Thursday, 9 July – Freely, Freely

9 July – St Augustine Zhao Rong & his companions

Augustine Zhao Rong was one of the Chinese soldiers who escorted Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse to his execution. Moved by his patience, he asked to be baptized, and in due course was sent to the seminary and ordained a priest. He was arrested and savagely tortured. He died in 1815.

With him are celebrated 119 of his companions in martyrdom in China between 1648 and 1930 (including Bishop Dufresse).

Official persecution of Christians by the Emperors ceased in 1842, but violent anti-religious sentiments persisted, and in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Christians were particularly attacked and many thousands were killed.

– Universalis

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Genesis 44:18-21,23-29,45:1-5

Judah went up to Joseph and said, ‘May it please my lord, let your servant have a word privately with my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord questioned his servants, “Have you father or brother?” And we said to my lord, “We have an old father, and a younger brother born of his old age. His brother is dead, so he is the only one left of his mother, and his father loves him.” Then you said to your servants, “Bring him down to me that my eyes may look on him.” But you said to your servants, “If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you will not be admitted to my presence again.” When we went back to your servant my father, we repeated to him what my lord had said. So when our father said, “Go back and buy us a little food,” we said, “We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, we will go down, for we cannot be admitted to the man’s presence unless our youngest brother is with us.” So your servant our father said to us, “You know that my wife bore me two children. When one left me, I said that he must have been torn to pieces. And I have not seen him to this day. If you take this one from me too and any harm comes to him, you will send me down to Sheol with my white head bowed in misery.” If I go to your servant my father now, and we have not the boy with us, he will die as soon as he sees the boy is not with us, for his heart is bound up with him. Then your servants will have sent your servant our father down to Sheol with his white head bowed in grief.’

Then Joseph could not control his feelings in front of all his retainers, and he exclaimed, ‘Let everyone leave me.’ No one therefore was present with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers, but he wept so loudly that all the Egyptians heard, and the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.

Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father really still alive?’ His brothers could not answer him, they were so dismayed at the sight of him. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ When they had come closer to him he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not grieve, do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here, since God sent me before you to preserve your lives.’

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Matthew 10:7-15

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge. Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with a few coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the workman deserves his keep.

‘Whatever town or village you go into, ask for someone trustworthy and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his house, salute it, and if the house deserves it, let your peace descend upon it; if it does not, let your peace come back to you. And if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet. I tell you solemnly, on the day of Judgement it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom and Gomorrah as with that town.’

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You received without charge, give without charge.

The talents we have received in our lives may all appear to be of our own doing. Be it the wondrous intelligence we have, the great culinary skills or even that of a good voice, we often believe that these traits are our own gifts and sometimes forget that it is God who has granted us the use of these gifts.

One may then wonder why God has put at our disposal these gifts? These gifts are given to us to glorify the name of God to the people around us. Through our intellect, we can share with others the reasons for believing in God and the use of culinary skills could be the starting point for a discussion over a meal on how God has worked within our lives. The voice we possess could be the way in which others hear the Gospel through the joyful proclamation of the mercies and grace which God has granted to us.

We need to realise that the talents we have are meant to be the leaven of God’s word in a world thirsty and hungry for the Good News. Jesus offers to each one of us a wonderful opportunity to enter into a journey of love and communion with Him. This journey will then become for each one of us the source of which we can continue to spread the Word of God to those around us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Dear Lord, let us discern on how to use the gifts we have to spread your Word.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all Spiritual Directors.

Wednesday, 8 July – Shine, Jesus Shine

8 July 

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Genesis 41:55-57,42:5-7,17-24

When the whole country of Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread. But Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’ There was famine all over the world. Then Joseph opened all the granaries and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine grew worse in the land of Egypt. People came to Egypt from all over the world to buy grain from Joseph, for the famine had grown severe throughout the world.

Israel’s sons with others making the same journey went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan. It was Joseph, as the man in authority over the country, who sold the grain to all comers. So Joseph’s brothers went and bowed down before him, their faces touching the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognised them. But he did not make himself known to them, and he spoke harshly to them. Then he kept them all in custody for three days.

On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you shall keep your lives, for I am a man who fears God. If you are honest men let one of your brothers be kept in the place of your detention; as for you, go and take grain to relieve the famine of your families. You shall bring me your youngest brother; this way your words will be proved true, and you will not have to die!’ This they did. They said to one another, ‘Truly we are being called to account for our brother. We saw his misery of soul when he begged our mercy, but we did not listen to him and now this misery has come home to us.’ Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you did not listen, and now we are brought to account for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood, because there was an interpreter between them. He left them and wept.

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Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows:

‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

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As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.

If the JOYSG50 thanksgiving mass held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was an indication of the future of the Catholic church in Singapore, then the kingdom of heaven is truly close a hand. 10,000 Singaporeans gathered to celebrate our past, sanctify our present and get a glimpse into the future as our beloved Archbishop hosted our Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet before celebrating the eucharist with all of us.

After mass, those who staed behind were treated to a 30-minute performance by a young school choir, complete with ballet dancers, P&W singers, dancing priests, singing nuns as well as priests who picked up electric guitars and rhythm guitars as part of the band. The rousing rendition of ‘Shine Jesus, Shine!’ saw our young Catholics lead the congregation in song and dance and we literally raised the roof.

I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us as we gathered as one body, young and old alike, to worship our heavenly Father. Never before had I seen our shepherds dancing and singing on stage and in the aisles with unrestrained joy. Truly, our God has touched the hearts of many and revived the church here in Singapore. Indeed, when Fr Simon Pereira spoke before the Archbishop, he reminded us that just as the community grew from over 2000 years ago, Singapore’s Catholic community began in 1821 with a mere 12 people. Today, the community numbers around 360,000 (Singaporeans, PR and migrants) and our churches are packed every Sunday.

The sight of so many young people praising and worshipping at the post-mass performance truly lifted my spirits and showed just how important it is for our youth to be able to worship freely and without fear. For this, we must thank our government for recognising the fact that the church has indeed been integral in Singapore’s evolution over the generations; not just in education, but also in many areas such as healthcare and community building.

Brothers and sisters, the light of Christ has been shining on Singapore since the early 1800s and continues to shine brightly today. We must ensure that as sons and daughters of Christ, we carry on the pioneering work of our Catholic forefathers and live out our faith in our daily lives. Whatever our calling, wherever we serve, we must always carry Christ in our hearts and live fearlessly as His disciples, spreading his Word and His message of love to others.   

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for your light to always shine upon us and through us. We ask that you always bless our priests and nuns who selflessly give their lives in service to you so that your light continues to shine forth on all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, heavenly Father, for your blessings upon the Catholic church in Singapore.

Tuesday, 7 July – Jesus My Hero

7 July 

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Genesis 32:23-33

Jacob rose, and taking his two wives and his two slave-girls and his eleven children he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream and sent all his possessions over too. And Jacob was left alone.

And there was one that wrestled with him until daybreak who, seeing that he could not master him, struck him in the socket of his hip, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him. He said, ‘Let me go, for day is breaking.’ But Jacob answered, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ He then asked, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob’, he replied. He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have been strong against God, you shall prevail against men.’ Jacob then made this request, ‘I beg you, tell me your name’, but he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And he blessed him there.

Jacob named the place Peniel, ‘Because I have seen God face to face,’ he said ‘and I have survived.’ The sun rose as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. That is the reason why to this day the Israelites do not eat the sciatic nerve which is in the socket of the hip; because he had struck Jacob in the socket of the hip on the sciatic nerve.

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Matthew 9:32-37

A man was brought to Jesus, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

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And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them

I am awaiting the SG50 mass with a huge sense of excitement and with bated breath. Not since the ordination of our beloved Archbishop in 2013 has there been such a large service planned for Catholics here in Singapore. When my significant other told me that she had managed to get us tickets, my heart skipped a beat and I hurriedly sent a WhatsApp message to my Catholic students chat group, asking who else was going. I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the praise and worship session prior to the start of the mass and I pray that the 10,000 voices gathered will raise the roof and worship in unison.

Because amidst all that is going wrong in the world right now, I truly think that we need to gather en masse as much as possible to pray for a general healing of our planet. The threat of ISIS, the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage across the United States, the senseless loss of lives through famine, earthquakes and heatwaves; much is wrong with the world and it is little wonder then that many are wounded and each day, we read in the papers of people committing all manner of crime.

Brothers and sisters, just as Jacob struggled into the night, we struggle to make sense of all that is going in our lives. We struggle with fear and anxiety at work, with indifference and unforgiveness at home. We struggle with those who love us and we struggle to love those who mean us harm. We plead to the Lord to hear us as we cry out, “Hear, Lord, my plea for justice, pay heed to my cry…” (Ps 17:1A). In our struggles, as our hearts grow weary, do we allow the Lord to come into our hearts and to make His home within it? Or are we so caught up in our efforts that we fail to recognise the silent voice of God saying to us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you my child.” I heard that voice and saw that image of Jesus as He put His arm around my shoulders a few years back and till today, I never fail to be moved by the memory and believe that as one body of Christ, we must all pray fervently for the healing of our Church and of the whole world at large.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Mother Mary, we pray for you to intercede for all the wounded souls who are in need of healing. Cover them with your blue mantle of peace and help them heal.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for all our priests who selflessly give of themselves each and every day of their lives. Help them in their struggles as they minister to all of us.

Monday, 6 July – His Healing Touch

5 July – St Maria Goretti

Maria Goretti (1890-1902) was a beautiful and pious farm girl, one of six children of Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. In 1896 the family moved to Ferriere di Conca. Soon after, Maria’s father died of malaria, and the family was forced to move onto the Serenelli farm to survive.

In 1902, at the age of 12, Maria was attacked by 19-year-old farm hand Alessandro Serenelli. He tried to rape the girl who fought, yelled that it was a sin, and that he would go to hell. He tried to choke her into submission, then stabbed her 14 times. She survived in hospital for two days, forgave her attacker, asked God’s forgiveness of him, and died holding a crucifix and medal of Our Lady. She is counted as a martyr.

While in prison for his crime, Alessandro had a vision of Maria. He saw a garden where a young girl, dressed in white, gathered lilies. She smiled, came near him, and encouraged him to accept an armful of lilies. As he took them, each lily transformed into a still white flame. Maria then disappeared. This vision of Maria led to Alessandro’s conversion, and he later testified at her cause for beatification.

– Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he had reached a certain place he passed the night there, since the sun had set. Taking one of the stones to be found at that place, he made it his pillow and lay down where he was. He had a dream: a ladder was there, standing on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and there were angels of God going up it and coming down. And the Lord was there, standing over him, saying, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants shall be like the specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.

Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Truly, the Lord is in this-place and I never knew it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than a house of God; this is the gate of heaven!’ Rising early in the morning, Jacob took the stone he had used for his pillow, and set it up as a monument, pouring oil over the top of it. He named the place Bethel, but before that the town was called Luz.

 Jacob made this vow, ‘If God goes with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return home safely to my father, then the Lord shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.’

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Matthew 9:18-26

While Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’ Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the woman was well again.

When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.

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If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be well again.

The week gone by was a rather interesting one. Half my team were down with some illness ot another, two were on leave and I myself was fighting a cough that kept me up most nights. We hosted an overseas delegation (including a dinner), after which was a key event involving most of my senior management spanning two days, which coincided with the graduation showcase of one of our overseas universities. To cap it all off, there was a ‘live’ on-camera interview late on Friday night, which I had to be present for.

So I was truly looking forward to the 4th Saturday healing service at CSC at the end of the week. Looking back, I recall one of my staff remarking at the beginning of the week that it was ‘going to be crazy’. But come Saturday night, as I finally put my feet up to reflect, I knew that the Lord was sustaining me and had reassuringly been by my side the entire week.

There are many who attend the 4th Saturday healing service at CSC and at this particular service, Fr Erbin, our spiritual director, exhorted us to look deep into our hearts and to reflect on what exactly we were asking for when we asked the Lord for healing. Many come asking for physical, mental, or emotional healing. However, should we instead be asking for the grace to embrace the crosses that He puts on us? Because our healing may come only as a result of our willingness to bear the pain and suffering that we endure on a daily basis.

As I continue on my spiritual recovery journey and begin to unearth more about myself and share my innermost thoughts and feelings with my brothers in the discipleship group, I am beginning to understand how some people can have a strong sense of conviction that the Lord is indeed a loving and merciful God. And that no matter what happens in our lives, He is truly a God that heals, a God that cares and a God that loves each and everyone one of us in spite of our shortcomings.

Brothers and sisters, when it comes to healing, it is not for us to tell the Lord how we should be healed. Rather, we should reach out to Him each day in prayer and encounter Him in the Eucharist at daily mass. It is through touching God through our hearts that we start to understand how His healing works in us and through us.        

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, as we reach out to touch you, give us the grace to embrace our sufferings and to see them as part of our healing journey towards you and your kingdom.

Thanksgiving: Father, we thank you for all those who pray and intercede for us.

Sunday, 5 July – Our Special Boast

5 July 

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Ezekiel 2:2-5

The spirit came into me and made me stand up, and I heard the Lord speaking to me. He said, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebels who have turned against me. Till now they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me. The sons are defiant and obstinate; I am sending you to them, to say, “The Lord says this.” Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’

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2 Corinthians 12:7-10

In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud! About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me.

What is truth? Is there such a thing as the Truth? This is not merely a recent question of these weeks past, or even of our post-modern society. The search for Truth, and the debate surrounding the reality of any objective Truth at all, has nudged mankind since the beginning of time. As Christians, we must cling first and fast to the Truth of God. The God, the Creator of all things seen and unseen; as a Trinitarian unity of Godhead as three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is reality itself, and a thing we can not deny. By our submission to this humble acknowledgement, will we begin an authentic search for answers to many other questions that will certainly arise in our earthly existence.

‘Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’ Ezekiel 2:5 reveals to us the God-given gift of free will — that each person has a choice to believe or not; to listen or not. But with every single choice of our own — be it good or bad, informed or ignorant — consequences follow. As faithful Catholic Christians, we need to live out three aspects of our faith. First, we seek in good conscience, to ground ourselves in sound Church doctrine and theology; second, we clothe our entire body, mind and spirit in the greatest of all truths which is the Love of God as revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ; and third, we recognise that Original Sin afflicts all of humanity, and yet by faith, we are called to the daily struggle of allowing God’s grace and power to work with and through all of our weaknesses. One without the other will result in a great imbalance to our perspective: in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, and our relationships with our fellow man. Without love, we could be harsh and legalistic to extremes (1 Corinthians 13:2). But sentimental love without knowledge of the Truth of our Faith, would make us like houses built on sand and we be found wanting in the ability to give a reason for the hope that is in us (Matthew 7:24-27; 1 Peter 3:15).

When I was younger and less knowledgable and fervent in my love for Jesus, marred in part by a malformed image of God, I struggled so much to give a firm reason for my faith and hope. I recall being tested repeatedly by atheists, agnostics, and even Protestant Christian friends who sought to enlighten me or try my beliefs. Sadly, back then, I floundered and did not bother much to seek for my own answers because I wanted, most of all, to be accepted by many. At the same time, I share in the pain of those who have been told off: because you too sin in such-and-such ways, you have no right to tell me that I sin. Because, who in this life and world can claim to be perfectly blameless?

How then do we reconcile the hard Truth of our Faith and put on the garment of Love in our Christian mission? In this day and age, it seems we are tried and found wanting in the exhortations of St Paul. Love and Truth are not incompatible. Love does not sugarcoat Truth; neither does it, for the sake of compassion and harmony, accept all sorts of untruths. As Father Robert Barron has said, we must avoid confusing sentimentality for Love. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for being a devout Christian and trying to live faithful lives in this world. Persecutions and accusations, rightly or wrongly, will come our way. We must accept humbly that we cannot be loved by all in this world and in these fractured times (John 15:19). At the same time, we need not unlovingly and spitefully press our faith and beliefs up at others’ noses, just as we do not appreciate the same being done to us. First, comes love.

By this, I mean: I have realised that the common denominator of being human is our shared struggle to comprehend many unavoidable realities: pain, suffering, rejection, death, loneliness, losses and failures, betrayal, humiliation, persecution, being unloved and abandoned. I encourage everyone to identify first, these wounds in each other, and seek to build each other up in the ultimate Truth of being first-loved by a God who is always near and suffering with us (1 John 4:19; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 3:18). This is how we can see the face of Christ in each other (Matthew 25:40). Let us not be afraid to partake in the shared weaknesses of each person, and make our own weaknesses our special boast (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) as St Paul proclaims, “I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christs sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.”

In the final analysis, only God shall judge. We will not be judged by each other, although we may face the judgements of our fellow men. This does go both ways. May we, as faithful Christians, be the first to minister and serve our fellow man through this baby step of love. Only with the cornerstone of Christ’s love and example, can we build a bridge of dialogue, to one day, invite them to the table to share the Truth of a Great God who loves us all. This is our special boast!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: We ask the great Cloud of Witnesses who have gone before us, holy men and women past and present, brothers and sisters in Christ, to pray with us for the grace to seek first to understand and not be understood; the wisdom to know what to say and when to say it; and the strength to hold fast to our faith and convictions. But most of all, the courage to love and pray for those who hate us. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for by your death and resurrection, you have overcome the world with Love. Thank you for first loving us while we were still sinners. Help us to love you more by being love to others.

Saturday, 4 July – Scent of the Son

Dear Readers,

We apologize for the delay in the posting and sending of today’s reflection, due to a technical error that we experienced last night. Thank you for your patience and continued support. God bless you!

– The Oxygen team

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4 July – St Elizabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth (1271-1336) was a princess with a pious upbringing who became Queen of Portugal before she was a teenager. Elizabeth suffered through years of her husband’s abuse and adultery, praying all the while for his conversion, and working with the poor and sick. She rode onto the battlefield to reconcile her family members twice; once between her husband and son when they clashed in civil war, and between her son and his son-in-law years later, preventing bloodshed. This led to her patronage as a peacemaker, and as one invoked in time of war and conflict.

– Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 27:1-5,15-29

Isaac had grown old, and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see. He summoned his elder son Esau, ‘My son!’ he said to him, and the latter answered, ‘I am here.’ Then he said, ‘See, I am old and do not know when I may die. Now take your weapons, your quiver and bow; go out into the country and hunt me some game. Make me the kind of savoury I like and bring it to me, so that I may eat, and give you my blessing before I die.’

Rebekah happened to be listening while Isaac was talking to his son Esau. So when Esau went into the country to hunt game for his father, Rebekah took her elder son Esau’s best clothes, which she had in the house, and dressed her younger son Jacob in them, covering his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skins of the kids. Then she handed the savoury and the bread she had made to her son Jacob.

He presented himself before his father and said, ‘Father.’ ‘I am here;’ was the reply ‘who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your first-born; I have done as you told me. Please get up and take your place and eat the game I have brought and then give me your blessing.’ Isaac said to his son, ‘How quickly you found it, my son!’ ‘It was the Lord your God’ he answered ‘who put it in my path.’ Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come here, then, and let me touch you, my son, to know if you are my son Esau or not.’ Jacob came close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice but the arms are the arms of Esau!’ He did not recognise him, for his arms were hairy like his brother Esau’s, and so he blessed him. He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ And he replied, ‘I am.’ Isaac said, ‘Bring it here that I may eat the game my son has brought, and so may give you my blessing.’ He brought it to him and he ate; he offered him wine, and he drank. His father Isaac said to him, ‘Come closer, and kiss me, my son.’ He went closer and kissed his father, who smelled the smell of his clothes.

He blessed him, saying:

‘Yes, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a fertile field blessed by the Lord.
May God give you
dew from heaven,
and the richness of the earth,
abundance of grain and wine!
May nations serve you
and peoples bow down before you!
Be master of your brothers;
may the sons of your mother bow down before you!
Cursed be he who curses you;
blessed be he who blesses you!’

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Matthew 9:14-17

John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunken cloth on to an old cloak, because the patch pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost. No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.’

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The smell of my son is like the smell of a fertile field blessed by the Lord

Rebekah’s first born was clearly her favourite. After all, she wanted him to be the leader of their clan and wanted him to be exalted, despite knowing that God wanted Esau to be the one who would carry out God’s promises. She went to the deceitful extent of allowing her Jacob to wear Esau’s clothes and because of this, she received a punishment unbearable to any mother — to be separated from her son, Jacob. Sometimes, when we alter God’s plan, we suffer because we have moved away from His perfect plan.

Today, the Pharisees continue to ask Jesus why his disciples don’t adhere to the law of fasting, more to find fault with them; they are not really interested to learn about His will or His ways. In prayer, do we have the same motive when we ask God, ‘why me’ accusing Him of forsaking us? Is it our way of mocking Him because we cannot trust Him enough?

Our relationship with the Lord is likened to many things. While He is our Father who knows how we smell, He is the shepherd and we are His sheep who know His voice; He is the bridegroom at a feast and we celebrate Him. Jesus uses so many ways to illustrate who He is to us.

If we draw parallels to our human relationships, we can understand how our God who truly loves us, adores us and nurtures us. He is as real as any other member of our family. He sees us when we are evading His call and He knows when we are being manipulative to get our way. He also sees us with great mercy because He knows we are trying to reach Him in a way we know best.

Today, are we blinded by favouritism in our household and in the workplace? Are we honest to our elderly parents who are dependent on us? Are we truthful to our spouses, by upholding our marital vows as parents? And are we leaving a legacy of obedience and faith for generations to follow?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

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Prayer: Lord, help us to hear Your voice. Make us truthful children who obey You, and faithful disciples who are always able to listen to Your voice and answer Your call.

Thanksgiving: Our Lord is greater than all others we ever know. We will love you by living a life of truth.

Friday, 3 July – Believe and Yet Not Seen

3 July – St Thomas

The apostle Thomas is famous for doubting the resurrection of Jesus when his fellow apostles told him about it; but if he is the sceptical apostle, he is also the believing apostle, for having seen and touched a risen man, he made the immediate leap of faith and so became the first apostle to call Jesus God.

Nothing is known about Thomas’s later career. A well-known apocryphal document called the Acts of Thomas relates his missionary journeys to Persia and India. Although the document as it stands is not historical evidence (it was written to provide evidence for certain heretical Gnostic teachings), it still bears witness to the likelihood of a tradition that Thomas did go to India. If you are writing something that you intend to use to convince people of a controversial doctrine, you do not invent completely new facts: instead, you weave the existing facts and traditions into something that suits your purpose. Thus the very fact that the heretics used a journey of St Thomas to support their case shows us that, in the third century at least, there would have seemed nothing implausible about such a journey. The journey would have been easy enough – important trade routes lay that way – and if some of the apostles went west, to Rome, the centre of the world, there is no reason why some others should not have chosen to go east, to the edge of the known world.

We will probably never know for certain; but the Christians of Kerala have called themselves for centuries “St Thomas Christians”, and they may very well be right.

– Universalis

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Ephesians 2:19-22

You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.

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John 20:24-29

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

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You believe because you can see me

It is interesting that we continue to have faith in the operators of theme parks, sellers of miracle skin care ranges and diet supplements, and even each other. But when it comes to believing God, we can sometimes be sceptical.

While writing this piece, I was trying to find out if the Apostle Thomas ever came to Malaysia, since he was in India. After spending some time researching I wondered why was it so important to me, that one of the apostles of Jesus walked on the same land as I do today. Would I have doubted Jesus’ resurrection like Thomas did?

We are all sinners and yet our perfect God continues to believe in us. We have failed, not kept to His word or ours and yet it is He who chooses to continue believing in us. Why would the Lord of all the earth, whose credibility is spotless and accountability unquestionable, be the object of our doubts? Sometimes it is because we simply lack faith; but sometimes, I think we feel that we are close enough to Jesus that we could ask Him as Thomas did. After journeying with Jesus, Thomas must have really loved Jesus and just as we would sometimes think of our departed loves, Thomas yearned to see His Lord again just once more. In his grief, he could have been disappointed that the others had seen Jesus, but not himself.

If I were in his shoes, I could imagine the pain he would have felt. That the Saviour appears to all his friends except him and the feelings that arose may not be of jealously and envy, but simply because of the deep yearning to see the One he loves. Look at his response, “My Lord and My God.” He did not question Him when they met face to face.

This could be a familiar feeling to some of us when a loved one who lives abroad comes home on a visit. One of my close friends lived abroad for 20 years. We kept in touch, writing letters, phone calls, emails, Skype sessions and sending each other cards for birthdays, Christmas and sometimes just for no occasion at all.  On most of her visits, we got to meet each other at the airport as she stayed at my place. On her more recent visits, it was challenging for us to meet. In her conversations, she would sometimes mention that she met one of our mutual friends and if on her trip home, we had yet to meet, I would yearn just to see her and be in her presence. In anticipation of our face to face meeting we both yearned just to see each other, which is not uncommon among good friends.

In Thomas’ case, he was not just friends with Jesus. He knew that Jesus Christ was his Lord. In that same sense, when we move away from Christ because of our lifestyles or because we stop praying and receiving Holy Communion, there is such a deep longing within us for Him that we feel lost and sometimes we even ache inside.

Today, let us continue to foster this friendship with our Father. Let us ask Him to come and show Himself to us. And when He does (because He surely will) let us embrace His words, His ways and His truth. Let us boldly place our hands in His wounds to address the suffering faced by others around us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Heal our unbelief in You. Lead us to a friendship and total sonship with You that in every situation we would believe, though we have not seen. St Thomas, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: O My Lord and My God, we long for You. Our souls are restless until they rest in You.

Thursday, 2 July – Your Only One

2 July

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Genesis 22:1-19

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son. Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’

Abraham went back to his servants, and together they set out for Beersheba, and he settled in Beersheba.

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Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus got in the boat, crossed the water and came to his own town. Then some people appeared, bringing him a paralytic stretched out on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven.’ And at this some scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts? Now, which of these is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘get up, and pick up your bed and go off home.’ And the man got up and went home. A feeling of awe came over the crowd when they saw this, and they praised God for giving such power to men.

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I know you fear God

There is a saying in Tamil, “Your only one, is your beloved one.” this is in reference to single children household or a family that has one child of either gender. Our Asian culture certainly knows the value of this only beloved child.

In today’s reading, God is asking Abraham to offer his only son, one who is born of him and his wife Sarah in old age, and one whom God himself has chosen to be the heir of Abraham for generations.

Personally I admire two things about Abraham — his unwavering faith and his absolute obedience. He never questioned the orders of the Lord though it probably did not make sense to him. Rather, because of his reverence and obedience, he started off early in the day so that he can do as God had asked of Him, not doubting God’s plan at any point.

Abraham is the kind of guy all the good Christians girls would desire as a husband and all mothers will want as a son and all children would want as a father. Imagine if Abraham sets off early with the plan to never return with your son or, as your father, take you on your last journey as a sacrifice. We can be so selective in what we admire about a person without accepting them in all totality and this alone is the root cause of many misunderstandings we face today. How half-hearted and shallow can we get, that our hearts desire a man whose entire being is set apart for God but refuse to support His obedience because we’d rather have children when we are younger or even go as far as suggesting an alternative to the sacrifice God had requested?

We live in times where we encourage others to join the religious orders or serve in ministry when we ourselves would rather focus on our careers and families. How often have we advised others to wait on the Lord when we have doubted that He will answer our own prayers? Do we recognise our deceitfulness as we pay lip service on their leadership in ministry when we would not want to make a commitment to serve, let alone to take a step to walk in their shoes?

None of us are Abraham, but I believe that we all have the ability to have that same kind of faith and obedience. The next time there is call to serve, can we be the first to sign up? When there is a vocation camp, could parents encourage their own children to attend and, as singles, can we eagerly pursue this path of obedience and faith?

Today, let us examine the ways in which we can be more faithful and obedient to our Lord, our parents, our spouses, our priests and bosses (teachers). What characteristic of Abraham would we like to emulate?

If Abraham lived in our times, would we accept his faith and obedience? Are there people in our midst who, like Abraham, do whatever the Lord asks of him? Do we consider it faith or rather classify them as one who have flown of the nest.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father, create in us a heart to obey You and have faith in You. Help us to encourage each other by setting an example to serve, give, forgive and sacrifice in our parishes and communities.

Thanksgiving: May Your will be done and Your kingdom come. Thank You Lord that You have planted in us the desire so great to want to love You through our faith and obedience.

Wednesday, 1 July – Welcomed or Asked to Leave?

1 July

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Genesis 21:5,8-20

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham gave a great banquet on the day Isaac was weaned. Now Sarah watched the son that Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. ‘Drive away that slave-girl and her son,’ she said to Abraham; ‘this slave-girl’s son is not to share the inheritance with my son Isaac.’ This greatly distressed Abraham because of his son, but God said to him, ‘Do not distress yourself on account of the boy and your slave-girl. Grant Sarah all she asks of you, for it is through Isaac that your name will be carried on. But the slave-girl’s son I will also make into a nation, for he is your child too.’ Rising early next morning Abraham took some bread and a skin of water and, giving them to Hagar, he put the child on her shoulder and sent her away.

She wandered off into the wilderness of Beersheba. When the skin of water was finished she abandoned the child under a bush. Then she went and sat down at a distance, about a bowshot away, saying to herself, ‘I cannot see the child die.’ So she sat at a distance; and the child wailed and wept.

But God heard the boy wailing, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. ‘What is wrong, Hagar?’ he asked. ‘Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry where he lies. Come, pick up the boy and hold him safe, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well, so she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy. He grew up and made his home in the wilderness, and he became a bowman.

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Matthew 8:28-34

When Jesus reached the country of the Gadarenes on the other side, two demoniacs came towards him out of the tombs – creatures so fierce that no one could pass that way. They stood there shouting, ‘What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the time?’ Now some distance away there was a large herd of pigs feeding, and the devils pleaded with Jesus, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ And he said to them, ‘Go then’, and they came out and made for the pigs; and at that the whole herd charged down the cliff into the lake and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off and made for the town, where they told the whole story, including what had happened to the demoniacs. At this the whole town set out to meet Jesus; and as soon as they saw him they implored him to leave the neighbourhood.

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The poor man called; the Lord heard him.

It is a pertinent question to ask, if we would welcome the Lord or ask Him to leave when He visits ‘our district.’ I would guess that most of us have done both in different circumstances; we welcome Him when His ways meet ours and have asked Him to leave when we want our way. It is as if our faith is one of choice, of when we want Him or when we know better than Him and choose to ask Him to leave us alone, like a rebellious child would.

In a conversation with some friends recently, one of them was adamant that a certain guy was not for her and that she wanted a certain ‘type’ of man as her future husband. She had also previously declared that she would always choose the will of God and, during her discernment journey, she discovered that she was called to a different vocation other than marriage. As I listened to her, I realised that just like her, we can all fall into the trap of saying that we want His will to be done in our lives but at the same time we are fixated on our own agendas; after all, ‘free will’ is a gift to us, as we commonly say to justify the times we choose our will over His. Like my friend, we are at times on a different journey until we start following His plans for us.

Today, are we parents who uphold the teachings of Mother church in raising our children or are we giving in to the demands of keeping up with the ‘intellectual’ and ‘innovative’ society we live in? As children, have we become so independent that we are detached from our parents? As parishioners, what is the extent of our care and concern for our priests? Do we celebrate them only during the sacraments and dismiss them when we have a difference of opinion on their method of ‘shepherding’?

What are the areas in our lives that we have not invited God into? Like the people in Gadarenes, are we hung up on a power struggle in our families and workplace that we are afraid to have God in our midst? Do we treat God as a magician who gives us all we need while we dismiss His gentle voice when He calls us to serve in His Kingdom, give up a habitual sin or let go of an ungodly relationship?

Little Ishamel cried and the Lord answered, with water for him to drink. It is obvious the works of the Lord that are depicted in today’s readings show us that God has mercy for those who are abandoned, thirsty, possessed, forgotten, even those with a half-hearted sacrifice. He is our Father, He will hear our cry, a cry that is poor because we need Him everyday and we want to welcome Him today.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father God, we welcome you to be the presider of our lives, our dreams, hopes and fears. We want You to be the Lord of our families, our jobs, our future and our ministry life. Help us to listen to You all the time.

Thanksgiving: Father we praise You, we worship and adore You, for in Your eyes we are precious and You always listen to our cries.

Tuesday, 30 June – Jesus My Hero

30 June – First Martyrs of the See of Rome

When the city of Rome had been devastated by fire in the year 64, the Emperor Nero launched a persecution against the Christians, who were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena or soaked in tar and used as living torches. Their deaths are documented in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus and in Pope St Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. Their feast was celebrated the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

– Universalis

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Genesis 19:15-29

The angels urged Lot, ‘Come, take your wife and these two daughters of yours, or you will be overwhelmed in the punishment of the town.’ And as he hesitated, the men took him by the hand, and his wife and his two daughters, because of the pity the Lord felt for him. They led him out and left him outside the town.

As they were leading him out he said, ‘Run for your life. Neither look behind you nor stop anywhere on the plain. Make for the hills if you would not be overwhelmed.’ ‘No, I beg you, my lord,’ Lot said to them ‘your servant has won your favour and you have shown great kindness to me in saving my life. But I could not reach the hills before this calamity overtook me, and death with it. The town over there is near enough to flee to, and is a little one. Let me make for that – is it not little? – and my life will be saved.’ He answered, ‘I grant you this favour too, and will not destroy the town you speak of. Hurry, escape to it, for I can do nothing until you reach it.’ That is why the town is named Zoar.

As the sun rose over the land and Lot entered Zoar, the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord. He overthrew these towns and the whole plain, with all the inhabitants of the towns, and everything that grew there. But the wife of Lot looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Rising early in the morning Abraham went to the place where he had stood before the Lord, and looking towards Sodom and Gomorrah, and across all the plain, he saw the smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Thus it was that when God destroyed the towns of the plain, he kept Abraham in mind and rescued Lot out of disaster when he overwhelmed the towns where Lot lived.

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Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus got into the boat followed by his disciples. Without warning a storm broke over the lake, so violent that the waves were breaking right over the boat. But he was asleep. So they went to him and woke him saying, ‘Save us, Lord, we are going down!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’ And with that he stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and all was calm again. The men were astounded and said, ‘Whatever kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.’

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Even the winds and the sea obey him

I was driving after work one evening when a huge tropical storm erupted. It rained down so heavily that visibility was reduced because of the pelting rain. Soon afterwards, the wind blew fiercely and caused the barriers at construction sites to be flung on the road in disarray, with some even flying ferociously in front of oncoming traffic.

I was a little terrified and starting praying while continuing to drive. I was aware of the potential danger of being on the road at the time but I knew that God was with me on that journey.

Our Heavenly Father is much like a parent who deserves trust and we His children are called to trust Him even while we are sick, suffering, unemployed, confused, depressed, angry, hurting, persecuted and even abused. Whatever our storm is, we His children need to trust that He will save us, just like how He put on hold His plans of destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah so that Lot and his family would be saved. Our Lord will definitely do everything and anything to save us because there is no doubt that He has our best interests at heart.

If today we are consumed by self-pity, entrenched with fear or crippled by our lack of trust in the God who saves us, let’s have an instant change of heart and mind. Today, let us assume the obedience of Lot and Abraham that despite their trials continued to trust God and were men of steadfast faith.

If even the seas obey Him and we are His, what is expected of us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, our Father, create in us a heart of total trust in You. No matter what we are facing today, we know that You care for us and love us. Help us to have faith in You even when we feel that we are down in the pits.

Thanksgiving: Daddy God, thank you for saving us even if we don’t trust You completely.