19 June, Monday – Christ over me

Jun 19 – Memorial for St. Romuald, abbot

St Romuald (951-1027) had been an Italian noble. Acting as second, he witnessed his father kill a man in a duel, and sought to atone for the crime by becoming a Benedictine monk at Classe, Italy where he was abbot from 996–999.

A wanderer by nature, he established several hermitage and monasteries in central and northern Italy. He tried to evangelize the Slavs, but met with little success. He founded the Camaldolese Benedictines and spent the last fourteen years of his life in seclusion. His body which is enshrined in Italy remains incorrupt till this day.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 6:1-10

As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.

We do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants. Instead, we prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering: in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving. We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness; by a spirit of holiness, by a love free from affectation; by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left, prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced; thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.

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Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.’

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…behold, now is the day of salvation.

Just last weekend, I attended a community retreat at CSC conducted by a lay person who is trained in Ignatian spirituality. It was a two day ‘holiday’ for the ministry members who attended as we were treated to silence, a movie and interesting talks which touched on topics such as ‘Known’, ‘Loved’ and ‘Whose Am I’.

As many members shared openly at the end of the retreat, it was truly a time of reflection for us in ministry, who constantly strive to do our best at the various retreats, 4th Saturday healing services and regular Friday sessions. Many who were caught up with the ‘doing’ felt recharged as they enjoyed the quiet time with God, reflecting, journalling and adoring Jesus in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

For me, I took three very clear words from the retreat – Community, Compassion and Come. I shared with my fellow brothers and sisters that as a relative ‘newbie’ to the community (I have been serving there for 6 years), I sometimes felt inadequate and inferior in my service. But what the Lord revealed to me as I journalled were many questions that alluded to issues concerning pride, low self-esteem and anger. My initial surprise slowly gave way to an understanding of why I harboured certain feelings at various times during my ministry.

God also revealed to me the deeper meaning of those 3 words that stuck in my mind. They all begin with ‘COM’ – Christ Over Me. Over the years, and certainly over the past few months, I had been approaching my service from a very ‘human’ perspective. I had to do things a certain way, I arranged discipleship group meetings depending on when I was free (rather than setting a regular day for sharing) and, over the past few months, had never really cared about how my brothers were feeling nor was I concerned about their spirituality. I had been going about ministry work precisely like how I approached work in my office – get it over and done with, with a minimum of fuss. I had not been placing Christ above me and had sidelined Him in my eagerness to fulfil my tasks.

Brothers and sisters, if you are involved in ministry, whether in your parish or at a retreat centre, do remember to take time to listen and ‘chill’. Don’t get caught up in the doing that you forget the ‘being’. Be present and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that whatever burdens you carry are truly ‘light’ and that your soul will find rest in the Lord. God never promised that the load would be easy. But he did invite us to come to Him and to shoulder His yoke in order for our souls to find rest in Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, teach us to remain silent in our hearts so that we can listen to your voice in our lives and to discern your promptings.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for giving us feelings in order to express ourselves and to relate with one another in our various communities.

18 June, Sunday – Food for Eternal Life

18 Jun 2017 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi), Year A

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Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14-16

Moses said to the people: ‘Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart – whether you would keep his commandments or not. He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

‘Do not become proud of heart. Do not forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery: who guided you through this vast and dreadful wilderness, a land of fiery serpents, scorpions, thirst; who in this waterless place brought you water from the hardest rock; who in this wilderness fed you with manna that your fathers had not known.’

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1 Corinthians 10:16-17

The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.

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John 6:51-58

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

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He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him

People love their food in this country. They spend time planning where they want to go for their lunch and dinner. They post photos and videos of what they have eaten on social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. In-depth analysis of the quality and quantity of food together with the service of the staff will be rated. Yet I often wonder if the same effort will be devoted towards understanding the depth of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Today’s Solemnity is an important celebration for each one of us as we enter into the mystery of this wonderful gift of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which we have received from Jesus Christ. Just as food nourishes our bodies, the Holy Eucharist nourishes our spiritual lives and makes grow in deeper communion with the Lord Jesus.

The Eucharist brings us closer towards Jesus Christ and allows us to enter into a deeper communion with the Lord Jesus. This allows us to discover this great mystery of God’s love for us – to want to come down on earth to save us so that we can enter into eternal joy with Him. Moses in the First Reading remind us that we cannot live on bread alone and Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that the Jews who ate the manna have all died but those who eat His flesh and drink His Blood will have eternal life. This means that we must renounce the ways of the world. The flesh cannot give us eternal life but Jesus’s flesh certainly can do so.

To believe that the Lord Jesus is truly present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist requires faith because Reason is unable to fully explain this great Mystery. The Scriptures and the Eucharist strengthen our souls and our lives are transformed to become examples for the world to follow. St Paul in the Second Reading shares with us that although we respond in a very special way to the vocation God has called us to live in this world, we remain one Christian community. The lives of Christians, in whichever location and occupation we are in, will become a consistent and living example for all to see what being in love with Christ is.

The question is, “Are we ready to accept the plan which God has for us?”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you allow the visible sign of your Body and Blood hidden in the bread and wine to become for us the sustenance to love and serve you in this passing world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all priests who celebrate the Mass every day.

17 June, Saturday – Saying Yes to God

17 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.

So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.

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Matthew 5:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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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Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No

Many people (myself included) have somehow over the course of our lives acquired a bad habit of using God’s name to swear. And in swearing, I mean both senses of the word, whether in terms of making a promise or an oath, or cursing an inopportune event that has befallen one. So it is common to hear things like “I swear to God, I didn’t do it!” or “Jesus Christ! Did he just cut in front of me?” One of my favourite bands, Jars of Clay, even has a song that addresses this habit of swearing in God’s name. Entitled “Oh My God”, the song plays on secular society’s habit to use the phrase ‘oh my god’ for all sorts of situations.

In today’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear that swearing of any form, not just using God’s name, is wrong. Indeed, the Lord teaches us that we need to say what we mean, and mean what we say. For to swear would be to promise more than we can deliver, and hence end up making false oaths. Indeed, “no one knows about the day or hour” (MT 24:36). How can we promise anyone anything when we do not even know if the sun will rise tomorrow, much less whether we will be able or willing to fulfil the promises or oaths that we have this tendency to make.

Jesus even goes so far as to say that anything more than ‘yes’ meaning ‘yes’ and ‘no’ meaning ‘no’ is from the Evil One. Indeed, many of the promises and oaths that we make, even under duress (especially under duress), stem from an overconfidence in our own ability to deliver on promises or even determine our own fates. This excessive belief in ourselves can be seen as an elevation of the ‘self’ as an idol. That is why our Lord said that such promises are from the Evil One.

Rather than swearing oaths and making promises we cannot keep, let us be clear (both to others and to ourselves) what we can/should and can/should not do. In doing so, we say ‘yes’ to God in our obedience to Him and trust in His providence, and we say ‘no’ to the devil and all his empty promises.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, keep us grounded in Your love and our humility, so that we may continue to trust and rely on your never-ending providence.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for providing us with all that we need, for it is in the fulfilment of these needs that we see the emptiness of our wants.

16 June, Friday – Cutting off the hand that is distraction

16 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But as we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be, to the glory of God.

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Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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.’

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

There is very little doubt that we live in a time of great distraction. Everywhere we look, we see people distracted – whether absorbed the little glowing screens of their smartphones or mesmerized by the latest fashion or products that our shiny cities have to offer. Yes, it is a time of great distraction, and we are a people dying to be distracted. How often have you felt that sinking feeling of helplessness, when you realize that you have left your phone at home? Or the urge to check out the latest season in your favourite apparel store?

Yet, this constant state of distraction is dangerous for us, for we are absorbed in an artificial environment of social media posts, shares, and likes. Worse yet, our life choices come to be defined by these distractions. I often see couples, and even families, sitting at the dining table, everyone mindlessly scrolling through their smartphones. How did we get here? When did social media posts and 800-word blogposts or commentary pieces become more important than the thoughts and feelings of our loved ones or an 800-page literary classic?

Worse yet, we have allowed such distraction to affect our spiritual and faith lives, for in our distraction, we are no longer able to discern the wonders of God in our everyday lives, whether in terms of our familial relationships, the world around us (the actual physical world around us, mind you), or perhaps more importantly, the needs of the people around us. One does not need to look very far to find a homeless person or a lonely soul in our midst.

If our gadgets and distractions are truly distracting us and keeping us from performing our roles and duties as children of God and disciples of Christ, then perhaps it is time to consider giving them up. For Jesus in today’s Gospel exhorts us to tear out the eye or cut off the hand that causes us to sin. Isn’t it so much easier simply to put away that phone or look away from the store display, rather than cutting off a hand or tearing out an eye? Yet for some, it is just as difficult to put down the phone as it is to cut off a hand.

In that case, we need to ask ourselves: what is more important? Our personal pleasures and desires? Or our commitment to Christ and the Kingdom of God?

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your strength and fortitude, so that we can reject sin and Satan, especially in the distractions that keep us from living out our Christian duties.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the wonders and beauty of His creation, set in the world around us, as a pleasing reminder of His love and providence. May we never become so distracted as to forget these gifts from our heavenly Father.

15 June, Thursday – The Veil of Ignorance

15 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1,3-6

Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds. It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.

Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part. If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

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Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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.’

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go first and be reconciled with your brother

I have often witnessed disagreements among fellow Catholics, especially as it pertains to the ‘right’ form of liturgy or the ‘right’ teachings of the church. In many cases, these disagreements can turn quite ugly. While there is no doubt that on both (or sometimes multiple) sides there are good intentions (after all, who doesn’t want to be sure that he/she is practicing his/her faith correctly?), such disagreements can distract us from the reality that faith needs to be lived.

Indeed, in focusing on the forms or practices of worship, we often neglect what we need most: an encounter with the Lord. Such disagreements are therefore like the ‘veils’ that St Paul warned us against. Yes, it is only right for us to gain a good understanding of scripture and uphold liturgical tradition. However, and as is the case with most things in life, moderation is key. An overly-zealous focus on these aspects of our faith-life can come at the detriment of the spiritual, and interior, aspects of our faith.

For instance, quibbling over the type of liturgical music used at mass distracts us from the very key and purpose of mass: the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. As St Paul says, “whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over the hearts of the children of Israel, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. We therefore need to keep our gaze directed onto the Lord Himself, above the fray of petty squabbles that serve to divide, rather than unite.

Yet, at the same time, we are to treat those who do not agree with us with love and patience, for Jesus also said in today’s Gospel that we are to reconcile with a brother (or sister) whom we may have a disagreement with, before offering any sacrifice to the Lord. To help us do this, there is another veil that may help us immensely. The Cambridge philosopher John Rawls taught that true fairness and equality can emerge if we put on a ‘veil of ignorance’. The veil of ignorance is a thought experiment that requires one to imagine that she is about to be born into the world without knowing where she may end up, but has a choice as to which what kind of world she will end up in.

Given such as choice, it is only logical to hope for a world that is fair and equal to all, so that regardless of what conditions one were to be born in, there would still be a chance to survive, and even thrive. To apply this to our daily lives, we would need to put on a veil of ignorance and ignore the differences that may exist around us, and focus instead on the things that can unite us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your guidance and wisdom, that we may always seek to unite rather than divide.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His church, which continues to nourish and sustain her members.

14 June, Wednesday – There is space in Heaven still

14 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Before God, we are confident of this through Christ: not that we are qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God. He is the one who has given us the qualifications to be the administrators of this new covenant, which is not a covenant of written letters but of the Spirit: the written letters bring death, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the administering of death, in the written letters engraved on stones, was accompanied by such a brightness that the Israelites could not bear looking at the face of Moses, though it was a brightness that faded, then how much greater will be the brightness that surrounds the administering of the Spirit! For if there was any splendour in administering condemnation, there must be very much greater splendour in administering justification. In fact, compared with this greater splendour, the thing that used to have such splendour now seems to have none; and if what was so temporary had any splendour, there must be much more in what is going to last for ever.

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Matthew 5:17-19

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.’

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I have come not to abolish but to fulfill

As I read today’s gospel, I am comforted by a reality that is so fundamental to our Christian faith: Obedience. Today, Jesus taught that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heave”. The opposite is, of course, also true, i.e. disobeying the commandments will also lead to one being called least in the Kingdom of heaven. There are two interesting dimensions to today’s gospel passage.

First, in teaching about the importance of obeying the commandments, Jesus Himself exhibits a deep obedience to God. Indeed, Jesus started off by saying that “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”. Yes, even God Himself (incarnate as Jesus) is obedient to His own commandments. This is an example of the sort of interior consistency that we, as Christians, need to display as well. In other words, we need to practice what we preach.

Second, Jesus makes an interesting point when He says that “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven”. He did not say that those who break a commandment will be condemned. Rather they will simply be called least, albeit still in the Kingdom of heaven, where the last is supposed to come first. How do we square this circle? The key to understanding this seeming conundrum lies in mercy.

While Jesus makes clear that breaking the commandments is an act of sin, He does not condemn the sinner. As always, the hope of salvation and forgiveness is held out, like an olive branch from God Himself. For those of us who have sinned (it is safe to say that all of us fall into this category, unless you are reading this from heaven – in which case, please pray for me), Jesus is telling us that there is space in Heaven for us still.

There is space in Heaven for us. There is no greater assurance of God’s love for His children, no greater cause for hope than the gates of Heaven left open to us always. All we need to do is to take a step towards those pearly gates, and that first step is to repent – to repent for our sins and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. As Jesus promised, He has come not to abolish, but to fulfil. He was not simply talking about the commandments. He has also come not to abolish us, we who have sinned so woefully, but to fulfil our destiny as children of God and co-heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your forgiveness, for in the depths of our hearts, we are sorrowful for all the times that we have let You down. But we are weak, often even too weak to admit our failings. We pray for your love and patience.  

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His everlasting love and forgiveness, for granting us admittance to His Kingdom, and asking of us no more than our love and repentance.

13 June, Tuesday – Pange Lingua Gloriosi

Jun 13 – Memorial for St. Anthony of Padua, priest, religious, doctor

St. Anthony’s (1195-1231) wealthy family wanted him to be a great nobleman, but for the sake of Christ he became a poor Franciscan. When the remains of St. Berard and his companions, the first Franciscan martyrs, were brought to be buried in his church, Anthony was moved to leave his order, enter the Friars Minor, and go to Morocco to evangelize.

Shipwrecked at Sicily, he joined some other brothers who were going to Portiuncula. One day when a scheduled speaker failed to appear, the brothers pressed him into speaking. He impressed them so that he was thereafter constantly travelling, evangelizing, preaching, and teaching theology through Italy and France.

A gifted speaker, he attracted crowds everywhere he went, speaking in multiple tongues. Legend says that even the fish loved to listen. He was a wonder worker. As one of the most beloved saints, his images and statues are found everywhere. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 1:18-22

I swear by God’s truth, there is no Yes and No about what we say to you. The Son of God, the Christ Jesus that we proclaimed among you – I mean Silvanus and Timothy and I – was never Yes and No: with him it was always Yes, and however many the promises God made, the Yes to them all is in him. That is why it is ‘through him’ that we answer Amen to the praise of God. Remember it is God himself who assures us all, and you, of our standing in Christ, and has anointed us, marking us with his seal and giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts.

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Matthew 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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your light must shine before others

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses two images to remind us of our mission as Christians in the world. First, He likens us to ‘salt of the earth’. However, we are to be salt that has flavour and hence is good for seasoning food. Second, He says that we are “light of the world”. But this is a light that is not meant to be hidden, but sent out to the world. At first glance, it would appear that the Lord is telling us to go out to the world and evangelize. However, there is more to this than simply going out to spread the Gospel (though that is important as well). Rather, being the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ requires some sort of service to the world.

This is why Jesus uses the images of salt that is flavoured and light that is not hidden. Yet, this is not always an easy task to carry out, whether spreading the gospel or serving others. In the secular, and often hostile, environments that many of us often find ourselves in, our desire to do the work of God can often be faced with hostility and rejection. How then are we to obey the call of our Lord? Fortunately, there are Saints who can teach us a thing or two.

Given that it is his feastday today, it is fitting that we look to St Anthony of Padua for inspiration. The Franciscan saint is known for both the simplicity and eloquence of his teachings. The story goes that when a group of heretics refused to listen to him, St Anthony went to preach to the fish. When his critics saw the fish gathering, they apparently began to take closer notice of his teachings. The holiness of St Anthony’s preachings is evident in the fact that his tongue is incorrupt and remains housed in the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua.

Like St Therese of Lisieux, St Anthony did not need fancy rhetoric or platitudes to preach the word of God. Rather, it is the simplicity of his teaching (and his life) that attracted people to this humble friar. Indeed, there is an important lesson for us here. In order to best serve God, we must humbly live out our faith and like St Anthony, continue to be faithful even if the world rejects us for who we are. Like preaching to the fish, we must learn that our faith is not contingent on the approval of others.

Rather, it is for the love of God, and His delight, that we continue to live, in all our little ways, our lives as His faithful children. So it is not always necessary to win every battle. Sometimes, all we need is to pray for our opponents and detractors, rather than try to overcome them. Sometimes, all we need to do is to lift up our daily chores and work to God, entrusting His providence, rather than try to overcome them by sheer human will. At all times, all we need to do is to love and trust in the Lord. For through Him, all things are possible.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the simplicity and humility to live our lives as Your faithful children. We ask also for the prayers and intercessions of our Saints: May we seek to emulate your holy examples.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His Saints, who continue to inspire us and lead us in our daily lives.

12 June, Monday – Living as Spiritual Beings

12 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 1:1-7

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy, one of the brothers, to the church of God at Corinth and to all the saints in the whole of Achaia. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves. Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow. When we are made to suffer, it is for your consolation and salvation. When, instead, we are comforted, this should be a consolation to you, supporting you in patiently bearing the same sufferings as we bear. And our hope for you is confident, since we know that, sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolations.

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Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven: this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.’

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Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”

Today’s Gospel reading is my favourite passage from the Bible. To me, it encapsulates all that Jesus has taught. It prepares us for the suffering that we will face in our faith, but at the same time, reveals to us the gifts that will be showered upon us if we follow in the Lord. In other words, Jesus is giving a pep talk to His pilgrim church, and His words resonate through the ages to us. In fact, the Beatitudes have inspired me so deeply that my wife and I picked it as our Gospel reading for our wedding.

At the heart of the Beatitudes is Jesus’s reminder to us that we are children of God, and hence should be seeking the things of God. Nowhere in the Beatitudes does Jesus promise us material wealth or comfort. Rather, He tells us that those who suffer the opposite of material comfort are the very ones who are blessed. More importantly, the rewards that Jesus holds out to us are spiritual ones – entering the Kingdom of Heaven, being shown mercy, being called children of God, being comforted, etc.

Seen in this light, the Beatitudes resonate in St Augustine’s City of God and St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, both of which have also played crucial roles in my faith and spiritual formation. In their writings, both Saints are essentially reminding us that we are spiritual beings living in a material world, made in by God in His own image. All material goods and possessions pale in comparison to this fabric of divinity that we have been lovingly crafted from. While St Augustine has taught us to cast our eyes to the City of God, St Ignatius continuously reminds us, both in his teaching and in his life, that we are all pilgrims in this life.

So we must act like spiritual beings, rather than material beings. After all, God made us out of His own love and spirit, not mere clay or stone. In today’s secular society, it is often too easy to become enamoured with the wealth and glamour that money and material possessions can bring. But deep inside, we know that none of these could ever compare to the love of God. After all, why do we continually chase these material possessions? Having attained an object of our desire (whether this be money, cars, or handbags), we find ourselves unsatisfied and looking to attain yet another object.

Contrast this with the saints, all of whom have given up their material possessions and found the satisfaction of their lives in doing God’s work. If the Kingdom of Heaven is what we seek, then this is what we must do as well. No amount of money and no number of handbags can ever gain us admission to the loving embrace of our Father in Heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace and strength to live out your Beatitudes as Your faithful disciples.  

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His love and mercy, for it is through these that we are constantly saved from our own waywardness and granted admission to our eternal home.  

11 June, Sunday – Grace, Love and Fellowship

11 June 2017

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Exodus 34:4-6,8-9

With the two tablets of stone in his hands, Moses went up the mountain of Sinai in the early morning as the Lord had commanded him. And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.
He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and faithfulness.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

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2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

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John 3:16-18

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.’

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“that the world might be saved through him”

For most Catholics, the notion of the Holy Trinity is something that is intrinsic to our faith, and deeply familiar in our practice of this faith. We hear it preached by our priests, grace our lips with it during the profession of faith, and in many ways, experience the truth and divinity of the Holy Trinity in our everyday lives. It is through the providence of God that we experience the goodness of our lives. Even the very air we breathe is a gift from Him!

Yet, it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we are given a human incarnation of God: a master, teacher, brother, and friend. When I think of Jesus, the image of the Divine Mercy always comes to mind. The look of infinite mercy in the eyes of the Lord, the streams of red and white emanating from Him, symbolic of His dual nature; fully human and fully divine. I like to think of Jesus as a bridge between us and God. As today’s Gospel passage affirms, it is through Jesus that the world is saved.

Yet, in our busy everyday lives, it is often easy to forget about this important role of Jesus, with our gaze often diverted to our work, social lives, and daily distractions. This is where the third person in the Holy Trinity becomes crucial. While much less is said about the Holy Spirit in scripture, other than the fact that He came down onto Jesus like a dove (John 1: 32) and was sent to the Apostles through the breath of the Lord (John 20:22).

Yet the Holy Spirit continues to be with us, guiding our minds and souls, and animating our friendships and fellowship with each other. This is why St Paul says in today’s readings: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. It is by the grace of our Lord that we are saved, the love of God that we are granted this salvation, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that we continue to spread this salvation to others.

Let us never forget to share this fellowship of the Holy Spirit with others, so that the grace and love of our Lord and God can flow to all around us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace to perceive Your gifts and goodness in our daily lives, and the charity to share these with others.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for always being there for us, in His Triune Majesty. May we never cease to recognize the grace, love, and fellowship that is granted us every single day.

10 June, Saturday – On Prioritising

10 June 2017

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Tobit 12:1,5-15,20

When the feasting was over, Tobit called his son Tobias and said, ‘My son, you ought to think about paying the amount due to your fellow traveller; give him more than the figure agreed on.’ So Tobias called his companion and said, ‘Take half of what you brought back, in payment for all you have done, and go in peace.’

Then Raphael took them both aside and said, ‘Bless God, utter his praise before all the living for all the favours he has given you. Bless and extol his name. Proclaim before all men the deeds of God as they deserve, and never tire of giving him thanks. It is right to keep the secret of a king, yet right to reveal and publish the works of God. Thank him worthily. Do what is good, and no evil can befall you.

‘Prayer with fasting and alms with right conduct are better than riches with iniquity. Better to practise almsgiving than to hoard up gold. Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin. Those who give alms have their fill of days; those who commit sin and do evil, bring harm on themselves.

‘I am going to tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already told you that it is right to keep the secret of a king, yet right too to reveal in worthy fashion the works of God. So you must know that when you and Sarah were at prayer, it was I who offered your supplications before the glory of the Lord and who read them; so too when you were burying the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave the table to go and bury a dead man, I was sent to test your faith, and at the same time God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ever ready to enter the presence of the glory of the Lord.

‘Now bless the Lord on earth and give thanks to God. I am about to return to him above who sent me.’

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Mark 12:38-44

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’

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“But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.”

When we think of the resources at our disposal, two come to mind most prominently – Time and Money. How we commit either speaks volumes about how we view our priorities. Time, especially, becomes more valuable as we get older. There are more commitments fighting for space in our day. We have more responsibilities. But not everything that is urgent, is important or even necessary. My biggest hurdle on weekends is to find time to go to church. There are 5 masses on Sundays at my church, 6 if you count the Saturday evening mass. So it’s funny that trying to find the time to attend weekend mass should be such a challenge. Is it because I don’t make it a non-negotiable priority? My mother goes to mass like clockwork on weekends. She’s committed to it and has made it part of her routine. Wouldn’t it actually be easier if I made the same level of commitment as well? Then I wouldn’t waste so much time agonizing over it?

The woman from the gospel who gave from her poverty reminds us of the value of prioritizing correctly. She looked beyond her present life and gazed into the everlasting. Most of us see only this life, and all the things that we could be doing instead of being at church. Taking the long view though, most of the things that compete for our time will fade away – our jobs, the dinner parties we think are so indispensable, our fair weather friends, the endless charities we sponsor. All these will come to nothing in the end – only God remains. At the gates of reckoning, it won’t be enough to say we couldn’t do the right thing because it wasn’t convenient at the time. Or that we weren’t able to walk away from that conference call to spend an hour with Our Father. Those excuses are feeble even now, never mind at the gates of Heaven. When has God ever said, “It isn’t convenient for me to hear your prayers at the moment” or “Can we take a raincheck, I’m tied up with something else right now”? He meets us when we call, wherever we are; He is always just a prayer away. What kind of children are we to only come to Him when we need something?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to portion our time and money wisely, between God’s needs and our needs.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who comforts us, calms us and aids our faith journeys, wherever we stand.