to know Christ Jesus. In such a way, then is our faith multiplied.

When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves, he not only wanted to feed his people, he wanted them to understand and believe in the power of God: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). He wanted them to have faith that even in such a tight situation with so little at hand, God would provide for the many thousands. He wanted them to look beyond the miracle and look for God in the miracle.

I believe that Jesus escaped into the hills on his own when he realized the people’s intention to crown him as king, because then they would see a figurehead and not the Divine God. They would miss the message. Perhaps as well, he wanted them to reflect on the works that he had done and the miracles they had seen, on their own and based on their own understanding. If the people understood and believed in God, then they would live their lives for God, multiplying their faith and others as well.

We may not see miracles such as these, but there are miracles happening around us every day if we look. God is present in each of these miracles. Let us learn to look for God in every miracle that we encounter.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to live lives of love, worthy to be called children of God, that others may see and learn about You and Your unending love. Help us in our own ways, to multiply our faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God Almighty for the wondrous miracles that He performs every day, from the moment we awake till we close our eyes.

4 Aug, Saturday – Hearing But Not Listening

Aug 4 – Memorial for St. John Mary Vianney, priest

In his youth, John Mary Vianney (1786-1859) taught other children their prayers and catechism. As a priest, was assigned to a parish which suffered from very lax attendance. He began visiting his parishioners, especially the sick and poor, spent days in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, did penance for his parishioners, and led his people by example. Crowds came to hear him preach, and to make their reconciliation because of his reputation with penitents.

He has been declared patron saint for all priests.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 26:11-16,24

The priests and prophets addressed the officials and all the people, ‘This man deserves to die, since he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’ Jeremiah, however, replied to the people as follows:

‘The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you. For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.’

The officials and all the people then said to the priests and prophets, ‘This man does not deserve to die: he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’

Jeremiah had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

________________ 

Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

________________

“For in truth it was the Lord who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.”

Now that my son has reached toddler-hood, it has taught me a thing or two about parenting. I’m far from being the perfect parent, but if trying to raise one toddler is a challenge, imagine shepherding an entire unruly flock that does not listen. I have to mean what I say, else my son would never take me seriously, or worse, step all over me. If I threaten a punishment, I would have to really do as I say. If I promise a reward, likewise I would have to follow through with a treat. He has learnt that I really do mean business, and is learning to make his choices and check his boundaries.

I suppose we are like this too — when God speaks to us we sometimes do not listen. We question and ‘check’ our boundaries too, sometimes with undesirable consequences, but we – like our children – learn that there are consequences to our actions and boundaries that we should not cross. We know all too well what happened to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt, when they disregarded God and worshipped a golden calf instead. You would imagine that after witnessing God’s miracles first-hand, they would be fully converted. But there were still the few whose hearts were hardened. Similarly, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart despite calamity after calamity until the ultimate sacrifice – the Egyptians’ first-born – was paid. Even in the reading of Jeremiah, he had warned that if the people of Jehoiakim did not repent their evil ways, misfortune and ruin of their city would befall them, as did the city of Shiloh hundreds of years before them.

History repeats itself yes, and sometimes we may have to be reminded several times before we take action or learn our lesson. If there are parents amongst you, you would only know too well the phrase, “I told you so!” or “Didn’t I tell you…?” or “Why don’t you ever listen?”. Maybe it is human nature to have selective hearing, or it is just the curious part of us trying to see how far we can push the line. We should be wiser, with the wisdom of hindsight and learning from our ancestors, but we never really are. But we can be, by asking God to open our hearts and exploring a deeper relationship with Him. If we have not built a bond with God, it is less likely that we would want to listen to someone that we are not close to, and even if we did listen, we would tune out almost immediately rather than being genuinely interested with what He had to say. God’s message is always to help us, not harm us. It is when we try to mix in our motives to justify what we think God is trying to tell us, that the message gets muddled up.

Let us then pray for the wisdom of discernment and the ability to drown out the ‘noise’ so that we can hear clearly when God speaks to us. Too long now have we had a one-way conversation with God, where we have been the ones talking; perhaps it is time now that we listen.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have guided us always to do the right thing, and we pray to overcome our stubbornness and distractions to listen to You, even in the gentlest whisper of a breeze.            

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for Your infinite patience and guidance, especially when we refuse to listen. Thank you for not giving up on us.

3 Aug, Friday – Good Enough

3 Aug

________________

Jeremiah 26:1-9

At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘The Lord says this: Stand in the court of the Temple of the Lord. To all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the Temple of the Lord you must speak all the words I have commanded you to tell them; do not omit one syllable. Perhaps they will listen and each turn from his evil way: if so, I shall relent and not bring the disaster on them which I intended for their misdeeds. Say to them, “The Lord says this: If you will not listen to me by following my Law which I put before you, by paying attention to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send so persistently to you, without your ever listening to them, I will treat this Temple as I treated Shiloh, and make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.”’

The priests and prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah say these words in the Temple of the Lord. When Jeremiah had finished saying everything that the Lord had ordered him to say to all the people, the priests and prophets seized hold of him and said, ‘You shall die! Why have you made this prophecy in the name of the Lord, “This Temple will be like Shiloh, and this city will be desolate, and uninhabited”?’ And the people were all crowding round Jeremiah in the Temple of the Lord.

 

________________ 

Matthew 13:54-58

Coming to his home town, Jesus taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters, too, are they not all here with us? So where did the man get it all?’ And they would not accept him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house’, and he did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

________________

“Is he not the carpenter’s son?”

The much-anticipated (at least in Singapore) movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is coming out in less than two weeks. If you’ve read the book on which the movie is based, you’ll know that this is a story of a Chinese-American girl meeting her boyfriend’s Singapore-based family for the first time, and, unbeknownst to her, he is from one of the richest families in Singapore. The book is littered with descriptions of a life of excess and material wealth, and how the protagonist tries to deal with the upper-class snobbery that comes her way. Everything about her and her background gets scrutinized to microscopic detail – her upbringing, her background, her beauty, financial standing, education – and she finds few allies and a lot of criticism.

That is probably snobbery at the extreme, but the fact is this — our opinion of a person or thing is formed within 5 seconds or less of an encounter. Our environment influences our opinions so that we form ideas about something based on associated factors, e.g. if clothes look dirty, we assume that it would be smelly too. If someone is smart, we assume he or she is a degree-holder and learned. Sometimes, the unexpected takes us by surprise. The small guy is strong, the tradesman is wise, the shepherd’s son is king. God uses the unexpected and humble to show us that great things too can come out of them. If He were to operate like how we do with our pre-conceived notions, then Jesus would not have been born in the lowliest of circumstances, in a manger surrounded by farm animals. He would have been born into a high-ranking family with an army at his command. David the shepherd-boy would not have been king, and a mightier, swashbuckling prince on a steed would have been the one to slay Goliath instead. Moses and Aaron would have confronted Pharaoh with a flaming, jewel-encrusted sword instead of a simple wooden staff. Why can’t the same potential come from the most unexpected of places?

On the flipside, our own myopia about others blinds us to our own abilities too. My friends, we are better than we believe ourselves to be. We think we need this and that to be better — more experience, a PhD, an MBA, a job with an investment bank. Yes, some of these things do help, but the lack of it does not write you off as incapable or without potential. We are the ‘small things’ that God uses to bring forth His bigger plan. There is wonder yet to be wrought from us, but only if we do not remain small-minded, and be open to the possibilities that can be worked through us by God. We too can be that carpenter’s son.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we are small indeed. We are a grain of sand in a sea of people. Yet each of us have the might and potential to be something bigger than ourselves. Help us to look within ourselves, and not judge our own selves based on our circumstances or other people’s comments and perceptions.

Thanksgiving: As the oak tree springs forth from a small acorn, so too can we achieve the same heights. Thank you Lord, for reminding us about this in the world around us.

2 Aug, Thursday – Begin Again

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop 

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do. Then this word of the Lord was addressed to me, ‘House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’

________________ 

Matthew 13:47-53

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

________________

“Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased”

I’ve been in a bit of a ‘dark place’ recently. Earlier in the year, I had such great hopes for the future, as I suppose we all do at the start of each year. I was determined not to be part of the mass of dreamers that fall to the wayside as the year unfolds. I was open to God and prayer, and I think like many people who have worked a long time, you reach a point where you start questioning if what you are doing is indeed what you were meant to do. I had such a strong conviction for what I thought God had in mind for me – my calling, if I may.

Then distractions and personal heartbreak got in the way and swept these dreams aside. I keep telling myself it is God’s test in everything to check my constancy and faith. I’ve since gotten over the hard bit, the grief, but the recovery is challenging. To get back to my old self, the believer in me – that is taking a little bit more time and effort to achieve. I want to get back to that place of possibility; the mind is willing but the body is weak, or maybe my faith is? I think this is like trying to get out of an addiction, which I won’t presume to be so easy, but rather, so psychologically difficult. My own challenges I am sure are nothing compared to what some people have gone through, and I cannot imagine what someone like Job would have felt in the midst of his own personal tragedies. As I question what God’s plans are for me, I feel like I am starting again from scratch, running on empty rather than ready to embrace the future.

I’d like to think that yesterday (as I write this) was my turning point – I was listening to a song and thought I heard the words “I will love you for your mistakes”. At that moment, I felt like this was something Jesus would say to me, “It doesn’t matter what has happened, I will still love you for who you are.” Maybe my plans didn’t turn out to be what I wanted it to be, but God is the potter and I am the clay. He is the one who will mould me and fashion me into something that will be pleasing to Him, that will be of purpose to fulfill His plan. Maybe as He fashions me, so am I to fashion my own plans, with His direction. Maybe even though things haven’t turned out as I have hoped, there are lessons to be learnt, quiet guidance to be gleaned, even in the darkest times. When I am weak, then He is strong, and in turn so too will I be strong, because Christ is my strength. And as I gather my strength, I will try again, just as He will try again with me.

I may feel like I’ve been scratching the bottom of the barrel, but that is only because the barrel needs to be emptied of all the emotions that link me to that dark place before it can be filled again with God’s grace till it runneth over. Then will I be ready to embrace the future.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: God Almighty Father, praise be to You! Steady my heart and my courage to embrace Your plans for me. Let me lean not on my own understanding, but on faith that You will see me through this.            

Thanksgiving: Thanks be to God our Father, for not giving up on me, for trying again with me even when I stumble, and for loving me despite my mistakes.

1 Aug, Wednesday – This Valley of Tears

Aug 1 – Memorial for St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop, religious founder, doctor

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. As a lawyer, he had his own practice by age 21, and was a leading lawyer in Naples. He never attended court without having attended Mass first.

As he matured and learned more of the world, he liked it less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He was ordained at age 29. As preacher and home missioner around Naples, St. Alphonsus was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).

As bishop, St. Alphonsus worked to reform the clergy and revitalise the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. The royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology, and his skills as a lawyer, St. Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king‘s approval.

– Patron Saint Index

_________________

Jeremiah 15:10,16-21

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.
‘When your words came, I devoured them:
your word was my delight
and the joy of my heart;
for I was called by your name,
the Lord, God of Hosts.
I never took pleasure in sitting in scoffers’ company;
with your hand on me I held myself aloof,
since you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my suffering continual,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Do you mean to be for me a deceptive stream
with inconstant waters?’

To which the Lord replied,
‘If you come back,
I will take you back into my service;
and if you utter noble, not despicable, thoughts,
you shall be as my own mouth.
They will come back to you,
but you must not go back to them.
I will make you
a bronze wall fortified against this people.
They will fight against you
but they will not overcome you,
because I am with you
to save you and to deliver you
– it is the Lord who speaks.
I mean to deliver you from the hands of the wicked
and redeem you from the clutches of the violent.’

________________

Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.’

_________________

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found

Since Sunday, we have read the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah in our first readings… day after day, Jeremiah seems to be ceaseless in his cries out to God.

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.’ He wails in this valley of tears.

I am reminded of Job. I am reminded of the many times I have complained against the hand that I feel God has dealt me. Many of us have endured episodes, seasons and circumstances, leaving us utterly helpless and distressed. Where are you, Lord? Compared to others around us who seem to be in greater sorrow, we can sometimes feel lame and weak for our whines. We may not even dare to express our exasperation publicly. But privately, we do – we feel dragged through this valley of tears. So much like Jeremiah, we sometimes find life meaningless because we cannot grasp the purpose for our suffering.

But we also find the repeated mention of Jesus’ parables of the treasure hidden in the fields, the rich man and his pearl of great price spread over these past few days. The consecutive alignment of these liturgical texts by our Church is no unnecessary detail. It is a keen reminder, a salient wake-up call, to us that the woes and weariness of this world is like the field that Jesus describes. Carved into the valley of sorrows is our daily battlefield. Beneath this battlefield that we live in, lies buried the greatest treasure we could ever hope to find – Jesus Christ our Saviour.

God has planted Christ in His plan for humanity’s salvation since the beginning of time. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) Long before there was sin and suffering, there was this Treasure God had bequeathed us. That is why all religions and spiritualities of the world talk of a Quest, a Search for Meaning.

The bright lights and distractions of this world have buried our greatest Treasure. Christ is this pearl of great price that we have found. Are we ready to embrace this Truth of our hidden Treasure right now like the happy man, turn around and relinquish our attachment to the materiality of our life, to claim Christ as our reason for joyful living?

The Scripture readings today challenge me to cling very tightly to this reality of my relationship with Christ – that even if I face trials and unfairness like Jeremiah, I have a Treasure beyond all measure. It is hidden with Christ and hidden in Eternity. I may not be able to ‘spend’ it now in today’s currency, but I know where my treasures lie – ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Luke 12:34) Today, I am reminded to water the soil of my heart and nurture my love for Christ. I can only be a truly happy man when I recognise that my joy is not dependent on the seasons of the earth but rooted in God’s infinite love and mercy for me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord I desire a deeper relationship with you, to built my house on your foundations that will never change.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for being the Treasure that keeps on giving to us in your Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

31 July, Tuesday – Of Seeds and Weeds

Jul 31 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim’s robes. He lived in a cave for a year, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 14:17-22

The Lord said to me:
Say this word to the people:
‘Tears flood my eyes
night and day, unceasingly,
since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people,
a most grievous injury.
If I go into the countryside,
there lie men killed by the sword;
if I go into the city,
I see people sick with hunger;
even prophets and priests
plough the land: they are at their wit’s end.’

‘Have you rejected Judah altogether?
Does your very soul revolt at Zion?
Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?
We were hoping for peace – no good came of it!
For the moment of cure – nothing but terror!
the Lord, we do confess our wickedness
and our fathers’ guilt:
we have indeed sinned against you.
For your name’s sake do not reject us,
do not dishonour the throne of your glory.
Remember us; do not break your covenant with us.
Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain?
Can the heavens produce showers?
No, it is you, the Lord.
O our God, you are our hope,
since it is you who do all this.’

________________

Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

________________

The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man

I saw a documentary once on hay harvesting, Victorian-style. The farmers first had to cut the hay, before leaving it out to dry. Naturally, they were subjected to the vagaries of the weather. Their efforts to cut the hay were also hampered by weeds whose long roots tangled in the blades of the machinery, causing the machine to jam. The frustrated farmers had to stop each time to dislodge the weeds before carrying on. Sadly, their hay harvesting turned out to be a failure as they were unable to complete it in time.

Our personal struggles with life are similar. God made us perfect and whole in the beginning, providing what is best for us, and in our lives we are given the choice of making our own decisions. Our moral compasses direct us in the way of God that we have been taught, but often we find that our efforts to do good are thwarted by distractions that try to lead us astray. We get tangled up in these distractions and have to disentangle ourselves in order to move on.

Yet, we need not end up like the farmers in the documentary. Our struggles need not be in vain. If we asked God to, He could help us rid the weeds in our lives so that we would never have to encounter problems with our daily ‘machinery’. We would not need to worry about tangled roots of weeds clumping in our lives creating havoc. If we tend to the weeds early, we may just be able to nip them in the bud.

God is the sower of good seed. He only wants what is best for us, and wants us to choose the right paths and make the right decisions. We used to have a saying in the kitchen when we were overwhelmed with orders, that we were “stuck in the weeds”. When our lives are overwhelmed with troubles, let us have faith that God will give us enough grace to get us out, and lift our “weeds” to Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to prune our lives that we may be able to get rid of the weeds that tangle us in our journey with You.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the times when You delivered us from our troubles and provided us with the help that we needed.

30 July, Monday – Hidden from View

Jul 30 – Memorial for St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop & Doctor

An adult convert, St. Peter (406-450) fought paganism and heresy, enforced reforms, and built several churches and ornate altars in his see. A preacher with outstanding language skills, he was given the name ‘Chrysologus’, referring to his ‘golden word’. 176 of his sermons have survived; it is the strength of these beautiful explanations of the Incarnation, the Creed, the place of Mary and John the Baptist in the great plan of salvation, etc., that led to his being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 13:1-11

The Lord said this to me, ‘Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it round your waist. But do not dip it in water.’ And so, as the Lord had ordered, I bought a loincloth and put it round my waist. A second time the word of the Lord was spoken to me, ‘Take the loincloth that you have bought and are wearing round your waist; up! Go to the Euphrates and hide it in a hole in the rock.’ So I went and hid it near the Euphrates as the Lord had ordered me. Many days afterwards the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to the Euphrates and fetch the loincloth I ordered you to hide there.’ So I went to the Euphrates, and I searched, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. The loincloth was spoilt, good for nothing. Then the word of the Lord was addressed to me, Thus says the Lord: In the same way I will spoil the arrogance of Judah and Jerusalem. This evil people who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the dictates of their own hard hearts, who have followed alien gods, and served them and worshipped them, let them become like this loincloth, good for nothing. For just as a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I had intended the whole House of Judah to cling to me – it is the Lord who speaks – to be my people, my glory, my honour and my boast. But they have not listened.’

________________

Matthew 13:31-35

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’

He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’

In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:

I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.

________________

I will speak to you in parables and expound things hidden…

One of the earliest books I remember growing up with was Aesop’s Fables. A Greek storyteller, Aesop imbued his stories of everyday life with moral truths. Perhaps we might recognize some of the titles: The Hare and the Tortoise, The Lion and the Mouse, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. All these stories served to help us understand in simple terms the message behind them.

Jesus taught in parables, keeping things simple and based on rural themes. But even the disciples could not understand everything that was taught, and would ask Jesus to explain. At times, they were also even too afraid to clarify with Jesus. When they asked Jesus why he taught in parables, Jesus said, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand”

There are times when I have read passages in the Bible myself, and not fully understood, despite reading over and over. While writing this reflection, I understand what the disciples must have felt. More importantly, I understand what Jesus meant by seeing and not seeing, hearing but not hearing or understanding. For if I had known from the start what the passages meant, then I would have moved on to the next, and the next, without probably pausing long enough to let the full meaning sink in. If I had understood at the start, I would not have asked the Holy Spirit for the wisdom of discernment. I would instead, have leaned on my own understanding, instead of allowing God to work in me and revealing it to me.

Sometimes things are hidden from us for a reason, but it is in trying to uncover the meaning where the real message truly is.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to open up our hearts and our minds to understand the Word of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us that with time, God’s purpose for us will be revealed, and it is in looking for the meaning that we may discover God’s message to us.

26 July, Sunday – Multiplication of Faith

29 July

________________

2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing Elisha, the man of God, bread from the first-fruits, twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear.’ ‘Give it to the people to eat’, Elisha said. But his servant replied, ‘How can I serve this to a hundred men?’ ‘Give it to the people to eat’ he insisted ‘for the Lord says this, “They will eat and have some left over.”’ He served them; they ate and had some left over, as the Lord had said.

________________

Ephesians 4:1-6

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

________________ 

John 6:1-15

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

________________

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation.

We’ve heard of the saying we lead by example. Our children see how we act and mimic our ways, good or bad, to our amazement sometimes. We may not be entirely conscious of this but every day, every moment, someone is observing us, and vice versa, and observers make judgments. We emulate, or criticize, we applaud or abhor.

God wants us to lead lives dedicated to Him, and in unity not just with the Holy Trinity, but with each and every one of us. The values that St Paul exhorts to in his letter to the Ephesians – charity, selflessness, gentleness, patience – are borne out of love… for God and for each other. If our lives reflect love, then people who observe us may be drawn to emulate the love, and in due course, come to know Christ Jesus. In such a way, then is our faith multiplied.

When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves, he not only wanted to feed his people, he wanted them to understand and believe in the power of God: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). He wanted them to have faith that even in such a tight situation with so little at hand, God would provide for the many thousands. He wanted them to look beyond the miracle and look for God in the miracle.

I believe that Jesus escaped into the hills on his own when he realized the people’s intention to crown him as king, because then they would see a figure head and not the Divine God. They would miss the message. Perhaps as well, he wanted them to reflect on the works that he had done and the miracles they had seen, on their own and based on their own understanding. If the people understood and believed in God, then they would live their lives for God, multiplying their faith and others as well.

We may not see miracles such as these, but there are miracles happening around us every day if we look. God is present in each of these miracles. Let us learn to look for God in every miracle that we encounter.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to live lives of love, worthy to be called children of God, that others may see and learn about You and Your unending love. Help us in our own ways, to multiply our faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God Almighty for the wondrous miracles that He performs every day, from the moment we awake till we close our eyes.

28 Jul, Saturday – God Knows

28 Jul

_________________

Jeremiah 7:1-11

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Go and stand at the gate of the Temple of the Lord and there proclaim this message. Say, “Listen to the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who come in by these gates to worship the Lord. The Lord Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: Amend your behaviour and your actions and I will stay with you here in this place. Put no trust in delusive words like these: This is the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord! But if you do amend your behaviour and your actions, if you treat each other fairly, if you do not exploit the stranger, the orphan and the widow (if you do not shed innocent blood in this place), and if you do not follow alien gods, to your own ruin, then here in this place I will stay with you, in the land that long ago I gave to your fathers for ever. Yet here you are, trusting in delusive words, to no purpose! Steal, would you, murder, commit adultery, perjure yourselves, burn incense to Baal, follow alien gods that you do not know? – and then come presenting yourselves in this Temple that bears my name, saying: Now we are safe – safe to go on committing all these abominations! Do you take this Temple that bears my name for a robbers’ den? I, at any rate, am not blind – it is the Lord who speaks.”’

_________________

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

__________________

“Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?”

In today’s Gospel, we read of the parable of the darnel. My friends, our faith, isn’t as simple as saying we are committed to God or that we surrender and that’s it. In fact, it would seem that the commitment is committing to a life of struggles, sacrifices, misunderstandings, ridicule.

But we can also see it as a process, as in the parable, where if we remove the darnel before harvest, we might pull up the wheat with it, and the wheat can’t then be harvested.

God is aware of all our struggles, the evil and temptations in our lives. What is important is to know that God sees all of us as ‘good seeds’ and that He desires to ‘harvest’ and ‘gather’ us into His barn.

While we are aware of our struggles and obstacles, we need to be aware of the times we ourselves allow ‘darnel’ into the harvest or when we ourselves are the ‘darnel’.

Our faith is far more than doing what is required of us. Our faith is that of a transformation and conversion of our lives internally. That we are not called to focus on the ‘darnel’ but focus on the sower, to know and trust that He knows what He is doing. That ultimately, it is for us to grow to our fullest potential and eventually return to Him.

Maybe today, we can also spend some time in prayer of what are some of the ‘darnel’ in our lives that we are always thinking of removing instead of overcoming. Where sometimes we try to resolve an issue or avoid a conflict by not speaking, however not addressing the main issue. We may feel then that the ‘darnel’ has been removed, but what actually happens is that it just simply pulls us along with it because we have not overcome.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for strength to fight not just against the superficial, but to delve deeper into our lives to address the inner hurts and issues, to want to reconcile. So that more than removing a problem or issue, we overcome it instead because it may return again. Help us to trust in You, for You know and understand us even more than we know ourselves.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for breaking down your message for us in parables. We give all glory to you. Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

27 Jul, Friday – Come Back

27 Jul

_________________

Jeremiah 3:14-17

Come back, disloyal children – it is the Lord who speaks – for I alone am your Master. I will take one from a town, two from a clan, and bring you to Zion. I will give you shepherds after my own heart, and these shall feed you on knowledge and discretion. And when you have increased and become many in the land, then – it is the Lord who speaks – no one will ever say again: Where is the ark of the covenant of the Lord? There will be no thought of it, no memory of it, no regret for it, no making of another. When that time comes, Jerusalem shall be called: The Throne of the Lord; all the nations will gather there in the name of the Lord and will no longer follow the dictates of their own stubborn hearts.

_________________

Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’

__________________

“I shall give you shepherds after my own heart, who will pasture you wisely and discreetly.”

In today’s Gospel, we read of a familiar passage, the parable of the sower. Maybe we can use this opportunity to realise how we have been receiving God’s Word.

It’s also quite amazing how God’s Word is compared to a seed that is sown and not a ripe fruit that we can simply digest in order to reap its benefits and goodness.

In our world today where we look for instant gratification, immediate pleasure and resolution, we wonder where is God and what does His Word mean? Many times, it seems that even the priest fails to preach a good homily for us to take back something tangible. “It’s not our fault that we find it difficult to grow in our faith, because it seems that ‘our shepherds’ are not providing us with the platforms for us to receive those seeds and allow them to grow.

The reality is maybe ‘our shepherds’ can be better at pasturing, but we too can be better in desiring the message that God has for each and every one of us. We will know best how to nurture this seed that God has given us. And yes, it is a seed, it will need time and the conditions for it to grow, to bear fruit and thereafter, multiply.

Many times we fall into the trap of finding trees that have grown and matured, just simply eating from the fruit of those trees. Looking at demand and supply, it wouldn’t be long before there just isn’t enough to go around anymore. And while the sower will be able to provide for himself still, those who simply just latch on, or find the easy way out, will suddenly feel deprived and feel like ‘our shepherds’ or God aren’t providing.

Today, we know that we are given this seed and we can choose what we want to do with it. Alternatively, we can always depend on the fruits of others, and truthfully, may not even be the fruit that will satisfy our innermost desires to complete our lives. Today, let us not keep this seed in our pockets but plant it, work on it, protect it, love it so that it can grow, that it can live, that in turn can provide and multiply.

May this seed be the relationships we have with our loved ones, especially with you our Father and eventually, with the whole world. May this seed be a testimony of not just your love for us, but our love for you. “I shall give you shepherds after my own heart, who will pasture you wisely and discreetly.” Help us to grow this seed, to build your kingdom and for your will to be done.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for perseverance, for patience, for commitment, dedication. Above all, we pray for a renewed encounter with you. Help us on this journey where we are bombarded with so many wrong values, interpretations and definitions of what is life and what is love. Help us to always look to you as the one true example and definition.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all the shepherds you have sent our way. Help us to bring out the best in our shepherds and also for us to be shepherds to others.