17 February, Monday – Trusting in God’s little miracles

17 Feb – Memorial for Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites

The Order of the Servants of Mary (Servites) was named the fifth mendicant order by Pope Martin V. It was founded in 1233 by Sts. Alexis Falconieri, Bartholomew degli Amidei, Benedict dell’Antella, Buonfiglio Monaldi, Gherardino Sostegni, Hugh dei Lippi-Uguccioni, and John Buonagiunta Monetti.

They were beatified on 1 December 1717, and canonized on 1887 as The Seven Holy Founders. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1240, the Founders received a vision of Our Lady. She held in her hand a black habit, and a nearby angel bore a scroll reading “Servants of Mary”. Mary told them:

“You will found a new order, and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name: Servants of Mary. This is your rule: that of St. Augustine. And here is your distinctive sign: the black scapular, in memory of my sufferings.”

From their first establishment at La Camarzia, near Florence, they moved to the more secluded Monte Senario where the Blessed Virgin herself conferred on them their habit, instructing them to follow the Rule of St. Augustine and to admit associates. The official approval for the order was obtained in 1249, confirmed in 1256, suppressed in 1276, definitely approved in 1304, and again by Brief in 1928. The order was so rapidly diffused that by 1285, there were 10,000 members with houses in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, and early in the 14th century, it numbered 100 convents, besides missions in Crete and India.

The Reformation reduced the order in Germany, but it flourished elsewhere. Again meeting with political reverses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it nevertheless prospered, being established in England in 1867, and in America in 1870.

The Servites take solemn vows and venerate in a special manner the “Seven Dolours of Our Lady”. They cultivate both the interior and the active life, giving missions and teaching. An affiliation, professing exclusively the contemplative life is that of the “Hermits of Monte Senario”. It was reinstated in France in 1922.

Cloistered nuns, forming a Second Order, have been affiliated with the Servites since 1619 when Blessed Benedicta di Rossi called the nuns of her community “Servite Hermitesses”. They have been established in England, Spain, Italy, the Tyrol, and Germany.

A Third Order, the Mantellate, founded by St. Juliana Falconieri under St. Philip Benizi (c. 1284) has houses in Italy, France, Spain, England, Canada, and the United States. Secular tertiaries and a confraternity of the Seven Dolours are other branches.

  • Patron Saint Index

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James 1:1-11

From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion.

My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege; you understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing.

If there is any one of you who needs wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given to him. But he must ask with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea when the wind drives. That sort of person, in two minds, wavering between going different ways, must not expect that the Lord will give him anything.

It is right for the poor brother to be proud of his high rank, and the rich one to be thankful that he has been humbled, because riches last no longer than the flowers in the grass; the scorching sun comes up, and the grass withers, the flower falls; what looked so beautiful now disappears. It is the same with the rich man: his business goes on; he himself perishes.

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Mark 8:11-13

The Pharisees came up and started a discussion with Jesus; they demanded of him a sign from heaven, to test him. And with a sigh that came straight from the heart he said, ‘Why does this generation demand a sign? I tell you solemnly, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ And leaving them again and re-embarking, he went away to the opposite shore.

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Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation”

How often have we been like the Pharisees, asking Jesus (or even God Himself!) for some sign of His love or faithfulness? Perhaps even more so than the Pharisees, we in this modern age seek ever greater signs and symbols of the divine, having been raised on a media diet of computer generated imagery (CGI) and movies. In this media saturated world of superheroes and Hollywood magic, it is easy to forget that God continues to weave His presence and work within the humdrum of our daily lives.

I did my RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) at a Jesuit parish, and the spiritual director of the RCIA taught us Ignatian spirituality. I remember how each time before we ‘enter the scene’ of our Ignatian contemplation, the priest would ask us to sit in silence and feel the presence of God in the air around us, and in the air that we are breathing in. That in itself is the miracle. God does not need to give us any signs, because the very air that we breathe is a gift from Him.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said that ‘no sign will be given to this generation’. Because God has already given us ample signs of His love and providence. It is also striking that James in the first reading says “consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.

Indeed, that very perseverance and faith in God is itself a grace and sign from our Father in heaven. This also means that we need to play our part, in order to see these signs and receives these graces that are freely given to us. And what exactly is this part that we need to do? We simply need to trust Him and to persevere in times of hardship, suffering and persecution.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your love and grace, and above all, for the wisdom to see how You have always given these to us.

Thanksgiving: We are thankful, O Lord, for the daily gifts and graces that You have bestowed upon us. We are grateful for Your gift of life, and the chance that You have given us to continue loving, serving and praising You through our lives.  

16 February, Sunday – Obeying God in this world and the next

16 February

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Ecclesiasticus 15:16-21

If you wish, you can keep the commandments,
to behave faithfully is within your power.
He has set fire and water before you;
put out your hand to whichever you prefer.
Man has life and death before him;
whichever a man likes better will be given him.
For vast is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is almighty and all-seeing.
His eyes are on those who fear him,
he notes every action of man.
He never commanded anyone to be godless,
he has given no one permission to sin.

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1 Corinthians 2:6-10

We have a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity: not a philosophy of our age, it is true, still less of the masters of our age, which are coming to their end. The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known, or they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory; we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.

These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.

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Matthew 5:17-37

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.

‘For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.

‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

‘Again, you have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

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“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away”

As Catholics, we often find ourselves existing in two dimensions of reality. On the one hand, we live in an increasingly secularised society that views religion with either suspicion or derision. On the other hand, we also try our very best to live our spiritual reality as faithful disciples of God. Certainly, both are important to us. But it is also true that both tend to pull us in opposite directions. This is all the more so for those who have been baptised as adults, like me.

Being the first and only baptised Catholic in my family, my relationship with elder family members has become increasingly strained with every year that passes. It has also become increasingly difficult to talk about issues that matter to me, but which may not be acceptable by the general cultural milieu of the times, such as my pro-life stance or the sanctity of marriage and family. And hence I exist in a strange duality of sorts, engaging in polite conversation about things of little importance with friends, relatives and colleagues but praying together with my faith community about our eternal fellowship with God. It is a difficult duality to navigate.

As the old song goes, “Torn between two lovers, feelin’ like a fool. Lovin’ both of you is breakin’ all the rules”.
It is indeed not possible to love both worlds. As today’s reading emphasises:

If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

Our obedience and faithfulness to our Lord may sometimes require that we stand firm against views that contravene our beliefs or efforts to sway our faith in God. We must be brave and not fear derision. As Jesus has told us in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-10). Just as Jesus chose obedience to God even until the point of death, so too must we choose obedience to God at the risk of persecution and derision.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we ask for the strength and grace to continue living out Your will. May You continue to provide us with the spiritual sustenance necessary for being Your faithful disciples.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for your Word and Your wisdom. We thank You for being there always, yes even during the hard times.

15 February, Saturday – If you could see how much God loves

15 February

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1 Kings 12:26-32,13:33-34

Jeroboam thought to himself, ‘As things are, the kingdom will revert to the House of David. If this people continues to go up to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, the people’s heart will turn back again to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will put me to death.’ So the king thought this over and then made two golden calves; he said to the people, ‘You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ He set up one in Bethel and the people went in procession all the way to Dan in front of the other. He set up the temple of the high places and appointed priests from ordinary families, who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam also instituted a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth of the month, like the feast that was kept in Judah, and he went up to the altar. That was how he behaved in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made; and at Bethel he put the priests of the high places he had established.

Jeroboam did not give up his wicked ways but went on appointing priests for the high places from the common people. He consecrated as priests of the high places any who wished to be. Such conduct made the House of Jeroboam a sinful House, and caused its ruin and extinction from the face of the earth.

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Mark 8:1-10

A great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said. Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them among the crowd. They had a few small fish as well, and over these he said a blessing and ordered them to be distributed also. They ate as much as they wanted, and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps left over. Now there had been about four thousand people. He sent them away and immediately, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the region of Dalmanutha.

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I have compassion on the crowd

Jesus shares that this crowd has been with him for three days, so we know he must be exhausted and hungry. But his thoughts and motives aren’t for himself, they are for all those around him. He doesn’t say, ‘it’s not my problem, they should have brought their own food…’ or anything like that at all. His heart sees the people. He realizes they must be hungry and his strongest desire is to give to them. Even his disciples try to dissuade his compassion and generosity, but he is not deterred. Always thinking of others before himself, always loving all others all the time.

At a recent retreat, I was sharing with Brother Mark about a difficult person in my life. A person I love, but one who is constantly complaining, criticizing and gossiping. Her attitude and words make me want to just never spend time with her, and when I do, I want to point out her mean words and lack of gratitude for all those who are at her beck and call 24/7. My heart was filled with judgement on this person who I loved, but at this point didn’t like. I gave him many examples, and he agreed with me, then Brother Mark said, “ Yet, if you could see how much God loves her, it would break your heart.” Powerful words that immediately brought me to tears. Powerful words that demand – if I honestly want to be a disciple of Christ – for me to change MY perspective, my thoughts, my words so that I act with the LOVE of Christ, and not my flesh attitude of judgement.

I want to live a life of compassion for all those around me. Those I like and don’t like. The good, the bad and the ugly, knowing that I am all those things. If I have strength in compassion in the way that I live, I know Christ will be reflected. Most everyone I come into contact quickly realizes that I am a ‘Jesus’ person, and if we spend more than a handful of minutes together, they will know that I am Catholic. I want to be available for God to use me as He chooses, and I know that when I act in love, I honor him.

My heart’s desire is to do things well to honor God. All things. I will begin anew today.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, open our eyes so that we truly see all those You have put in our path, and in seeing, are able to be Christ for them.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for the compassion you have for each of us every second of our lives. Thank you for loving us through all our phases, failings and sinful acts. Thank you for your compassionate mercy, grace, forgiveness and perfect love.

14 February, Friday – Just do the next most loving thing

14 Feb 

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1 Kings 11:29-32, 12:19

One day when Jeroboam had gone out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah of Shiloh accosted him on the road. Ahijah was wearing a new cloak; the two of them were in the open country by themselves. Ahijah took the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve strips, saying to Jeroboam, ‘Take ten strips for yourself, for thus the Lord speaks, the God of Israel, “I am going to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hand and give ten tribes to you. He shall keep one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel.’

And Israel has been separated from the House of David until the present day.

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Mark 7:31-37

Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’

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He hath done all things well.

We know that He has done all things well. How could we ever want to follow another?  How could we ever choose our way, instead of His? How could we ever refrain from doing what is right and good (going to Mass, daily prayer time, helping a friend, showing up to whatever is scheduled with a present-to-the-moment attitude of love…) just because we are tired, or have something else more fun to do, or just don’t feel like getting dressed, or feel like being around that group of people, or that person, or…

We all desire to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”, yet we procrastinate about being our BEST, being fully faithful at all times, because this person is rude, that person didn’t treat us right, this person has the opposite political view, that person gets on my nerves…that person talks to much…this person…that person…this person.

What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done unto me.

When I was hungry…or self centered

When I was in prison…or annoying

When I was naked…or needy

When I was a stranger…or ‘different’

When I was……

As Catholic Christians, we know that ‘that’ person is loved beyond measure by God, too.  Jesus is IN that person. And still, if you’re like me, we ignore Jesus’ words and walk, and we become the self centered one. I can’t be bothered right now, because I have more important tasks to finish, more important people to be around…

I recently attended a 4-day silent retreat at a monastery, and the three main takeaways were:

  1. Trust in God
  2. Be present to the moment
  3. Just do the next most loving thing

Those three points are what Jesus lived. He was fully committed to those three things every second of his life. Simple instruction, when followed, will allow us to clearly hear, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant”. Simple, but certainly not easy for me because I so often choose MY will over His. How easy it would be to walk in His will if I would do those 3 things. And those 3 things bring joy, calm and more joy. Yet, I so easily am distracted from the moment, thinking about what has happened, will happen, what I have to do next, etc. I so easily don’t do the most loving thing. Maybe what I am doing isn’t a wrong thing, but it isn’t the most loving thing.

I want to commit those three guiding principles to my daily walk. I want to review nightly how I did, or didn’t, live well.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, open our hearts so that we will see you in everyone.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for giving us a new beginning every morning, every minute, and allowing us to fall into your ways and not our own. Thank you for never rejecting us based on our past. 

13 February, Thursday – 99% isn’t enough

13 February

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1 Kings 11:4-13

When Solomon grew old his wives swayed his heart to other gods; and his heart was not wholly with the Lord his God as his father David’s had been. Solomon became a follower of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and of Milcom, the Ammonite abomination. He did what was displeasing to the Lord, and was not a wholehearted follower of the Lord, as his father David had been. Then it was that Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the god of Moab on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem, and to Milcom the god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrifice to their gods.
The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned from the Lord the God of Israel who had twice appeared to him and who had then forbidden him to follow other gods; but he did not carry out the Lord’s order. The Lord therefore said to Solomon, ‘Since you behave like this and do not keep my covenant or the laws I laid down for you, I will most surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. For your father David’s sake, however, I will not do this during your lifetime, but will tear it out of your son’s hands. Even so, I will not tear the whole kingdom from him. For the sake of my servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen, I will leave your son one tribe.’

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Mark 7:24-30

Jesus left Gennesaret and set out for the territory of Tyre. There he went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not pass unrecognised. A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him straightaway and came and fell at his feet. Now the woman was a pagan, by birth a Syrophoenician, and she begged him to cast the devil out of her daughter. And he said to her, ‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ But she spoke up: ‘Ah yes, sir,’ she replied ‘but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.’ And he said to her, ‘For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone out of your daughter.’ So she went off to her home and found the child lying on the bed and the devil gone.

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…and did not fully follow the Lord.

If you’re 99% in, you’re 100% out.

It is so easy to love thy neighbor, when your neighbor is good, kind and loving.

It is so easy to honor your parents, when your parents are good, kind and loving.

It is so easy to keep the Sabbath day holy, when you’re not behind in work, when your kids don’t have sports events, when you’re not overly exhausted, etc.

It is so easy to follow the Lord… some of the time.

It is so easy to justify why our circumstances allow us to follow ‘mostly’, and not fully.

We live in a world so filled with pleasure, so filled with constant voices telling us ‘only do what makes you happy’, that it has become more and more difficult to FULLY follow the Lord. We see so few people, even people in church every week, FULLY following the Lord. Monogamous couples committed to each other under the same roof without the sacrament of marriage. Christians who practice deceit in their business dealings, because it’s business and everyone is doing it. Christians who have left the physical church, for a plethora of reasons, claiming to be spiritual but not religious (believing that the institution of religion is the enemy). Good Christians who truly believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to be their own priest and pope. Good Christians following who they have ‘made’ God to be to fit their needs, desires and circumstances and, ignorantly not fully following the Lord.

It seems we have allowed the world to live in us (because we are so smart, and after all, it is the 21st century) and, in doing so, have left little room for God. And therein lies our downfall. Our downfall of our own making, and all the while the enemy is dancing with glee.

I once heard this concept described as FAITH being a glove and people accepting the glove but only putting the glove on 2 or 3 fingers. Therefore the glove doesn’t work. As I shared yesterday, when we choose not to trust in God, we sin. We take things into our own hands, we self-medicate, whether it be with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, lack of food, hobbies, working, any number of things/activities. We take good things and turn them into idols. King Solomon, wise as he was, did this, and once he started to pull away from the Lord, he fell into a cycle of sin. It’s the most common story of humanity.

When we commit to fully follow the Lord, and repent when we fail (because we will) instead of making excuses that take us further from God, we live in joy. His grace is sufficient. We will still suffer at times, sometimes extreme suffering; but, when we trust fully in Him, we fully follow Him, and we experience a joy that surpasses all understanding.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God, we desire to fully follow you. We know that only in walking with you fully will we experience peace. We know that you have the answers we seek because YOU are the answer we seek.  

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for fully loving us, even when we are full of ourselves and are turning away from you.  Thank you for never turning from us.

12 February, Wednesday – Trusting in God

12 Feb

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1 Kings 10:1-10

The fame of Solomon having reached the queen of Sheba, she came to test him with difficult questions. She brought immense riches to Jerusalem with her, camels laden with spices, great quantities of gold, and precious stones. On coming to Solomon, she opened her mind freely to him; and Solomon had an answer for all her questions, not one of them was too obscure for the king to expound. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the accommodation for his officials, the organisation of his staff and the way they were dressed, his cup-bearers, and the holocausts he offered in the Temple of the Lord, it left her breathless, and she said to the king, ‘What I heard in my own country about you and your wisdom was true, then! Until I came and saw it with my own eyes I could not believe what they told me, but clearly they told me less than half: for wisdom and prosperity you surpass the report I heard. How happy your wives are! How happy are these servants of yours who wait on you always and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the Lord your God who has granted you his favour, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because of the Lord’s everlasting love for Israel, he has made you king to deal out law and justice.’ And she presented the king with a hundred and twenty talents of gold and great quantities of spices and precious stones; no such wealth of spices ever came again as those given to King Solomon by the queen of Sheba.

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Mark 7:14-23

Jesus called the people to him and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’

When he had gone back into the house, away from the crowd, his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Do you not understand either? Can you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean, because it does not go into his heart but through his stomach and passes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.) And he went on, ‘It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

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And I did not believe them that told me, till I came myself, and saw with my own eyes…

The Queen of Saba (Sheba) speaks those words about King Solomon, and they are similar to the words of St. Thomas the Doubter about Jesus’ resurrection. Words that simply say, I DON’T TRUST until I can see it, hear it and touch it. These thoughts are similar to how I often live… not fully trusting. Apparently needing to SEE for myself, especially when I don’t see or hear God ‘doing something’…answering my righteous prayer…I am living without trusting in the Almighty. It is absence of faith

Just this morning, I was listening to a homily by Fr. Mike Schmitz, and he said, “We cannot underestimate what God is doing when it seems like God is doing nothing. Silence isn’t absence.”

The longer I live, the more I look back and see how OFTEN our Father was ‘there’ for me (and so many others), how He was indeed working towards my good in the moments when I didn’t see Him, didn’t hear Him and didn’t feel Him. It is so easy for my thoughts to wander into a mindset of believing that I must act, since He apparently isn’t doing something…anything. I must take this situation into my own hands and handle it. I must move things forward. I, I, I. I must be in control, in other words, I must take over since I can’t trust in His timing, in Him.

When I don’t rest in Him, rest in prayer, rest in WAITING on Him, and instead make a move and walk through a door that not only has He not opened, but He hasn’t led me to, I sin. I recently heard that NOT trusting in God always leads to sin. That not trusting in God leads to self-medicating. Always. As I contemplated this, I could see how this has always played out in my life. My prayer wasn’t being answered in the time frame and way I wanted it answered, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. God wasn’t ‘moving’ quickly enough for me, or in the direction I wanted. Time after time, I mistook His silence for abandonment. And I know better. I know that He has never, and will never leave me, yet I sometimes jump in (not near as much now as in my 20s, 30s 40s and even 50s – thank you, Lord, that I am learning to trust You more completely) thinking I have to do this, or do that. I want to believe that I am ‘waiting on Him’, but I am actually busying myself so that I feel productive. Doing the ‘right’ thing in front of others and not just waiting. I can even sometimes pretend I am being a ‘better’ Catholic by not bothering Him and actually helping Him out by taking control…which makes me laugh as I even write this!

Trusting in God without seeing, without hearing, without believing, that is peace. Fr. Richard Rohr wrote, “Faith and trust are choices, we do not simply ‘fall’ into them.”  It would be so much easier if we just fell into trust, into faith, but God has given us free will.  He has a better plan, and when we trust fully in Him, we have His peace.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are so in need of your constant love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. We desire to trust in you for all things, and yet we fail on a daily basis.  Lord, help us to remember that You are trustworthy every second of our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for your reminder that you are with us always.  And that even when we don’t see, feel or hear you, we do see and hear and feel the works of your hands.

11 February, Tuesday – Clinging on

11 Feb –Memorial for Our Lady Of Lourdes; World Day of Prayer for the Sick

Today is an optional memorial for Our Lady of Lourdes. The apparitions concerned began on Feb 11, 1858, when St. Bernadette Soubirous, then a 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes admitted, when questioned by her mother, that she had seen a ‘lady’ in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. Similar appearances of the ‘lady’ took place on 17 further occasions that year. Most Catholics believe that the ‘lady’ concerned is the Virgin Mary.

It was on the ninth appearance on Feb 25 that Bernadette was told by the Lady to dig under a rock and drink the water that she found. A day later, a spring began to flow from it. On Mar 1, the 12th appearance, Catherine Latapie reported that she bathed her paralyzed arm in the spring, and instantaneously regained full movement. This was the first of the scientifically unattributable events to take place.

On the 13th appearance on Mar 2, the Lady commanded Bernadette to tell the priests to “come here in procession and to build a chapel here”. The priests would not do so until they knew who the Lady was. On the 16th appearance on Mar 25, the Lady, with her arms down and eyes raised to heaven, folded her hands over her breast and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

To ensure claims of cures were examined properly and to protect the town from fradulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau was established. About 7,000 people have sought to have their case confirmed as a ‘miracle’, of which only 68 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable ‘miracle’ by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church.

Because the apparitions are private revelation, and not public revelation, Roman Catholics are not required to believe them, nor does it add any additional material to the truths of the Catholic Church as expressed in public revelation. In Roman Catholic belief, God chooses whom He wants cured, and whom He does not, and by what means. Bernadette said, “One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith.”

  • Wikipedia

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1 Kings 8:22-23,27-30

In the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and, stretching out his hands towards heaven, said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, not in heaven above nor on earth beneath is there such a God as you, true to your covenant and your kindness towards your servants when they walk wholeheartedly in your way. Yet will God really live with men on the earth? Why, the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built! Listen to the prayer and entreaty of your servant, O Lord my God; listen to the cry and to the prayer your servant makes to you today. Day and night let your eyes watch over this house, over this place of which you have said, “My name shall be there.” Listen to the prayer that your servant will offer in this place.

‘Hear the entreaty of your servant and of Israel your people as they pray in this place. From heaven where your dwelling is, hear; and, as you hear, forgive.’

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Mark 7:1-13

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:

This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ And he said to them, ‘How ingeniously you get round the commandment of God in order to preserve your own tradition! For Moses said: Do your duty to your father and your mother, and, Anyone who curses father or mother must be put to death. But you say, “If a man says to his father or mother: Anything I have that I might have used to help you is Corban (that is, dedicated to God), then he is forbidden from that moment to do anything for his father or mother.” In this way you make God’s word null and void for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things like this.’

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In this way you make God’s Word null and void for the sake of your tradition…

Change — an almost universally dreaded word and state of affairs/mind. Interestingly, I am now heavily involved in it at work, and in my ministry (not this one). In one, I am the lead agent, responsible for succession planning over the next three years to groom a team that can take us forward once we move to our new campus. In the other, I am also a lead agent but on the other side of the fence — waiting to take over the reins.

It is interesting how I am learning so much about myself (especially having to be more patient) and as well, others who are directly impacted by what I am doing (at work) and what I will be asked to do (in ministry). And while there are similarities, there are also marked differences, especially in how the change is being perceived. In one instance, it is being welcomed and people around are looking forward to it, knowing that it will spark something new. In the other, it seems to have left a very cynical taste in the mouth of some, who are skeptical that things will change.

In both cases, I have discerned one emotion that I have strangely been immune to — fear. I shared with my SD that I was not concerned at all and was happy to step forward and up to carry the crosses associated with the changes. And, in both situations, I know that there are the handful of people I can rely on to help effect the much-needed changes. I am able to see the light at the end of these long tunnels and am looking forward to learning more about myself and preparing to deal with all sorts of emotions, people, circumstances that will inevitably come my way.

Where I am at now has certainly not been through any effort on my part. Well, perhaps more at work. But in ministry, I had always viewed it as a place for me to exercise my other gifts. Somehow, God has designed it such that I am in a position where I can grow even more — or wither under the ‘pressure’, wilt and fade away. At work, I am fully supported with senior management who are already walking the talk and starting to relinquish their positions. This is a behaviour that I have learnt to mirror and portray to my team, reminding them that one day, I will not be their HOD. And I would never wish to cast a long shadow on any successor that comes in my place because it would be too stifling and unfair.

For now, I continue to pray for His guidance, wisdom and providence. That He will provide for me in my hour of need, when I am unable to find solutions. Brothers and sisters, I am pretty sure that each of us is fighting a ‘change battle’ in some aspect of our life right now. I encourage you to surrender your seemingly hopeless situation to the Lord and let Him minister to you. Let Him speak to you and guide you to those who will want you to succeed. Because the path to change is a never-ending one. It always leads to more change, hopefully, for the better.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we call upon you to help us discern your true plan for us in our time of struggle; that You will lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for your providence and wisdom. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

10 February, Monday – Seeking Sanctuary

10 February

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1 Kings 8:1-7,9-13
Solomon called the elders of Israel together in Jerusalem to bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord up from the Citadel of David, which is Zion. All the men of Israel assembled round King Solomon in the month of Ethanim, at the time of the feast (that is, the seventh month), and the priests took up the ark and the Tent of Meeting with all the sacred vessels that were in it. In the presence of the ark, King Solomon and all Israel sacrificed sheep and oxen, countless, innumerable. The priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the Debir of the Temple, that is, in the Holy of Holies, under the cherubs’ wings. For there where the ark was placed the cherubs spread out their wings and sheltered the ark and its shafts. There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets Moses had placed in it at Horeb, the tablets of the covenant which the Lord had made with the Israelites when they came out of the land of Egypt; they are still there today.
Now when the priests came out of the sanctuary, the cloud filled the Temple of the Lord, and because of the cloud the priests could no longer perform their duties: the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s Temple.
Then Solomon said:
‘The Lord has chosen to dwell in the thick cloud.
Yes, I have built you a dwelling,
a place for you to live in for ever.’
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Mark 6:53-56
Having made the crossing, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and tied up. No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognised him, and started hurrying all through the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, to village, or town, or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched him were cured.

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 I have built you a dwelling…

I live with my mother and uncle in the house that I grew up in since my days in junior college (more than 35 years now). And while it extremely spacious and comfortable, it has, over the years, also provided a roof over the heads of relatives and friends who pass through our shores quite regularly.

According to a friend of mine who does life coaching, I am feeling unsettled because I don’t have a place I can truly call my own and am constantly in search of a sanctuary where I can find quiet time to reflect, pray and just retreat to. Up until recently, I entertained thoughts of moving to a smaller place so that I could design something to suit my needs.

Upon further reflection and, having had one or two sessions with my spiritual director, I have come to realise that perhaps I have been too selfish in wanting my own space, at the expense of the two octogenarians who share my dwelling place now. My other half also cautioned that putting them through a move so late in their lives may be a bit too tiring, and even distressing; after all, this place has been home to them since the mid 80s. Many milestones have come and gone and the house has hosted many amazing gatherings. However, in this season of my life, I prefer a quiet gathering of 4 to 6 close friends where we can talk and share deeply.

Looking around at all my other friends who have already established their homes (grown up kids and all), I have found myself wondering where I am going to eventually find my sanctuary. Granted, I have lived abroad twice and had my own spaces then, but the yearning for a place I can truly call my own is strong. Looking back, especially in 2016 when I walked part of the Camino, I believe that He is slowly pointing me to a space that I know He will provide for me. Whether it is a small, cosy apartment or something that can accomodate my mother and uncle, I truly don’t know. All I know for now is how I want to furnish it and what will inhabit the various living spaces. In the meantime, I continue to seek sanctuary in a relatively new home that has been so lovingly furnished and anointed by the presence of spiritual friends and counsellors. It is truly such a peace-filled and welcoming home which has hosted many hours of fun-filled meals and insightful conversations.

Brothers and sisters, if you have a dwelling place of your own, never take it for granted. For He has provided you a sanctuary to be away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday, and to rest in His presence. Keep it filled with His spirit and presence by cherishing every single moment with your spouse and family members under this roof.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Loving Father, we ask you to bless our dwelling places and be present in all our family gatherings, our family meals and especially while we are resting each night.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for providing us with a roof over our heads, and family to share it with. Amen.

9 February, Sunday – Go toward the light

9 February

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Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the Lord:
Share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,
clothe the man you see to be naked
and do not turn from your own kin.
Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.
Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’
If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry,
and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness,
and your shadows become like noon.
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1 Corinthians 2:1-5
When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.
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Mark 5:13-16
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’
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You are the light of the world.

The word ‘light’ features prominently in every reading today, even in the Responsorial Psalm and gospel acclamation. It is almost as if God wants all of us to know that no matter how deep we are in despair, how hopeless we feel in any situation we are in now, as long as we have faith in Him, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel.

We have just celebrated a new lunar year and all around us, things are not looking great. The Wuhan virus is spreading slowly and curtailing many activities (I spent the eve of Chinese New Year drafting communiques for staff and students) and it is a constant fight against a unseen enemy — one that knows no boundaries. The end of this week will see me leading worship for the first time at a retreat and I shared recently with my spiritual director that while I do not feel burdened nor worried, I am mindful of the spiritual attacks that may descend upon me.

At the same time, I have been entrusted with the ‘leadership’ of my music ministry, as part of renewal in our centre. I say ‘leadership’ because it is actually a group of 5 of us who have been put forward to drive change within my ministry and to also shape the next few years. It is a call that, while timely, brings with it many legacy issues that I will have to grapple with. I shared recently with the larger group that I truly know how St Peter felt when Christ asked him to step out into the rough water.

But the years in ministry (just slightly more than 8 now) have moulded me to know that God would never put me on too treacherous a path where I would falter. Yes, I am going to stumble and fall, but I know that He will always be there to pick me up, dust me off and set me on my way again. That is how I see my journey thus far and can see the light at the end of this new tunnel. What encourages me is the support that I have been getting from newer ministry members who are eager for change to occur. And over the years, I know for certain that nothing is going to happen without lots of prayer. This is the one thing that is going to empower me as I look ahead and walk forward in faith.

Brothers and sisters, we have each been entrusted with a mission by God to fulfil His plan for us on earth. Many of us are still discerning, some of us are blessed to have been able to hear His call in our hearts. One of my co-leaders shared at lunch today how she recently emerged from a year of distress, uncertainty and darkness into a new season filled with promise and fulfilment. And how leaning on His word and trusting in Him brought her to a new realisation of how much He loves us.

I encourage all of you to look for that sliver of light in the darkness of your situation now. Reach out to it and say to Him, “Father, I trust in your divine love for me. Plant in me the hope that will enable me to move forward in faith.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we trust in your divine love for us. Plant in us the hope that will enable us to move forward in faith.

Thanksgiving: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

8 February, Saturday – The discipline of rest

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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1 Kings 3:4-13

King Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, since that was the greatest of the high places – Solomon offered a thousand holocausts on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared in a dream to Solomon during the night. God said, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ Solomon replied, ‘You showed great kindness to your servant David, my father, when he lived his life before you in faithfulness and justice and integrity of heart; you have continued this great kindness to him by allowing a son of his to sit on his throne today. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of this people of yours that you have chosen, a people so many its number cannot be counted or reckoned. Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?’ It pleased the Lord that Solomon should have asked for this. ‘Since you have asked for this’ the Lord said ‘and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you. What you have not asked I shall give you too: such riches and glory as no other king ever had.’

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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.’ For there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat.

In Asia, the concept of 24/7 is very pervasive. We want 24/7 customer support, we want stores from where we can buy anything round the clock. When I went to Europe, the siestas frustrated me. When I went to America and Australia, the stores closing at 6pm (6pm!) drove me nuts. When I went to some place in Japan, not being able to call a cab at 10pm was a culture shock for me. So the busyness in Singapore has really pervaded my life. I honestly experience withdrawal symptoms if I suddenly have nothing to do.

And because of this, I have forgotten that I need rest. I feel guilty if I am not doing anything. Eventually, I realized that I had applied the same attitude to my ministry and my spiritual life. And even my ‘rest’ days have become days where I busy myself with other things (like touring, watching a movie). The things that I do have become a list of to-do’s.

I think there are many reasons why we choose to busy ourselves instead of taking time to rest. For me, I feel that if I were to rest, nothing would happen. I forget that after I have planted a seed and watered it for the day, I should just rest and leave it be. Or if I were to rest, I am wasting the talent that God has given to me when I could be accomplishing more for God.

For some people, they don’t truly rest because they are not comfortable being alone with themselves and God. I remember a fellow catechist who asked our youths if they were afraid to rest in God because God will reveal to them who they really are.

We should remember that it was Jesus who asked his disciples to rest after their mission. There’s work and there’s rest. Both have to be enjoyed. I was also told that it is our duty to rest.

One of my favorite saints, St Josemaria Escriva writes about rest — “I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness. Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.” (The Furrow, 514)

Imagine how busy the apostles must be to have missed their meals at the time when there were no e-mails, handphones, etc. They deserved the rest Christ was inviting them to.

Perhaps, we should look at our schedule. Are we really too busy to rest?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, you taught us that there is a time for everything, even for rest. Teach us how to really rest.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for showing us that rest is as important as work.