10 February, Sunday – The love of God shown to the unlovely

10 February 2019

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Isaiah 6:1-2,3-8

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord of Hosts seated on a high throne; his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings.
And they cried out to one another in this way,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.
His glory fills the whole earth.’

The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the Temple was filled with smoke. I said:

‘What a wretched state I am in! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips
and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in his hand a live coal which he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. With this he touched my mouth and said:

‘See now, this has touched your lips,
your sin is taken away,
your iniquity is purged.’

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:

‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’

I answered, ‘Here I am, send me.’

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1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.
Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve. Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all he appeared to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.

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Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

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The grace of God which is with me

Recently at Friday Growth, our spiritual director Fr. Andrew asked us to share with the person sitting next to us, what graces we received recently. “It’s important to acknowledge what God has done for us, no matter how small,” he extolled.

My sharing partner said that it was by the grace of God that she was able to find a contractor (by chance) to renovate her home, a major ‘add and alter’ job. He did it within budget, on time and beautifully. That, to her, was God’s grace.

Another person shared that she had been estranged from her son for close to 9 months – a fight and exchange of harsh words last year caused her son to leave home and cut all communication with her. For a mother, that is heartbreak and extremely painful. Grace for her happened just before Christmas. Her son re-established contact with her and they are slowly mending that relationship.

For me, I simply shared that it was by God’s grace that the day was uneventful. And I meant it. Since January started, I feel like I am being pulled in all directions. Not having a conventional job, people tend to think that I have a lot of time on my hands. Perhaps I avail myself too easily – especially to people or situations who need my help. From helping a neighbour in grief, to ministry work – everything started with the best of intentions. But lately, I started to feel resentful. Maybe because I have been trying to deal with some issues myself, but having to spend copious amounts of time on others’ issues and their demands on my time, I am feeling exhausted and used.

What is Grace? Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favour of God.

We see God’s grace permeating in all the reading’s today – we see God’s goodness and man’s unworthiness in Isaiah’s response in the first reading. In the second reading, Paul perceived himself as so unworthy and unfit to be called to apostleship because he “persecuted the church of God.” And finally in the gospel, despite Simon’s disbelief, God showed his grace by giving them more fish than their nets could hold.

Brothers and sisters, do we count ourselves as so unworthy and so unfit to receive God’s grace today? Are we so caught up in our own sufferings or perceptions of how things ought to be, that we fail to see God’s grace in our lives? Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His benevolence to the undeserving.

For me, although I am feeling exhausted and used, God’s grace is giving me the time, intellect and resources to be able to do His work. I just need to draw strength from Him and believe that everything works for a greater good.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, help us to be good stewards of the graces given to us. Set us free to serve others with the gift you have given us, for the glory of Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Thanksgiving: Every good and perfect gift comes from you, Lord. Thank you for your graces showered upon us, even when we are unworthy and unfit.

9 February, Saturday – Resting for a while

9 February 2019

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Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21

Through Christ, let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice that is offered every time we acknowledge his name. Keep doing good works and sharing your resources, for these are sacrifices that please God.

Obey your leaders and do as they tell you, because they must give an account of the way they look after your souls; make this a joy for them to do, and not a grief – you yourselves would be the losers. I pray that the God of peace, who brought our Lord Jesus back from the dead to become the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action; and turn us all into whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.

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Mark 6:30-34

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.

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You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.

Every year, I look forward to a retreat with the Lord, with a minimum of three days. Spending time only with God makes me more aware of His presence in my life.

Life can be tiring — our work, our ministry, our families, our hobbies, our friends and even acquaintances. They all demand something from us. Interactions with them call for self-giving, some just a little, some really a lot. If we continue without rest, we will eventually find ourselves empty, with nothing else left to give.

God fills us up. From Him we can draw an endless supply of graces that we need. However, we need to be still to really be filled.

Let us imagine ourselves as pitchers of water. We move around giving out from ourselves and if we keep on doing that without resting, then we could not be filled. When you fill a pitcher, the pitcher has to be placed on a table, and it has to be unmovable, and then it can be filled. I think it’s the same for us. We need to stop for a while to allow God to top us up.

The longer we stay still, the more water could be poured in our pitchers.

Let us not look at retreats as optional. Retreats are needed for our spiritual rest and growth. Let us invest not just time but also our resources to ensure we have a good retreat. I have personally benefitted a lot from the retreats I attended.

To end this reflection, I would like to share about God’s generosity. Just this January, I had to attend a retreat because everyone in the ministry had to go. I was hesitant at first but since God wanted me to go, I told him I’d go. The only thing I gave God was that little bit of desire to follow Him in this retreat. God has rewarded me with so much in that retreat. I truly felt what everyone has been saying — God is never outdone in generosity.

My prayer for all of us is to be able to have that rest with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear God, please help me find a retreat where you can fill me up. Please help me be aware of my spirituality and send me the right invitations to go to a retreat.

Thanksgiving: Lord God, thank you for both work and rest that you want me to do.

8 February, Friday – The Truth in our Hearts

8 Feb – Memorial for St. Jerome Emiliani; Memorial for St. Josephine Bakhita, virgin

Jerome (1481–1537) was born wealthy, the son of Angelo and Eleanor Mauroceni Emiliani. His father died when Jerome was a teenager, and he ran away from home at age 15. After a dissolute youth, he became a soldier in Venice in 1506. He commanded the League of Cambrai forces at the fortress of Castelnuovo near Trevso. He was captured by Venetian forces on Aug 27, 1511, and was chained in a dungeon. Here, he prayed to Our Lady for help and was miraculously freed by an apparition. He hung his chains on a church wall as an offering. He became Mayor of Treviso while studying for the priesthood, and was ordained in the spotted-fever plague year of 1518.

He cared for the sick, and housed orphans in his own home. At night he roamed the streets, burying those who had collapsed and died unattended. He contracted the fever himself, but survived. He founded six orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes, and a hospital.

He founded the Order of Somaschi (Company of Servants of the Poor, or Samascan Fathers) in 1532. It is a congregation of clerks regular vowed to the care of orphans, and named after the town of Somasca where they started, and where they founded a seminary. The society was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 and it continues its work today in a dozen countries. Jerome is believed to have developed the question-and-answer catechism technique for teaching children religion.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI declared him the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children.

  • Patron Saint Index

Josephine (1868–1947) was born to a wealthy Sudanese family. At age 9, she was kidnapped by slave-traders who gave her the name Bakhita. She was sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum, finally purchased in 1883 by Callisto Legnani, an Italian consul who planned to free her. She accompanied Legnani to Italy in 1885, and worked for the family of Augusto Michieli as nanny. She was treated well in Italy and grew to love the country. She joined the Church as an adult convert on Jan 9, 1890, taking the name Josephine as a symbol of her new life.

She entered the Institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, Italy, in 1893, taking her vows on Dec 8, 1896 in Verona, and served as a Canossian Sister for the next 50 years. Her gentle presence, her warm, amiable voice, and her willingness to help with any menial task were a comfort to the poor and suffering people who came to the door of the Institute. After a biography of her was published in 1930, she became a noted and sought-after speaker, raising funds to support missions.

She was canonized on Oct 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and is thought to be the only saint originally from Sudan.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 13:1-8

Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Keep in mind those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in the one body. Marriage is to be honoured by all, and marriages are to be kept undefiled, because fornicators and adulterers will come under God’s judgement. Put greed out of your lives and be content with whatever you have; God himself has said: I will not fail you or desert you, and so we can say with confidence: With the Lord to help me, I fear nothing: what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders, who preached the word of God to you, and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever.

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Mark 6:14-29

King Herod had heard about Jesus, since by now his name was well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah’; others again, ‘He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have.’ But when Herod heard this he said, ‘It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead.’

Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

The Christian life is not an easy life to live — we are called to live in a paradox, we are called to be selfless, and we are called to stand up against the popular culture we have right now. And there are definitely times where God’s call perplexes us because it is challenging us to live not how we want to live, but how we ought to live as brothers and sisters of Christ, as the heirs to the Heavenly Kingdom, as the sons and daughters of God.

We are perplexed because our heavenly Father has already written the Truth in our hearts. And even if we are perplexed, we like to listen because the message strikes a chord, after all, what we hear only makes us aware of what was already written in our hearts.

I think for the majority of the time, we already know if we are doing what is right or what is wrong.

However, there are times when we already know we are doing wrong and yet, we try to find ways to make us feel that we are doing right. I am guilty of this as well. Sometimes, I would seek out valid excuses to justify my actions. Sometimes, I would talk to my friends to share my side of the story but in such a way that will make me look like I had no other choice. Sometimes, I would even engage priests in discussion because, hoping that he will give me some way to excuse my actions.

One excuse I often hear is that ‘God will understand’ why that person chose to act in a manner that is clearly against the teachings of Christ. This is merely another way to calm the perplexity felt.

Many of us are probably guilty of seeking out excuses for our actions because following the demands of the Gospel, the Truth that is written in our hearts, would require that we change our lives and stop doing the things we want to do. However, this will not change the Truth that we know.

Living against the Truth only makes us uncomfortable. Living against the Truth for a long time can make us forget what is the Truth. Let us live in a way where we don’t have to make excuses, and just try our best to live according to the Truth God has written in our hearts. And if we do not know the full Truth yet, let us seek it with genuine desire to know and understand, and not merely to discover another way to make an excuse.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear God, I am in need of a lot of grace to be able to live out your call to my life. Please give me all the graces I need.

Thanksgiving: Lord God, thank you for Church as it is helping me see and understand the Truth that you have written in my heart.

7 February, Thursday – Looking forward to heaven

7 February 2019

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Hebrews 12:18-19. 21-24

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. The whole scene was so terrible that Moses said: I am afraid, and was trembling with fright. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.

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Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’ And he said to them, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

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… the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven.

In the 2016 film Silence, the Jesuit priests went to Japan to search for another priest who had gone missing. Their journey brings us to encounter the persecuted Japanese Christians who were always in hiding. There is a lot to this film that made me reflect on my faith, and what particularly stands out was how our Christian brothers were portrayed as putting all their hopes to the promise of a good life in heaven. They were portrayed with so much faith that it will all be better in the after-life. This thought allowed them to endure brutal tortures.
They showed a strong faith in the promise that Jesus made, and lived according to their belief in that promise.

I must admit that in my daily life, I don’t think so much of the after-life. In a very busy Singapore, I don’t even seem to have enough time to do everything I need to do. I can barely find time to do my silent reflection before God. And even when I do, during my silent reflections, I would not even talk to God about one of His major promises – the life with Him in heaven. I am just too caught up talking to Him about everything that is happening to me in my life right now, and talking to Him about what will happen to my life – my earthly life – in the future.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked to Him about what it will be like seeing Him face to face. Or about how it will be like being filled only with love, and not having faith or hope in heaven – since I am already in heaven with Him. It’s only during the time of writing this reflection that I imagine myself feasting with Him in heaven.

What would it be like if instead of just talking to God about our earthly lives, we also talk to Him about spending time with Him in heaven, of walking in the heavenly gardens, of being with the angels and the Saints in heaven, of seeing Mother Mary and being able to run towards her like a child running to her mother to give her a hug?

Thinking about it lifted up my spirits, and helped me look beyond the sorrows of this life. I still have to live my life now, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think of my wonderful destination as well.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, help me live in delightful anticipation of the day when I will be with you in heaven.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for telling us about the wonderful place you have prepared for us. Thank you for loving me so much and waiting for me.

6 February, Wednesday – Inner Peace

6 Feb – Memorial for Sts. Paul Miki and Companions, martyrs (in Japan)

Paul Miki (1562-1597) was one of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan. He was born into a rich family and educated by Jesuits in Azuchi and Takatsuki. He joined the Society of Jesus and preached the gospel for his fellow citizens. The Japanese government feared Jesuit influences and persecuted them. He was jailed among others.

He and his Christian peers were forced to walk 600 miles from Kyoto while singing Te Deum as a punishment for the community. Finally they arrived at Nagasaki, the city which had the most conversions to Christianity, and he was crucified on 5 February 1597. He preached his last sermon from the cross, and it is maintained that he forgave his executioners stating that he himself was Japanese. Alongside him died Joan Soan (de Goto) and Santiago Kisai, of the Society of Jesus, in addition to 23 clergy and laity, all of whom were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862.

On 15 August 1549, St. Francis Xavier, Father Cosme de Torres, SJ, and Father John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima, Japan, from Spain with hopes of bringing Catholicism to Japan. On Sep 29, St. Francis Xavier visit Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of creating a trade relationship with Europe.

A promising beginning to those missions – perhaps as many as 300,000 Christians by the end of the 16th century – met complications from competition between the missionary groups, political difficulty between Spain and Portugal, and factions within the government of Japan. Christianity was suppressed. By 1630, Christianity was driven underground.

The first Martyrs of Japan are commemorated on Feb 5 when, on that date in 1597, 26 missionaries and converts were killed by crucifixion. 250 years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of Japanese Christians that had survived underground.

  • Wikipedia

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Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15

In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons? My son, when the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when he reprimands you. For the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness. So hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread; then the injured limb will not be wrenched, it will grow strong again.

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord.

Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him.

And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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Always be wanting peace with all people

There has been a recent spate of incidents involving the video recording of people engaging in bad behaviour on the roads, in private hire cars and on public transportation systems. These video recordings often grow viral and spread very quickly, attracting many comments, sometimes virtolic in nature.

The sheer volume of such comments and the depth of criticism of such behaviour suggests that perhaps there exists in our country a certain level of anger amongst its citizens. An overall sense of frustration at the lack of control over their lives sometimes bubble over when these incidents happens which allows them to express their viewpoints.

The readings of today remind us that we need to remain in the peace of Christ. It requires us to know what it means to remain peaceful in Christ and to trust God with all our needs. The will to control must be surrendered to God who is the Master of our Destiny.  We live in a world where many people want to have control of their own lives but yet in doing so we lose control of the very desire to achieve this aim. Only by yielding to Jesus will we be able to achieve the inner peace which we so desire.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the inner peace which only you can give.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all peacemakers.

5 February, Tuesday – Focus

5 Feb – Memorial for St. Agatha, virgin and martyr

We have little reliable information about this martyr who has been honoured since ancient times, and whose name is included in the canon of the Mass. Young, beautiful and rich, Agatha (d.250) lived a life consecrated to God. When Decius announced the edicts against Christians, the magistrate Quinctianus tried to profit by Agatha’s sanctity; he planned to blackmail her into sex in exchange for not charging her. Handed over to a brothel, she refused to accept customers.

After rejecting Quinctianus’ advances, she was beaten, imprisoned, tortured, her breasts were crushed and cut off. She told the judge, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” One version has it that St. Peter healed her. She was then imprisoned again, then rolled on live coals; when she was near death, an earthquake struck. In the destruction that followed, a friend of the magistrate was crushed, and the magistrate fled. Agatha thanked God for an end to her pain, and died.

Legend says that carrying her veil, taken from her tomb in Catania, in procession has averted erupts of Mount Etna. Her intercession is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 12:1-4

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne.

Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

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Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

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“… persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” 

I’m learning how to drive at the moment. You get three attempts at the behind-the-wheel exam in America. I’ve failed it all three times now. One of my issues seems to be an inability to decide what to focus on. It terrifies me that I have to watch so many things – the speed gauge, side mirrors, rearview mirror, my blind spots, the road around me, the road signs AND my GPS – all at the same time! I was always rubbish at multi-tasking, never mind doing it at high speed while barreling down the freeway. I’ve also developed the bad habit of obsessing over my rear and side mirrors. Where your focus goes, in that direction, as well as whether the car moves. All this glancing and bobbing my head around makes me veer the car alarmingly. It’s a completely miserable business! If I could, I would just Uber everywhere, all of the time!

‘Focus’ is the key theme in our readings today. How we orientate ourselves, where we look, what we choose to concentrate on, drives all of our actions. The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak was focused on healing. Jairus was focused on getting Jesus to his daughter. Jesus was focused on fulfiling God’s purpose for him. They were all orientated towards doing one thing – just one thing. A singular purpose.

I’ve noticed that while writing this column, I’ve stopped countless of times now to look on Amazon to see what’s new, checked my schedule to see what’s on for tomorrow, ordered dinner online, checked the weather forecast online, scrolled through my Instagram account, scrolled through my Facebook account, browsed my Netflix account – and that’s just been in the last 15 minutes. What have I achieved in these 15 minutes though? Not very much. A lot of restless flitting around, with nothing worthwhile to show for except tired eyes and a tired brain.

A distracted heart is the devil’s way of keeping us from running God’s race for us. Scripture is filled with examples of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things because they set their minds singularly on it and made it their sole purpose. Do one thing, just one thing. What a novel idea in this age of media overload and multi-tasking! And why not? We might be happier and feel more purposeful for it. We might even feel less exhausted all of the time!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the focus to finish what we have been tasked to do without veering off in all directions.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who brings us back when we wander off.

4 February, Monday – Evelyn

4 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:32-40

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – these were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises. They could keep a lion’s mouth shut, put out blazing fires and emerge unscathed from battle. They were weak people who were given strength, to be brave in war and drive back foreign invaders.

Some came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection; and others submitted to torture, refusing release so that they would rise again to a better life. Some had to bear being pilloried and flogged, or even chained up in prison. They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless, and dressed in the skins of sheep and goats; they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.

They were too good for the world and they went out to live in deserts and mountains and in caves and ravines. These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had made provision for us to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.

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Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – For Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.

Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.

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“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you”

My cousin, Evelyn, had serious bouts of epilepsy when she was a child. It was so bad that it hampered her development. So Evelyn, in her old age, still behaves as she did when she was 6. In those days, not a lot was understood about her condition. The family whispered amongst themselves, shaking their heads, wringing their hands. How could this have happened? People searched for ways to explain it. My grandmother blamed it on my aunt. Not everyone was kind.

Despite all this, Evelyn grew to know Christ and embraced Him as her saviour. Evelyn went to church. She understood happiness and sorrow. She had a deep sense of moral justice. And she was filled with joy, always laughing or smiling. She also prayed a lot. She told me once that she asked God something and He responded to her and it made me think, “…God has chosen what the world considers foolish, to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong…” (1 Cor 1:27-28). Evelyn likely had a closer relationship with God than any of us. She may even have tried to communicate that, but we dismissed her because we all thought she was ‘slow’.

I wonder what kind of resistance the man in today’s gospel faced from his family. Would they have dismissed his testimony as the chatter of an unsound mind? Or would their faith have allowed them to see that he had been touched by God? How we view life speaks to what we hold in our hearts. Are we cynical? We will view everything with skepticism. Are we resentful? We will try to compete with everyone. Are we proud? We will look down our noses at everything. Evelyn’s simpler life saved her from the illnesses of the ‘sound mind’ like pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice. Evelyn was wholly open to God because what else was she going to do? Seek affirmation from her mean-girl cousins? Those who love us are the ones most capable of hurting us. Evelyn might have seemed unaware but I think she knew what we were saying all those times we were sharp to her. And she would have been hurting even if she was smiling. In our suffering, we can all think of Christ on the cross – singular in his focus, hopeful in the worst of circumstances, faithful till the end. Perhaps that was the source of Evelyn’s joy – Christ – and he was enough to make her forget how hard life was. I sometimes wonder why she never said anything. But perhaps it is I that never really heard her in the first place.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to discern Christ even in the most unlikely of individuals.


Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His grace and mercy, that despite our past wrongdoings, He is merciful in His forgiveness.

3 Feb, Sunday – Speak with Love

3 February 2019

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Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19

In the days of Josiah, the word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying:

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

‘So now brace yourself for action.
Stand up and tell them
all I command you.
Do not be dismayed at their presence,
or in their presence I will make you dismayed.

‘I, for my part, today will make you
into a fortified city,
a pillar of iron,
and a wall of bronze
to confront all this land:
the kings of Judah, its princes,
its priests and the country people.
They will fight against you
but shall not overcome you,
for I am with you to deliver you –
it is the Lord who speaks.’

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1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them.

If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge – for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect; but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will disappear. When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me. Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.

In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.

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Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

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If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

Wars, the migrant crisis, earthquakes, floods. All these disasters (among others) and sadness plaguing the world has most of us talking a lot. Filling our newsfeeds and conversations with a million suggestions on how to help those affected, or condemning those who started the problems in the first place.

Yet, how many of us can truly say that we’re speaking out of love, care and compassion instead of a want to appear righteous and just? It’s amazing how much we’re willing to give our two cents worth on an issue but immediately stumble and stutter when asked what we’re doing to help fix the situation.

“Words with actions,” is the core message when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, and it’s a message that we need to be reminded of constantly. We need to feed our souls, not our egos.

It is easy to forget that we’re not just here to speak of God’s works but actually do them as well. God has called us to be His hands on Earth when we were baptized.

Today’s readings remind us on the importance of action over words. Action is a form of love. Jesus has called us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. It is not enough to just talk any more but we need to get ourselves involved and actually do something. I can practically hear the excuses spilling out of your mouths but hear me out. Time is tight for most of us, but we can always donate money or items to help ease the burden of the afflicted. If money is an issue, spend a few hours with your friends or family helping in shelters or homes instead. It is still time with your loved ones and you’re spending it by helping to spread God’s love to the world.

So dear brothers and sisters, let us play our parts as Catholics and extend a helping hand to our downtrodden neighbours. No action is too small nor any gesture too big in the eyes of God. So long as it is done with a good heart.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: Lord, bless us with the conviction to reach out and help those most in need.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks, dear God, for the abundance you blessed us with in order to help our downtrodden neighbours.

2 February, Saturday – Being Present

2 Feb – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord; World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life

This feast celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Presentation is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts. In many Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season.

This feast is also known by other traditional names including Candelmas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. Prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Candlemas marked the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

The Western term ‘Candlemas’ (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on Feb 2 (forty days after Christmas) blessed beeswax candles with an aspergilium (liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water) for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home.

Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this feast has been referred to as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasized in favour of the Prophecy of Simeon the Righteous. Pope John Paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows.

  • Wikipedia

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

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Luke 2:22-40

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

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“My eyes have seen the salvation… a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people”

Buoyed by a resolve to courageously follow His calling, I approached 2019 with a sense of hope and expectancy. The year started off with promise – everything was going swimmingly well and new windows of opportunity had opened up. Suddenly, a series of unexpected setbacks threatened to jeopardise my plans. Well-meaning friends and relatives expressed concerns about my future, asking questions which I had no answers to. I felt confused and alienated, not unlike the people of Israel who may have questioned God’s plans for them.

My natural instinct was to jump into problem-solving mode, leaning on my willpower and abilities to set things right. It took considerable effort to pull back and recognise that any decision I made under those circumstances would be from a place of pride and self-sufficiency. By relegating God to a supporting role, whatever interventions I made in my brokenness would run counter to God’s plans.

Today’s readings remind us that Jesus, the Light of the world, is with us. There is no reason for us to doubt in His plans, nor lead our lives shrouded in unfounded fear or anxiety. He will keep us safe and show us the way in the darkness. All God asks for is our cooperation to surrender our wills to Him, trusting that He will guide us where He wills. And perhaps, witnessing to God is about embracing our brokenness and living our lives aligned with the will of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: Dear Father, grant us the grace to see Your presence and surrender to Your will amidst trials and tribulations. Use our gifts and brokenness to be testimonies of Your grace.  

Thanksgiving: Thank you for sending us Jesus to show us the way.

1 February, Friday – Enduring in Faith

1 February 2019

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Hebrews 10:32-39

Remember all the sufferings that you had to meet after you received the light, in earlier days; sometimes by being yourselves publicly exposed to insults and violence, and sometimes as associates of others who were treated in the same way. For you not only shared in the sufferings of those who were in prison, but you happily accepted being stripped of your belongings, knowing that you owned something that was better and lasting. Be as confident now, then, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.

Only a little while now, a very little while,
and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay.
The righteous man will live by faith,
but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him.

You and I are not the sort of people who draw back, and are lost by it; we are the sort who keep faithful until our souls are saved.

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Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’

Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.

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You will need endurance to do God’s will…

Life tends to throw me curve balls just when I think that things are finally settling down. After a challenging year at work and, while planning for another eventful year, I am now being asked to devote more time to my ministry. I somehow feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that more is to come. I shared with my spiritual director recently that it is funny how when things appear a lot more organised and in place, I seem to be asked to step out of the boat yet again.

I recognise that under my own strength, I would probably crumble under the weight of expectation and responsibility. So I trust that God’s hand will be there for me, holding me up and carrying me on his massive shoulders. And based on my experiences over the past years, I know that this journey will not be smooth sailing; a certain ‘spiritual fitness’ will be required, much as one trains for a marathon, I will have to start getting fit. It will not be enough to just rely on the little I know and do in terms of my spirituality. Very presciently, my SD suggested after our last session that I make our meet ups more regular – once every 4 to 6 weeks.

And as I trained for my Camino in 2016, I have also begun a new physical regime in order to prepare for the journey ahead. I have always believed that in order to do significant things, one needs to be physically well-prepared so that we are not burdened by injuries nor illnesses. Otherwise, you already begin with a disadvantage; an unnecesary weight around yourself, literally and figuratively.

Because the crosses will come, brothers and sisters. God will place them squarely on our shoulders and we will have to endure the weight of all the responsibilities that we will have to bear. And if we have been irresponsible about our own well-being and health, if we have ignored the warning signs and the aches and pains as a result of our own over indulgence, then we only have ourselves to blame if we collapse in a fit of despair.

Yes, God will never allow us to crumble under our crosses. But it first takes a willingness to get fit and to take our daily vitamins and supplements, in the form of prayers. Whether it is the Lord’s Prayer, the Rosary, our own spontaneous prayer, even the Prayer to St Michael, we must all engage in an active prayer life. Because it is only in being active that we can improve our spiritual fitness so that we can endure the journeys ahead of us.

Brothers and sisters, how fit are you now? When is the last time you did a spiritual health check? The calendar of retreats being conducted at CSC is already out and we ministry members have already been asked to commit our time. I pray that He calls you to spend time away with Him so that you can recharge, renew and rekindle your faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We ask for the grace to hear your call, Father. So that we can be renewed in our faith.

Thanksgiving: We thank you dear Lord, for calling us by name and for never abandoning us.