10 August, Thursday – Radical Ideas

Aug 10 – Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Lawrence was a third-century archdeacon of Rome, a distributor of alms, and “keeper of the treasures of the Church” in a time when Christianity was outlawed. On 6 August 258, by decree of Emperor Valerian, Pope St. Sixtus II and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence as the ranking Church official in Rome.

While in prison awaiting execution, Sixtus reassured Lawrence that he was not being left behind; they would be reunited in four days. Lawrence saw this time as an opportunity to disperse the material wealth of the church before the Roman authorities could lay their hands on it.

On Aug 10, Lawrence was commanded to appear for his execution, and to bring along the treasure with which he had been entrusted by the pope. When he arrived, the archdeacon was accompanied by a multitude of Rome’s crippled, blind, sick, and indigent. He announced that these were the true treasures of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

Lawrence’s care for the poor, the ill, and the neglected have led to his patronage of them. His work to save the material wealth of the Church, including the documents, brought librarians and those in related fields to see him as a patron, and to ask for his intercession. And his incredible strength and courage when being grilled to death led to his patronage of cooks and those who work in or supply things to the kitchen. The meteor shower that follows the passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet was known in the middle ages as the “burning tears of St. Lawrence” because they appear at the same time as Lawrence’s feast.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one.

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John 12:24-26

I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.

If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.

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“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus tells us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s”. With Money, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain where the line is drawn between what belongs to God, what belongs to the tax collector and what belongs to us. The more we grab at it, the less of it we seem to have. The higher it is on our list of priorities, the more we find ourselves being corrupted by it. It’s as if a detachment is necessary in order for us to coexist peacefully with Money. That sense of detachment allowed St Lawrence to be a good steward of the Church’s financial wealth. And when push finally came to shove, St Lawrence returned the Church’s financial treasure back to its people in order to safeguard it from the hands of the greedy Romans. Imagine the Vatican giving all of its wealth to the poor in one fell swoop! What a radical idea, even by today’s standards!

Christ once said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). That’s a universal truth. Money is a difficult thing to square away. Whatever our station in life, we’ve all experienced issues with ownership of it. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that ‘’Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. In short, God promises to multiply our abundance if we maintain a detachment to it. That’s hard to do, unless we change our mindset and, like St Lawrence, think of ourselves more as stewards of our wealth, rather than owners of it. Our responsibility is to preserve its value, grow it if we can, and disseminate it to facilitate His purpose, not our own. If we put on the mindset of the steward, that detachment becomes a little easier. If we don’t think of it as our own, who knows, we might become better managers of it as we acquaint ourselves with the concept of fiduciary duty. We might even be happier as we get off that secular steeplechase.

Yes, it’s a radical idea; but then, today is the feastday of a radical saint!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom, courage and clarity of thought to make good decisions with the wealth and treasure that God has entrusred to us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings that God has accorded to us – both of the material and spiritual kind.

9 August, Wednesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

Aug 9 – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

–  Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Paran and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

At this, the whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said:

‘I have heard the complaints which the sons of Israel make against me. Say to them, “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – I will deal with you according to the very words you have used in my hearing. In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall, all you men of the census, all you who were numbered from the age of twenty years and over, you who have complained against me. For forty days you reconnoitred the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins, and you shall learn what it means to reject me.” I, the Lord, have spoken: this is how I will deal with this perverse community that has conspired against me. Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.’

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Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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“O woman, great is your faith!”

In the Book of Sirach, there is a beautiful set of verses about fidelity – “…for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him” (Sirach 2:5-6). The first time I read it, I was on a train into HK, frantic and very late for an important job interview. There was no time and nowhere to change into a business suit; I ended up doing the interview in my jeans. When I arrived, I signed in, held that verse in my heart and hoped for the best. While waiting for word that evening, I obsessed over all the little details that I had screwed up. The panic I worked myself into was ridiculous! Yet despite my best efforts at self-sabotage, I got the job. And it started a chain of events that would change my life for the better. God had my back the whole time.; my faith just wasn’t strong enough to trust Him completely. I had to indulge in so much doubt and self-loathing even after I got the job, that I spent my first 3 years there in complete misery.

Faith is less about proclamation than it is about action. How we conduct ourselves when we are tested reveals the true measure of our fidelity. That’s true of all our relationships, not just the one we have with God. The Hebrews in today’s reading broke faith with God when they succumbed to their fears and pursued their own agenda instead of trusting in Him. They had more than enough reason to trust in Him – God had led them from captivity through the desert, right to the gates of the Promised Land. This was the last mile. He had proven His holy power time after time. Yet there was still doubt. We may think that we’re acting out of good intentions when our trust in Him wavers. We might even fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the best interests of everyone, that our way is the logical way forward. But our conscience always knows, and the fruit of our actions eventually reveals us for the fairweather faithfuls that we are.

The next time we are gripped by doubt, fear and self-loathing, let us pause awhile to check our emotions and examine our hearts. Is God trying to ask something of us? Is He testing our faith? How are we responding? Have we reacted impulsively and broken faith? Or have we stayed true and remained faithful to our hope in Him?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith and the presence of mind to keep calm despite the distress of unexpected life events.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for His mercy and His forgiveness. While we were bumbling sinners, He reached out to us and saved us from ourselves. For that we are, and will always be, thankful!

8 August, Tuesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

Aug 8 – Memorial for St. Dominic, priest, religious founder

Dominic (1170-1221) was born of wealthy Spanish nobility, and was the son of Blessed Joan of Aza. Joan had difficulty conceiving and prayed at the shrine of St. Dominic of Silos who had a tradition of patronage of that problem. When she became pregnant, she named the child in honour of the saint. While pregnant, Joan had a vision that her unborn child was a dog who would set the world on fire with a torch it carried in its mouth. A dog with a torch in its mouth became a symbol for the Order he founded, the Dominicans. At Dominic’s baptism, Joan saw a star shining from his chest, which became another of his symbols in art, and led to his patronage of astronomy.

Dominic was a priest who worked for clerical reform. He had a life-long apostolate among heretics, especially Albigensians, and especially in France. He founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans) in 1215, a group who lived a simple, austere life. He also founded an order or nuns dedicated to the care of young girls.

At one point, Dominic became discouraged at the progress of his mission; no matter how much he worked, heresies remained. But he received a vision from Our Lady who showed him a wreath of roses, representing the rosary. She told him to say the rosary daily, teach it to all who would listen, and eventually the true faith would win out. Dominic is often credited with the invention of the rosary; it actually pre-dates him, but he certainly spread devotion to it, and used it to strengthen his own spiritual life.

Legend says that Dominic received a vision of a beggar who, like Dominic, would do great things for the Faith. Dominic met the beggar the next day. He embraced him and said, “You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us.” The beggar was St. Francis of Assisi.

– Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 12:1-13

Miriam, and Aaron too, spoke against Moses in connexion with the Cushite woman he had taken. (For he had married a Cushite woman.) They said, ‘Has the Lord spoken to Moses only? Has he not spoken to us too?’

The Lord heard this. Now Moses was the most humble of men, the humblest man on earth. Suddenly, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting.’ They went, all three of them, and the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam and they both came forward. The Lord said, ‘Listen now to my words: If any man among you is a prophet I make myself known to him in a vision, I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses: he is at home in my house; I speak with him face to face, plainly and not in riddles, and he sees the form of the Lord. How then have you dared to speak against my servant Moses?’

The anger of the Lord blazed out against them. He departed, and as soon as the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam a leper, white as snow! Aaron turned to look at her; she had become a leper.

Aaron said to Moses: ‘Help me, my lord! Do not punish us for a sin committed in folly of which we are guilty. I entreat you, do not let her be like a monster, coming from its mother’s womb with flesh half corrupted.’

Moses cried to the Lord, ‘O God,’ he said ‘please heal her, I beg you!’

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Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14

Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem came to Jesus and said, ‘Why do your disciples break away from the tradition of the elders? They do not wash their hands when they eat food.’ He called the people to him and said, ‘Listen, and understand. What goes into the mouth does not make a man unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes him unclean.’

Then the disciples came to him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked when they heard what you said?’ He replied, ‘Any plant my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them alone. They are blind men leading blind men; and if one blind man leads another, both will fall into a pit.’

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“Now Moses himself was by far, the meekest man on the face of the earth”

Popular culture would have us believe that the heroes of Scripture were these larger than life beings who did God’s work astride blazing chariots, while commanding the elements of nature. The reality of it is that they lived very much like us, battling doubt, exhaustion, uncertainty, frustration, false confidence and the stress of constant problem-solving.

Moses was an Egyptian prince who, in a moment of morally-driven impulsiveness, gave up his cushy life at court to become a fugitive (Exodus 2:11-15). He didn’t choose to leave, he fled for his life. At the burning bush, the work of God was thrust upon him, despite his protests that God find someone else (Exodus 3:1-4:17). And while leading the Hebrews through that vast and arid desert, he experienced constant frustration (Exodus 17:4, the water at Meribah), anger (Exodus 32:19-20, the molten calf) and despair (Exodus 14:5, rebellion at Kadesh) at their stubbornness. Peter was a simple fisherman by trade. Though he was chosen by Christ to be “the rock upon which I will build my church”, Peter was prone to fear and faithlessness (Matt 14:28-31, walking and falling into the water), spiritual denseness (Matt 15:16, not comprehending the true meaning of being unclean) and false grandiosity (Matt 26:33-34, “Even though all doubt you and fall, I will never fall”).

These were very human individuals, with the same failings we all share; ordinary people, who went on to achieve extraordinary things, despite their flaws. God did not choose the great leaders and kings of their time to carry out his work. He anointed the humble, the lowly, the least amongst people, the outcasts, the minorities. Before they went on to achieve greatness for Him, they faced themselves, acknowledged their own demons and then let God mould them to His needs. The enormity of our responsibilities can sometimes overwhelm us; the road ahead is littered with unpaid bills, insurmountable challenges and impossible demands on our time and energy. We know we’re coming up short and everyone around us is being short-changed. But are we too hard on ourselves? A humble fisherman who denied Christ three times became the foundation upon which God’s church has flourished. An orphan and a fugitive led a great people across uncrossable terrain, into a land of milk and honey. What would God achieve with us if we only gave Him – and ourselves – the chance to try?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for His guidance to make good decisions for ourselves and our families. It is only through Him that we are able to realize the full range of our possibilities.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s mercy and forgiveness, for all the times we have fallen short and denied Him in our lives.

7 August, Monday – On Discontent

Aug 7 – Memorial for St. Sixtus, pope, martyr, and companions; St. Cajetan, priest

Sixtus (d. 258) was an adult convert to Christianity. In his papacy, he dealt with the controversy concerning Baptism by heretics. He believed that anyone who was baptised with a desire to be a Christian, even if the Baptism was performed by a heretic, was truly baptised into the faith, and that the validity of his faith was based on his own desire and actions, not the errors of the person who performed the sacrament. He was martyred with six deacons and sub-deacons.

Cajetan (1480-1547) was offered governing posts, but turned them down for a religious vocation. He was aware of the need of reformation in the Church and felt called to enter a religious community to serve the sick and poor. With three others, he formed the Congregation of Clerks Regular (Theatines) with the mission of fostering the Church’s mission and reviving the spirit and zeal of the clergy. He also founded a bank to help the poor and offer an alternative to usurers (loan sharks); it later became the Bank of Naples.

St. Cajetan was known for a gentle game he played with parishioners where he would bet prayers, rosaries or devotional candles on whether he would perform some service for them; he always did, and they always had to “pay” by saying the prayers. He is a patron saint of the umemployed.

– Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 11:4-15

The sons of Israel began to wail, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ they said. ‘Think of the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic! Here we are wasting away, stripped of everything; there is nothing but manna for us to look at!’

The manna was like coriander seed, and had the appearance of bdellium. The people went round gathering it, and ground it in a mill or crushed it with a pestle; it was then cooked in a pot and made into pancakes. It tasted like cake made with oil. When the dew fell on the camp at night-time, the manna fell with it.

Moses heard the people wailing, every family at the door of its tent. The anger of the Lord flared out, and Moses greatly worried over this. And he spoke to the Lord:

‘Why do you treat your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour with you, so that you load on me the weight of all this nation? Was it I who conceived all this people, was it I who gave them birth, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, like a nurse with a baby at the breast, to the land that I swore to give their fathers”? Where am I to find meat to give to all this people, when they come worrying me so tearfully and say, “Give us meat to eat”? I am not able to carry this nation by myself alone; the weight is too much for me. If this is how you want to deal with me, I would rather you killed me! If only I had found favour in your eyes, and not lived to see such misery as this!’

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Matthew 14:22-36

When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death, he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the local people recognised him they spread the news through the whole neighbourhood and took all that were sick to him, begging him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched it were completely cured.

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“…Five loaves and two fish are all we have here”

John 6:27 reminds us, “do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”. How often we forget that when we obsess over the minutiae. I have started to plan this year’s Thanksgiving dinner – yes, I am ‘that person’, the super planner, the pedant in the kitchen! I realize that in my OCD-driven need for absolute perfection, the meaning of why we are celebrating Thanksgiving could get lost in the shuffle. Like the Hebrews in the desert, their rabid fixation on mindless detail (“the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic”) obscured the true miracle of their circumstances – they were still alive! And they were free men!

In Scripture, food and wine are used as vehicles of God’s power and grace – the bread and wine of redemption at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30); the water that changed to wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11); the large catch of fish which moved Peter to leave it all behind to follow Christ (Luke 5:6-10). These were all epiphanies but only those with the gift of faith were able to perceive their significance. Not all who have eyes shall see; and that is a universal truth. The Hebrews complained about the inconvenience of their nomadic life despite being liberated from their taskmasters. They even criticized the manna from heaven, itself a daily reminder of the miracle of their salvation. The Psalmist nails it when he says, “I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts; they walked according to their own counsels”. In contrast, the reading from Matthew tells of how five loaves and two fish fed the multitude of faithful that had gathered before Jesus. “And they all ate, and everyone had enough” (Matt 14:20). It was simple food, but under those circumstances, it was a miraculous blessing – and everyone was satisfied.

In our chase for perfection, there is always more to covet after. We are always comparing, always complaining, always benchmarking. But do we really ‘see’ ourselves and our circumstances? Are we aware of where we’ve come from? Are we grateful for it? Humbled by it? Or is our first reflex to find fault, complain and be filled with discontent? Hold up the mirror, look long and hard. What you see might surprise you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s forgiveness for all the times we’ve missed the woods for the trees. Give us a heart of self-awareness and humility, that we may always be grateful for the miracles in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings of family, friends, faith and community.

6 August, Sunday – A Tangible Experience

Dear readers, we apologise for the late dissemination of today’s reflection due to a technical glitch.

Aug 6 – Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Today we celebrate the occasion on which Christ revealed Himself in shining splendour to Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah were present, and are taken to signify that the Law and the Prophets. They testify to Jesus as the promised Messiah. God the Father also proclaimed him as such, saying, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” For a moment the veil is drawn aside, and men still on earth are permitted a glimpse of the heavenly reality, the glory of the Eternal Triune God.

http://satucket.com/lectionary/Tranfiguration.htm

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Deuteronomy 7:9-10, 13-14

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.

He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land — your grain, new wine and olive oil — the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor will any of your livestock be without young.

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2 Peter 1:16-19

It was not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour.’ We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have confirmation of what was said in prophecies; and you will be right to depend on prophecy and take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds.

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Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

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“…but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty”

What is the basis of our faith? That’s a question each of us faces at some point during our faith journey. We profess the Apostle’s Creed each week at mass but on a personal level, how deeply do we feel our faith? In John 20:25, Thomas the apostle famously uttered, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe”. Seeing, touching and feeling is believing – and that is true for most of us. We are all searching for that epiphany, that tangible experience of God, that faith-transforming moment. But we won’t always be able to ‘see’ it unless we’re so prompted. Peter, James and John did not fully grasp the importance of their circumstances until the Father’s voice from the cloud reminded them, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” How overwhelming it must have been, to have had that epiphany, to have felt the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Miracles don’t happen today in the same manner that they used to in Jesus’ time, but tangible experiences of God still exist if we allow ourselves to be open to them. His presence manifests itself in other ways if we start ‘seeing’ with our hearts – the miracle of childbirth; the peace that comes at the end of one’s life; the unconditional love that a parent has for her child; the patience and tenderness between husband and wife; the consideration and tolerance that we show each other as neighbors and countrymen. In all, we catch the briefest glimpse of the shadow of God. It isn’t glamorous or clad all in white. The choirs of angels are discernible only in our heads. But these experiences are real, and that emotion we feel, that visceral reaction within us, that love – that’s a tangible experience of God. Be open to it.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to ‘see’ with our hearts, to be open to the tangible experiences of God in our ordinary lives.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings of faith, family, friends, community and the random kindness of strangers.

 

 

5 Aug, Saturday – The World Does Not Play Fair

Aug 5 – Memorial for Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian Basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Rededicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honouring God through Mary.

St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centres of the Church. This basilica represents the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life.

– http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1098.

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Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said:

‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.

‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’

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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.

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Let no one wrong his brother

As I was growing up, we were taught to play fair — that everyone gets a chance, and when you have gotten your turn, you are to give way for others to play so everyone gets a turn. We were told to share our toys, we learnt that sharing is caring. We were taught to be nice and be friendly so that we would have friends who would grow to help us along the way.

However, the hard truth when we grow up and begin to notice the competition in order to survive makes us reconsider the values that we were brought up with. Of course, I do not mean to turn from a good schoolkid to a mean and selfish person when we grow up. The world does not play fair. As most of us reflect on this today, we would agree that sometimes when we play by the book, we lose out to others, leading to frustration and perhaps eventually, finding something to blame the failure on.

In today’s readings, the Lord spoke to Moses about being fair and loving to his fellow brothers, that rewards were proportionate to the harvest. In contrast, the Gospel never fail to reminds us of the evil and presence of people who are always looking out for themselves, executing decisions that are purely for selfish gain, with no fruitful outcome for others. We can summarise the mission for the past week — that we are to live to be of value to others, pray for wisdom that we do not neglect the unfortunate, but to accept them for who they are. Better yet, to invite them to turn their hearts towards God. Despite a rough world out there, we can still play fair on the platform of faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Gather our thoughts O Lord, that the past week has been good and that you have journeyed with us to keep us safe. If we have not been prayerful, we set aside this weekend to do Your work, in Your name.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for the times when I was tempted to treat others unfairly just for my own gain, but decided not to do so, because I am being reminded of Jesus and His love for others.

4 Aug, Friday – Being Accepted

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

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Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘These are the Lord’s solemn festivals, the sacred assemblies to which you are to summon the sons of Israel on the appointed day.

‘The fourteenth day of the first month, between the two evenings, is the Passover of the Lord; and the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of Unleavened Bread for the Lord. For seven days you shall eat bread without leaven. On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord. The seventh day is to be a day of sacred assembly; you must do no work.’

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them:

‘“When you enter the land that I give you, and gather in the harvest there, you must bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, and he is to present it to the Lord with the gesture of offering, so that you may be acceptable. The priest shall make this offering on the day after the sabbath.

‘“From the day after the sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf of offering, you are to count seven full weeks. You are to count fifty days, to the day after the seventh sabbath, and then you are to offer the Lord a new oblation.

‘“The tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly. You must fast, and you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord.

‘“The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of Tabernacles for the Lord, lasting seven days. The first day is a day of sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. On the eighth day you are to hold a sacred assembly, you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a day of solemn meeting; you must do no heavy work.

‘“These are the solemn festivals of the Lord to which you are to summon the children of Israel, sacred assemblies for the purpose of offering burnt offerings, holocausts, oblations, sacrifices and libations to the Lord, according to the ritual of each day.”’

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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.

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A prophet is only despised in his own country

I know of a friend who comes from a very small town in South-East Asia, where the community is so small that everyone seems to know each other’s affairs, whether it is about one’s family or about one’s job or love life. There is pretty much no privacy between them. He tried to head back home after his overseas studies but career progression there was not very encouraging. The economic and political climate was not presenting many opportunities for him, and he was not accepted for some reason. All that led him to venture and build his career outside of town.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that love and understanding between one another requires mutual acceptance. Jesus, we know, is a generous Son of God who gradually reveals Himself, as part of His mission here on Earth. Perhaps Jesus’ earthly family was not of some high status, being just a common Jewish family. His mission to bring God’s purpose into their lives was not taken much into consideration. When we are not afraid to ask from God to open up our hearts and minds to see how Jesus is trying to immerse into our lives, we will begin to see the miracles that are to happen in His own time.

Let us allow ourselves to reflect and take a look into our very busy, hectic lives. Do we accept and invite Jesus into the busy lifestyle that we have? Are we living justly in the eyes of God? Let us not be part of the hypocritical crowd who put in the conditions to accept Christ, where it comes to the point where God has to be of a certain ‘criteria’ before we say okay to accepting Him. He is not a God where we choose and judge how good He is before we accept Him. We embrace our Lord because of the faith and belief that He works miracles in our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for those who are not being accepted by society for their disabilities, status or social discrimination, that we are able to open our hearts wide enough to make them feel included.

Thanksgiving: We must not forget the friends and family who surround us, and those who invite us into their social and faith circle, so that we grow to be a loving person.

3 Aug, Thursday – Discipline, Time & Sacrifice

Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38

Moses did exactly as the Lord had directed him. The tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year. Moses erected the tabernacle. He fixed the sockets for it, put up its frames, put its crossbars in position, set up its posts. He spread the tent over the tabernacle and on top of this the covering for the tent, as the Lord had directed Moses. He took the Testimony and placed it inside the ark. He set the shafts to the ark and placed the throne of mercy on it. He brought the ark into the tabernacle and put the screening veil in place; thus he screened the ark of the Lord, as the Lord had directed Moses.

The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because of the cloud that rested on it and because of the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle.

At every stage of their journey, whenever the cloud rose from the tabernacle the sons of Israel would resume their march. If the cloud did not rise, they waited and would not march until it did. For the cloud of the Lord rested on the tabernacle by day, and a fire shone within the cloud by night, for all the House of Israel to see. And so it was for every stage of their journey.

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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.’

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Every stage of their journey

There is a single characteristic that I believe creates success. In my opinion, it is one of the most important characteristics that can be applied in various situations and circumstances, even more so when it comes to our faith journey. If you are still trying to guess, no, it is not love, it is not honesty, neither is it about patience. It is all about being consistent, because it defines the focus to be able to keep delivering the same expectations people have about you. Of course, we always have to improve and make greater impressions, however, having consistency draws the attention and evokes trust in others that you will always be there.

Ever since the beginning of man, God has always been there for us. He watches over us at every era of time. Through both the New and Old testaments, the Lord showed unto us consistency of love and assurance, fulfilling what was said in the Old Testament and continues to promise to us the salvation through His Son, Jesus. Consistency requires discipline, time and, most of all, it requires sacrifice. Consistency is about keeping true to your word that something is to be delivered; not just for today, not just for the coming weeks, not just for months but what is ahead into the future, because you believe it will last forever; you believe someone depends on you. When one feels that starting up is the hardest thing to do, be assured this will be over once you get into the habit of it. But to maintain and keep it ongoing for its survival requires consistent management and attention.

Let us look into what remains consistent in our daily lives. We are punctual in getting our three main meals. We probably set aside our time to exercise three times a week; we consistently post a photo on Instagram every two days. I would guess we go for mass at least once a week. Do we spend enough time with the Lord? Do we consistently spend time and energy with the unfortunate? Have we built a community with those who need our help? Have we made the right choices as to what we hold true and consistent?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: O Lord, we pray to be successful neighbours, that we are consistent in giving back to the society in Jesus name.

Thanksgiving: May I be blessed with the spirit of giving, and be grateful for all who has come to aid me when I am in need.

2 Aug, Wednesday – This Valley Of Tears

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

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Exodus 34:29-35
When Moses came down from the mountain of Sinai – as he came down from the mountain, Moses had the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands – he did not know that the skin on his face was radiant after speaking with the Lord. And when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, the skin on his face shone so much that they would not venture near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron with all the leaders of the community came back to him; and he spoke to them. Then all the sons of Israel came closer, and he passed on to them all the orders that the Lord had given him on the mountain of Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever he went into the Lord’s presence to speak with him, Moses would remove the veil until he came out again. And when he came out, he would tell the sons of Israel what he had been ordered to pass on to them, and the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he returned to speak with the Lord.

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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.’

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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 build 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.

1 Aug, Tuesday – Repent And Reconcile

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

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Exodus 33:7-11, 34:5-9, 28

Moses used to take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. He called it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone who had to consult the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting, outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise. Every man would stand at the door of his tent and watch Moses until he reached the Tent; the pillar of cloud would come down and station itself at the entrance to the Tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When they saw the pillar of cloud stationed at the entrance to the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would turn back to the camp, but the young man who was his servant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the Tent.

And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.

He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

Moses stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing. He inscribed on the tablets the words of the Covenant – the Ten Words.

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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!’

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Forgive us our faults and our sins

It certainly has been a while since my last confession. I feel that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is undervalued and has never been emphasized enough in our faith journey. Perhaps it is just me not being disciplined in fulfilling the Sacrament, only to be reminded of it and going for penitential services a week before Good Friday and Christmas. However, this was not so when I was in primary and secondary school. I may not have gone for reconciliation every Sunday before mass, but I am rather certain that I might have gone at least five times a year.

Our God is one who is kind, compassionate and filled with tenderness. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, giving man the salvation as promised. How have we behaved then, in the manner of our faith? Have we been praying fervently? Do we spend quiet time with our Lord each day, giving thanks at the end of the day? Before we reach out to ask from the Father, do we first ask for mercy for the wrongs that we have committed? Are we the weed? Or the wheat? Our Father allows evil to dwell among the good until the day of judgment. This as I see it, is to allow our sinful hearts to be able to reconcile with Him before that very day, so we become wheat that angels gather for the Kingdom of Heaven.

As we journey through the week, and get into the grind of our work and activities, let us not forget our merciful Father who is always there for us to speak with. He is available to us all the time, and that we are wary of the faults that we make, asking for forgiveness so that we reflect the love of our Lord Jesus to those whom we encounter during the week.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Forgive me Lord for I have sinned. For your merciful heart protects and loves us just like a child, that our sins be forgiven, as we pray deeply, guiding us to be repentant.

Thanksgiving: We are so grateful for your big heart, for embracing us with so much love, O Jesus.