6 October, Saturday – Finding the anchor to God

6 October – Memorial for St. Bruno, Priest

Bruno (1030–1101) was educated in Paris and Rheims, France. He was ordained in 1055. He taught theology, and one of his students later became Blessed Pope Urban II. He presided over the cathedral school at Rheims from 1057 to 1075. He criticised the worldliness he saw in his fellow clergy. He opposed Manasses, Archbishop of Rheims, because of his laxity and mismanagement. He was chancellor of the Archdiocese of Rheims.

Following a vision he received of a secluded hermitage where he could spend his life becoming closer to God, he retired to a mountain near Chartreuse in Dauphiny in 1084 and with the help of St. Hugh of Grenoble, he founded what became the first house of the Carthusian Order. He and his brothers supported themselves as manuscript copyists.

He became assistant to Pope Urban in 1090, and supported his efforts at reform. Retiring from public life, he and his companions built a hermitage at Torre where the monastery of Saint Stephen was built in 1095. Bruno combined in the religious life living as a hermit and living in a community; his learning is apparent from his scriptural commentaries.

– Patron Saint Index

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Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17

This was the answer Job gave to the Lord:

I know that you are all-powerful:
what you conceive, you can perform.
I am the man who obscured your designs
with my empty-headed words.
I have been holding forth on matters I cannot understand,
on marvels beyond me and my knowledge.
I knew you then only by hearsay;
but now, having seen you with my own eyes,
I retract all I have said,
and in dust and ashes I repent.

The Lord blessed Job’s new fortune even more than his first one. He came to own fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand she-donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters; his first daughter he called ‘Turtledove’, the second ‘Cassia’ and the third ‘Mascara.’ Throughout the land there were no women as beautiful as the daughters of Job. And their father gave them inheritance rights like their brothers.

After his trials, Job lived on until he was a hundred and forty years old, and saw his children and his children’s children up to the fourth generation. Then Job died, an old man and full of days.

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Luke 10:17-24

The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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Happy the eyes that see what you see

It is often said that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. I can attest to this as my mind has been entering this state very often, ever since I left a full-time job and returned to life as a student. It is not a healthy state to remain in, and I have to make a daily effort to plan my time so as to spend it meaningfully. A recent spiritual activity I embarked on has been very helpful in this regard. It is an online retreat from Creighton University, structured according to the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. The retreat guide introduces a new theme each week that builds upon those explored earlier, and the retreatant is given guidelines for prayer and reflection. I have found that when I set aside the time and resources to follow the guidelines faithfully, I experienced a kind of steadfast focus during the week, enabling me to adopt a much more positive and loving outlook towards everything and everyone I came across.

In today’s first reading, Job had railed at God about his sufferings, but he hung on to his faith and received rich rewards. In the gospel, the disciples of Jesus obediently did their work in God’s name, and found themselves filled with joy at the outcome. My point is that one needs to keep the mind and heart firmly anchored to God in order to be able to experience the joy that comes from Him. Without that anchor of committed prayer and focus on the Lord, we will find ourselves floating along, trying to latch on to brief moments of pleasure but failing to find real meaning in them.

The message of praying more and praying often is not a mere platitude. It really is the way to maintain the connection with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the presence of mind and the habit of taking actions that will lead us to remain in your presence.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the joys and rewards we have received from God.

5 October, Friday – Turning Away From Sin

5 October

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Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5

From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer. He said:

Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning
or sent the dawn to its post,
telling it to grasp the earth by its edges
and shake the wicked out of it,
when it changes the earth to sealing clay
and dyes it as a man dyes clothes;
stealing the light from wicked men
and breaking the arm raised to strike?
Have you journeyed all the way to the sources of the sea,
or walked where the Abyss is deepest?
Have you been shown the gates of Death
or met the janitors of Shadowland?
Have you an inkling of the extent of the earth?
Tell me all about it if you have!
Which is the way to the home of the light,
and where does darkness live?
You could then show them the way to their proper places,
or put them on the path to where they live!
If you know all this, you must have been born with them,
you must be very old by now!
Job replied to the Lord:

My words have been frivolous: what can I reply?
I had better lay my finger on my lips.
I have spoken once… I will not speak again;
more than once… I will add nothing.

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Luke 10:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. And still, it will not go as hard with Tyre and Sidon at the Judgement as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell.

‘Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.’

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Alas for you, Chorazin

Over the past months or so, I have been following a Chinese drama series airing on Mediacorp Channel 8. The main characters of the show are a family of four who end up reliving the same day, 29th February, over and over. The only way for them to escape the endless repetition of events is to confess their deepest and darkest sin to the person they had caused harm to, and obtain the person’s forgiveness. Three of the family members managed to overcome their shame and guilt to seek reconciliation with others, but the mother hesitated and did not confess her sin, choosing to stay in that dimension.

In Episode 10 of Bishop Barron’s Catholicism, we see that hell is ultimately our choice – do we choose God or do we choose self-absorption? I don’t see this as a choice that we make only on our deathbeds, but something that we live with every single day of our lives. Those who choose to live in a state of sin will automatically be disconnected from God as they have turned their backs on Him.

The writing of this reflection is serving as a reminder to myself to partake of the sacrament of reconciliation on a more regular basis. As much as I do not like to admit it, my pride and ego seem to be growing with age, and I am finding it more difficult to truly humble myself and be sorry for my sins. I may not be actively choosing to stay in a state of sin, but by resisting reconciliation with God, I am not truly freeing myself from my sins.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the courage and commitment to repent daily of our sins.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the grace of forgiveness.

4 October, Thursday – Faith in Crisis

4 October – Memorial for St. Francis of Assisi

Francis Bernardone (1181–1226) was the son of Pietro Bernadone, a rich cloth merchant. Though he had a good education and became part of his father’s business, he also had a somewhat misspent youth. He was a street brawler and some-time soldier. He was captured during a conflict between Assisi and Perugia, and spent over a year as prisoner of war. During this time, he had a conversion experience, including a reported message from Christ calling him to leave this worldly life. Upon release, Francis began taking his religion seriously.

He took the Gospel as the rule of his life, Jesus Christ as his literal example. He dressed in rough clothes, begged for his sustenance, and preached purity and peace. His family disapproved, and his father disinherited him; Francis formally renounced his wealth and inheritance. He visited hospitals, served the sick, preached in the streets, and took all men and women as siblings.

He began to attract followers in 1209, and with papal blessing, founded the Franciscans based on a simple statement by Jesus: “Leave all and follow me.” In 1212, Clare of Assisi became his spiritual student, which led to the founding of the Poor Clares. He visited and preached to the Saracens. He composed songs and hymns to God and nature. He lived with animals, worked with his hands, cared for lepers, cleaned churches, and sent food to thieves. In 1221, he resigned direction of the Franciscans.

While in meditation on La Verna (Mount Alvernia) in the Apennines in September 1224, Francis received the stigmata, which periodically bled during the remaining two years of his life. This miracle has a separate memorial on 17 September.

In the Middle Ages, people who were believed to be possessed by Beelzebub especially called upon the intercession of St. Francis, the theory being that he was the demon’s opposite number in heaven.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” – St. Francis of Assisi

– Patron Saint Index

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Job 19:21-27

Job said:

Pity me, pity me, you, my friends,
for the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you hound me down like God,
will you never have enough of my flesh?

Ah, would that these words of mine were written down,
inscribed on some monument
with iron chisel and engraving tool,
cut into the rock for ever.
This I know: that my Avenger lives,
and he, the Last, will take his stand on earth.
After my awaking, he will set me close to him,
and from my flesh I shall look on God.
He whom I shall see will take my part:
these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof.

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Luke 10:1-12

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

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I am sending you out like lambs

“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” The existing and potential members of the harvest expect the labourers of the harvest to be like lambs, but how should they react when these trusted labourers turn out to be like wolves instead? As the church in America reels from the sex abuse scandals, possibly the most serious in its history, the rest of the faithful in other parts of the world are also grappling with the shockwaves from this crisis that is rocking the church.

It is natural to expect religious leaders, as shepherds of the flock, to hold themselves accountable to high moral standards. Alas, although chosen, they too are not perfect, and many have succumbed to temptations of the flesh. While there are those outside and within the church who will use the scandals to condemn the institution, this is a good time for the faithful to ask ourselves who it is that we are following, and why we are following Him.

Being over two millennia in age, the church has weathered many storms and crises. A recent article by the Catholic News Agency suggests that the faithful seek guidance from Saint Catherine of Siena in these troubled times. St Catherine lived in a time of great division and corruption in the church. The pope was estranged from Rome and living in France. She was a simple laywoman, but her love for Christ and His body was so strong that she took action in writing to the pope to convince him to return to Rome.

The church is not here to serve us; rather, we are here to serve the body of Christ. There is not much that most of us can do in this context, except to hold firm in the faith and remain unified in prayer for the victims and the church.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the victims of abuse, that they find healing and forgiveness through the love of Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith, especially in times of crisis.

3 October, Wednesday – Holy Indifference

3 October

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Job 9:1-13, 14-16

Job spoke next. He said:
Indeed, I know it is as you say:
how can man be in the right against God?
If any were so rash as to challenge him for reasons,
one in a thousand would be more than they could answer.
His heart is wise, and his strength is great:
who then can successfully defy him?
He moves the mountains, though they do not know it;
he throws them down when he is angry.
He shakes the earth, and moves it from its place,
making all its pillars tremble.
The sun, at his command, forbears to rise,
and on the stars he sets a seal.
He and no other stretched out the skies,
and trampled the Sea’s tall waves.
The Bear, Orion too, are of his making,
the Pleiades and the Mansions of the South.
His works are great, beyond all reckoning,
his marvels, past all counting.
Were he to pass me, I should not see him,
nor detect his stealthy movement.
Were he to snatch a prize, who could prevent him,
or dare to say, ‘What are you doing?’
God never goes back on his anger,
Rahab’s minions still lie at his feet.

How dare I plead my cause, then,
or choose arguments against him?
Suppose I am in the right, what use is my defence?
For he whom I must sue is judge as well.
If he deigned to answer my citation,
could I be sure that he would listen to my voice?

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Luke 9:57-62

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

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… the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

In July 2008, during my World Youth Day pilgrimage in Sydney, there was one point of time when we felt quite homeless. We were all housed in a school hall and dormitory where we had to sleep on the floor in the cold winter. What that experience taught me is that when on a pilgrimage, we cannot expect the best of living conditions and have to take whatever is given to us. I was just grateful that we didn’t have to sleep out in the open!

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. One thing we often forget about Jesus’ three years in public ministry is that he was constantly on the move, travelling from one town to another all throughout the land, preaching the Good News. There must have been many a time when he lacked basic creature comforts and had to sleep out in the open. When he was lucky, someone might have provided him a nice place to stay. Most of the time, he just took whatever was given to him.

In the first reading, we have here a man, a rich man at that, who has just lost everything he owned in one fell swoop. How difficult it must have been for him to go from a rich lifestyle to a poor one overnight. His speech to his friends reflected the frustration he was feeling at the unfairness of it all.

My friends, sometimes when bad things befall us, we might feel like Job, wondering at the unfairness of it all. But let us remember the example given to us by Jesus, to take all things that happen to us in stride. St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed not for riches or for poverty, but to be indifferent and to seek only the will of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)

Prayer: Dear Lord, give us the grace to do everything for your greater glory, and for holy indifference, choosing neither riches nor poverty, neither health nor sickness, neither married life nor the celibate life, but to take everything as it comes according to your will. Amen.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for what we have.

2 October, Tuesday – Continuously Coached

2 October – Memorial for The Guardian Angels

The term “guardian angels” refers to the belief that each soul has an angel who is available to shepherd the soul through life, and help bring them to God.

Belief in the reality of angels, their mission as messengers of God, and Man’s interaction with them, goes back to the earliest times. Cherubim kept Adam and Eve from slipping back into Eden; angels saved Lot and helped destroy the cities of the plains; in Exodus Moses follows an angel, and at one point an angel is appointed leader of Israel. Michael is mentioned at several points, Raphael figures large in the story of Tobit, and Gabriel delivered the Annunciation of the coming of Christ.

The concept of each soul having a personal guardian angel, is also an ancient one, and long accepted by the Church:

“See that you despise not one of these little ones [children]: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” – Jesus, Matthew 18:10

“How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” – St. Jerome in his commentary on Matthew

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” – Hebrews 1:14

The feast, celebrating the angels who helped bring us to God, began in many local calendars centuries ago, and was widely known by the 16th century. Pope Paul V placed a feast venerating the angels on the general calendar on 27 September 1608. Ferdinand of Austria requested that it be extended to all areas in the Holy Roman Empire.

Initially placed after the feast of Michael the Archangel, it was seen as a kind of supplement to that date. Pope Clement X elevated the feast, celebrated on 2 October, to an obligatory double for the whole Church. On 5 April 1883, Pope Leo XIII raised the feast to the rank of a double major.

– Patron Saint Index

“O angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom whose love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to rule and guard, to light and guide. Amen.” – Prayer to our guardian angel

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Job 3:1-3,11-17,20-23

Job broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth. This is what he said:
May the day perish when I was born,
and the night that told of a boy conceived.
Why did I not die new-born,
not perish as I left the womb?
Why were there two knees to receive me,
two breasts for me to suck?
Had there not been, I should now be lying in peace,
wrapped in a restful slumber,
with the kings and high viziers of earth
who build themselves vast vaults,
or with princes who have gold and to spare
and houses crammed with silver.
Or put away like a still-born child that never came to be,
like unborn babes that never see the light.
Down there, bad men bustle no more,
there the weary rest.
Why give light to a man of grief?
Why give life to those bitter of heart,
who long for a death that never comes,
and hunt for it more than for a buried treasure?
They would be glad to see the grave-mound
and shout with joy if they reached the tomb.
Why make this gift of light to a man who does not see his way,
whom God baulks on every side?

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Matthew 18:1-5.10

The disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said, ‘I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. ‘See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.’

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And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I’m repeatedly astounded by how quickly young children learn new things. Their enthusiasm, energy, fresh starting points, and willingness to learn are so very infectious; a recipe for success. This process of learning continues as children progress through their formal education — they have teachers and coaches to show them the way, bringing out latent potential and refining them in the crucible of hard work.

I have noticed that all this changes once we become adults. We get caught up with life, and we feel that we can be our own teachers. In my experience, this isn’t very effective. Just as God guides us through prayer, we need people to learn from, to emulate, and to be inspired by. And just as we seek such people to mentor us, we too can be coaches and mentors to others.

What is this all premised on? It stems from being responsible stewards of the gifts God has blessed us with. It draws strength from the wisdom and experiences from within our communities. It builds bonds of friendship and mutual love. It gives us all a chance to foster human flourishing in God’s name.

We’re never too old nor too experienced to know everything. And whatever we do now that is meaningful and good is worth sharing. Let us all be guardian angels to our fellowmen, young and old.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Shaun Mathew)

Prayer: Dearest God, allow us to see all opportunities to lift up others. Bless us with unwavering commitment and gentleness of spirit.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the voices in our lives. May we relinquish our pride and be satiated by their wisdom.

1 October, Monday – Humility

1 October – Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor, Patroness of Missions

Born to a pious middle-class French family of tradesmen, Francoise-Marie Therese Martin (1873–1897) was the daughter of Blessed Louis Martin and Blessed Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, and all four of her sisters became nuns. Her mother died when Francoise-Marie was only four, and the family moved to Lisieux, Normandy, France to be closer to family.

She was cured from an illness at the age of 8 when a statue of the Blessed Virgin smiled at her. She was educated by the Benedictine nuns of Notre-Dame-du-Pre, and confirmed there at the age of 11. Just before her 14th birthday, she received a vision of the Child Jesus. She immediately understood the great sacrifice that had been made for her, and developed an unshakeable faith.

She tried to join the Carmelites, but was turned down due to her age. She was a pilgrim to Rome for the Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII whom she met and who knew of her desire to become a nun. She joined the Carmelites at Lisieux on 9 April 1888 at the age of 15, taking her final vow on 8 September 1890 at the age of 17.

She is known by all for her complete devotion to spiritual development and to the austerities of the Carmelite Rule. Due to health problems resulting from her ongoing fight with tuberculosis, her superiors ordered her not to fast. She became novice mistress at the age of 20, and at age 22 was ordered by her prioress to begin writing her memories and ideas. The material would turn into the book History of a Soul.

She defined her path to God and holiness at The Little Way, which consisted of child-like love and trust in God. She had an ongoing correspondence with the Carmelite missionaries in China, often stating how much she wanted to come work with them. Many miracles are attributed to her and she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.

“You know well enough that our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
– Saint Therese of Lisieux

– Patron Saint Index

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Job 1:6-22

One day the Sons of God came to attend on the Lord, and among them was Satan. So the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Round the earth,’ he answered ‘roaming about.’ So the Lord asked him, ‘Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth: a sound and honest man who fears God and shuns evil.’ ‘Yes,’ Satan said ‘but Job is not God-fearing for nothing, is he? Have you not put a wall round him and his house and all his domain? You have blessed all he undertakes, and his flocks throng the countryside. But stretch out your hand and lay a finger on his possessions: I warrant you, he will curse you to your face.’ ‘Very well,’ the Lord said to Satan ‘all he has is in your power. But keep your hands off his person.’ So Satan left the presence of the Lord.

On the day when Job’s sons and daughters were at their meal and drinking wine at their eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job. ‘Your oxen’ he said ‘were at the plough, with the donkeys grazing at their side, when the Sabaeans swept down on them and carried them off. Your servants they put to the sword: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The fire of God’ he said ‘has fallen from the heavens and burnt up all your sheep, and your shepherds too: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘The Chaldaeans,’ he said ‘three bands of them, have raided your camels and made off with them. Your servants they put to the sword: I alone escaped to tell you.’ He had not finished speaking when another messenger arrived. ‘Your sons and daughters’ he said ‘were at their meal and drinking wine at their eldest brother’s house, when suddenly from the wilderness a gale sprang up, and it battered all four corners of the house which fell in on the young people. They are dead: I alone escaped to tell you.’

Job rose and tore his gown and shaved his head. Then falling to the ground he worshipped and said:

‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
naked I shall return.
The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!’

In all this misfortune Job committed no sin nor offered any insult to God.

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Luke 9:46-50

An argument started between the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and then said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.’

John spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said ‘we saw a man casting out devils in your name, and because he is not with us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘You must not stop him: anyone who is not against you is for you.’

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“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Two beautiful readings that bring out what really life is about. It’s never about what we have on earth but who we have as our eternal Father. The understanding of our identity, the purpose of our lives, the only one aim we all should have is to return to unity with God, our Father, with the world in love.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of Job, sometimes our lives are so smooth that we simply cannot comprehend why God would want us to suffer after everything we’ve done for Him. But truly there are indeed many times that we need to be reminded of who gave us this life and our possessions. If all these can save us from eternal damnation, maybe it’s good that we all continuously suffer on earth.

Or we can look at it from the point of view of the Gospel where it says, “For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.” Maybe our “sufferings” have much wisdom for us to digest, to see the world in a new light, to appreciate the things/people that we have taken for granted of, to treasure life and to show love. For when we are at our lowest, not only is the way only up, but that’s exactly where we find Christ because that’s where He lives, not in the limelight and the material distractions that we have, but in the simple, in the ordinary, in our hearts, where we can truly be ourselves.

For is it then that we can also see who is with us and who is merely using us. For “anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”.

Let us invite Christ in our lives in order that we may invite all, to see the Christ in others as well as to be Christ to others. We will be the greatest when we recognise that we have the greatest gift of all, who is Christ Himself, when He gave His life for us. Let us now live for Him, to glorify Him. Amen.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, many times we are so caught up with doing and finishing what we have to do, we occupy ourselves with so many things till we leave you out. Help us to drop those in order that we may see you clearer and depend on you, in order that we will lead all to glorify you. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your example, that you are not a king that is associated with wealth, fame or power. Thank you Lord for your humility, for understanding, for listening and for your love.

30 September, Sunday – Exclusion

30 September 2018

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Numbers 11:25-29

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.

Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

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James 5:1-6

An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

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Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

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Anyone who is not against us is for us.

In today’s readings, we have similar situations: in the first, the two elders who had not been gathered at the tent, started prophesying after the spirit of God also descended upon them. In the Gospel reading, Jesus was informed of a man who was casting out devils in his name. In both situations, someone had tried to stop these men from doing what they were doing. But Moses and Jesus respectively, vetoed the decision.

Do we sometimes feel that we have been excluded from certain groups, or perhaps we are the ones who have at some point in our lives excluded other people from joining our group? If we were excluded, then we might have been made to feel that we didn’t belong. We might have questioned what our shortcomings were, or what qualities that others had that we didn’t.

While this might happen in our “human” lives – it being a “human” trait – we can take comfort that this spirit of exclusion is not something that Jesus believes in. With Jesus, we are all considered children of God. He impressed upon us that everyone is welcome into the House of God; as long as we turned to Him for forgiveness and salvation, God’s love is available to everyone – saint, sinner, man, woman, child, rich or poor. Jesus set this example by dining with the tax collectors, speaking with the Samaritans, healing the lepers, forgiving the sinners. Jesus said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

And so, when we are all united in a common interest, and that is doing God’s work in God’s name, there is no difference between what we are doing compared to what our neighbor is doing, compared to what our friend is doing. God does not rank our work, He sees only our hearts. If our hearts beat for God, then are we not moving together in one unit? Is there a need for exclusion of anyone who is for the same cause as us? That is Jesus’ message to us today.

If we have ever felt excluded, or felt that people should be excluded from something, let us keep in mind that God excludes no one, and no one is left behind. As Pope Francis said in a Penitential Liturgy in Saint Peter’s Basilica in March of year 2015, “No one can be excluded from the mercy of God”.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for an open heart that will accept all. Help us to understand in our hearts when you say that anyone who is not against God is for God.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks for accepting us for who we are, saint or sinner, and assuring us that the mercy and love of God is not excluded from us. We thank you for counting us as God’s children.

29 September, Saturday – Meeting of Minds

29 September – Feast of the Holy Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages. So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

– from a homily by Pope St. Gregory the Great

Michael was the leader of the army of God during the Lucifer uprising. Devotion to him is common to Muslims, Christians and Jews with writings about him in all three cultures. He is considered as the guardian angel of Israel, and the guardian and protector of the Church.

Raphael is one of the seven angels that stand before God’s throne. He is the lead character in the book of Tobit in which he travelled with (and guarded) Tobiah, and cured a man’s blindness; hence his connection with travellers, young people, blindness, healing and healers.

– Patron Saints Index

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Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

As I watched:

Thrones were set in place
and one of great age took his seat.
His robe was white as snow,
the hair of his head as pure as wool.
His throne was a blaze of flames,
its wheels were a burning fire.
A stream of fire poured out,
issuing from his presence.
A thousand thousand waited on him,
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
A court was held
and the books were opened.

And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven,
one like a son of man.
He came to the one of great age
and was led into his presence.
On him was conferred sovereignty,
glory and kingship,
and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.
His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty
which shall never pass away,
nor will his empire ever be destroyed.

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Apocalypse 12:7-12

Now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him. Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life. Let the heavens rejoice and all who live there.’

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John 1:47-51

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ said Nathanael ‘Before Philip came to call you,’ said Jesus ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. so You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

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“How do you know me?”

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there is no meeting of minds.” I think back sometimes when I was working with a colleague, and she was tasked with meeting certain financial targets in her small service line. It was a huge challenge, and she had a small team to assist her. They were already overworked with current engagements when I joined her team, and it seemed to me that they were so busy trying to carry out their engagements that they hardly had time to think about strategy. She had all these ideas in her head about how to expand and how to move things forward, but no time or resources for execution. I recall having a conversation with her once, and we realized that we shared the same ideas, the same enthusiasm, and every time we talked over lunch or a cup of coffee, it was like a light went on and the hours flew by. Those were exciting conversations and, truth be told, I have never met anyone quite like her who could fire you up in a discussion about strategy like that.

When people understand each other, there is very little need for the use of words to explain oneself. There is a chemistry at work, where you just know what the other person is thinking or feeling, or that you get a sense of what they like or don’t like. It’s hard enough sometimes trying to understand ourselves, what more trying to elucidate it to others. So it is a relief when someone operates on the same wavelength as you, and gets you before you can even get the words out.

With Jesus, there is no need to explain ourselves. Jesus knows us intimately. He knows our thoughts, our hearts, our deeds and ambitions, doubts and fears. He knows our character. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”, says Jeremiah 1:5. “Even before they call I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear”, says Isaiah 65:24. What comfort it is to know that Jesus understands us, even in our troubled, most tumultuous times! Times when prayer fails to form on our lips, times when we are confused and conflicted within. Sometimes in these times and in desperation and frustration to find the right words, I say “Lord, you know my troubles, you know what is in my heart and in my mind. Help me find a way.” Even in those times, I feel my load a little lighter for sharing it.

Jesus knew Nathanael before he was even called. He knew the kind of person he was, which surprised Nathanael. He even knew his doubts (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)), and addressed them. For the times when we hesitate in prayer or think that no one will understand our problems, let us not doubt that Jesus will understand and help us, for he knows us intimately. He is our friend — not just any friend — but that friend who is on the same frequency as us, the friend who can finish our sentences and gets us, even before we can finish expressing ourselves. Let us lift our cares to Jesus our friend and brother, and let us be illuminated by his grace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray to break down our pride to share our innermost thoughts and troubles with you, in the faith that you will, and do understand us, and will be a balm to our soul.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the good friends that you bring our way, for those who understand us and not judge us when we share. Thank you for our friends who double our happiness and halve our sorrows.

28 September, Friday – Seedlings

28 September – Memorial for St. Wenceslaus, Martyr; Memorial for St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs

Wenceslaus (907-929) was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia, whose family had been converted by St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and Drahomira, daughter of a pagan chief, who was baptised on her wedding day but apparently never seriously took to the faith. He was the grandson and student of St. Ludmilla.

When his father was killed during a pagan backlash against Christianity, Wenceslaus ascended to power as the Duke of Bohemia and fought the pagans with prayer and patience. He was murdered by his brother Boleslaus at the door of a church. Though he was killed for political reasons, he is normally listed as a martyr since the politics arose from his faith. Miracles have been reported at his tomb, and he is the subject of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

– Patron Saint Index

 Laurence Ruiz (1600–1637) had a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both of whom were Christians. He learned Chinese and Tagalog from them, Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He was a professional calligrapher and documents transcriptionist. He was a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. He was a married layman, and the father of two sons and a daughter.

For unknown reasons, Laurence was accused of murder. He sought asylum on board a ship with three Dominican priests, St. Antonio Gonzalez, St. Guillermo Courtet, and St. Mguel de Aozaraza, a Japanese priest, St. Vincente Showozuka de la Cruz, and a layman St. Lazaro of Kyoto, a leper. Only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan during a time of intense Christian persecution.

Laurence could have gone to Formosa (modern Taiwan), but feared the Spaniards there would hang him, and so stayed with the missionaries as they landed at Okinawa. The group was soon exposed as Christian, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki. They were tortured in several ways for days. Laurence and the Japanese priest broke at one point, and were ready to renounce their faith in exchange for release, but after their moment of crisis, they reclaimed their faith and defied their tormentors. He was the first canonised Filipino martyr.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:

A time for giving birth,
a time for dying;
a time for planting,
a time for uprooting what has been planted.

A time for killing,
a time for healing;
a time for knocking down,
a time for building.

A time for tears,
a time for laughter;
a time for mourning,
a time for dancing.

A time for throwing stones away,
a time for gathering them up;
a time for embracing,
a time to refrain from embracing.

A time for searching,
a time for losing;
a time for keeping,
a time for throwing away.

A time for tearing,
a time for sewing;
a time for keeping silent,
a time for speaking.

A time for loving,
a time for hating;
a time for war,
a time for peace.

What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes? I contemplate the task that God gives mankind to labour at. All that he does is apt for its time; but though he has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.

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Luke 9:18-22

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.

‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

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“He has made everything appropriate to its time, and put timeless into their hearts”

We are familiar with the phrase, “All in good time”, meaning that everything will happen at the appropriate moment. It is easy to believe that for something good which we are waiting for, but how do you use that to explain something negative that has happened? I often wondered as a child, and even now as a grown person, why certain bad things happen, and why God allows them to happen. Recently the church has been mired with the sexual scandals of priests, with some reports that the Catholic faith is in crisis. There have even been calls for the Pope to step down. I admit that reading the details of the scandals (even a summary at that) was enough to sicken me. But more than that, this whole saga has also despaired me, as I am sure other members of the Catholic faith as well. We put our trust in these ordained ‘men of God’, but that trust is now broken. It hurts more because we had seen them as models of upright Christian goodness and beacons of faith, but they were really monsters in our midst. Why God, why our church, and why our faith? Why the children involved, and why in the first place, these men? Why were they put in our midst to begin with? If these are the sort of men who are ‘chosen’ to be shepherds of our faith, what kind of future for the church will we have for our lambs?

I cannot blame the people for not wanting to return to the affected churches, or any church for that matter. There is an anger that seethes in them — anger and disappointment. And what about the victims and their families? The church has let them down, we have felt let down. While the bulk of this scandal has so far been reported in the Americas, the effects and the doubts will reach out worldwide: if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

I don’t have an answer for all the whys, not just for what has happened, but for everything that hasn’t gone right, either in the world or in my own life. However, I hope I can retain in my heart a little seedling of hope, a seedling that one day may burst into fruition and become a tree that I can shelter under and hold onto in times of trouble. I wonder if the current crisis is one that is a test of faith for us all; not just for the church, but for us as individual parishioners, as followers of Christ. In essence, that is what it all boils down to — we are all at church because we follow Christ, we believe in Christ. The message of the Lord was revealed to us and we believe it. The perpetrators will come and go, but the message of eternal life lives forever.

That is not to say that I condone or side these priests and what they have done. If they have done wrong, then let them be judged according to law, both man-made and God. As for us, we cannot know what God’s plan is in the face of such a crisis. Perhaps it is a call by God to come together at this moment, this time that God deems appropriate, to strengthen our faith, so that when another time comes when the world is in crisis, we are more prepared to stand together and more steadfastly. Perhaps it is God’s hope for us to rebuild the church, even as we rebuild our faith. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I see my mother laugh merrily as she sings along with her church choir, or when the children at church look forward to Sunday school, or the pride I feel when my son sings “Jesus loves me this I know”, I know that that seed of faith, though small, is well and alive. There is hope in this seed, and that hope is rooted in more than what I see or don’t see. It is rooted in Jesus.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for our church in this time of crisis and trial. May we collectively come together as God’s children to repair and rebuild the church and our own faith, and remember always that You are what holds us all together.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the strength during our trials and tribulations. We cannot do this without You and we pray for continued guidance and strengthening of faith, even when we fail to see the whole picture.

27 September, Thursday – Legacies

27 September – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

– Patron Saints Index

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Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. Vanity of vanities. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity! For all his toil, his toil under the sun, what does man gain by it?

A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever. The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises. Southward goes the wind, then turns to the north; it turns and turns again; back then to its circling goes the wind. Into the sea all the rivers go, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go. All things are wearisome. No man can say that eyes have not had enough of seeing, ears their fill of hearing. What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun. Take anything of which it may be said, ‘Look now, this is new.’ Already, long before our time, it existed. Only no memory remains of earlier times, just as in times to come next year itself will not be remembered.

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Luke 9:7-9

Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was being done by Jesus; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see Jesus.

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“One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays”

This year marked for me 17 years of being in the workforce, most of which was with the same firm. I don’t know if I have shared this before, but most of the work I did was around companies that were in distress. I used to read a lot about companies that got built up, lasted generations, then collapsed in the blink of an eye. Overnight, lives turned upside down, legacies ended. The sad ones were the companies whose undoing was due to complacency and greed. I know greed seems like a strong word, and maybe for some, exists in a world apart from us or on the silver screen, but it is real. Greed in the form of wanting more money, vanity, popularity, pride.

I recently read a book called “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. The most common regret was wishing that one had lived a life true to one’s self, and not what others expected of one. It’s so easy to be caught up by the present and pursuit of the next thing, that we fail to see the bigger picture of our lives. For most of us, our lives revolve around our inbox, answering emails late into the night. We respond to other people’s deadlines and emergencies, and plan fastidiously for our clients, helping them to achieve their annual targets. Their targets become our targets. But those targets are temporary. The next year, there will be new targets; the old will be forgotten, charted in the annual report for comparison later to the current year, likely as a blip on a line chart or bar graph. Meanwhile, what about our own life targets?

Life passes us by so quickly. I have seen so many contemporaries feeling jaded and restless, feeling the need to do something else more meaningful. That is our soul telling us that we are made for more. But we don’t know what that is, and we sit and hope that some sign comes to tell us what that missing piece is. Few of us will look for it ourselves. Then one day, we find that death knocks on our door. Our complacency has eaten away what time we have here on earth, and we have dreams half fulfilled, if even at all. We write wills and leave our belongings for the next generation, but what else are we leaving our children? What legacies, what other memories? What mark are we leaving here on earth that we can say was for the greater good, even if in the smallest measure? Can we say our souls thirsted to achieve the best of our inherent abilities and we strived to achieve it and satisfied it? Our worldly achievements and belongings are not something we can bring to bear before God on judgment day; our epitaphs will not read “here lies so and so, who always meticulously reconciled every cent/had a million Facebook friends/was the number one salesperson for 10 years consecutively”. No. We would want to be remembered as a dear father, mother, sister, brother, child, friend, and we would want people to mean it.

A dearly beloved priest in the Assumption Church of Petaling Jaya recently passed away. Father Mari Arokiam’s death was sudden and left many people shocked. During his funeral mass, the congregation prayed for the “grace of a well-prepared death”, that when we are called to the Lord, we will be “ready, with our lamp of faith, alight, and our baptismal robe unstained”. Father Mari was a man with a big heart, especially for the poor. Ironically, as we celebrate the Memorial of St Vincent de Paul today, we also remember Father Mari, who had also served in the Society of St Vincent de Paul in his lifetime. As we reflect on our own lives and the legacy that we want to leave behind, let us keep in mind Father Mari’s words at his silver jubilee last year, “One day when I am gone, I want to be remembered as a faithful priest who had compassion”.

How then do we want to be remembered?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and give us the courage to live our lives as You have determined it. We pray to leave behind a lasting legacy that is pleasing to God. We pray as well for the soul of Father Mari, may he rest in peace in the eternal glory of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the life of Father Mari, for his contributions and his compassion. May his legacy be remembered by all who knew him.