9 June, Thursday – Perfectly Flawed

9 June – Memorial for St. Ephrem of Syria, deacon and Doctor of the Church

St. Ephrem (306-373) was baptized at age 18. He helped to evangelize Nisibis, Mesopotamia. He may have attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. He was a deacon and preacher, and had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In 363 Nisibis was ceded to Persia, and great persecution of Christians began. St. Ephrem led an exodus of the faithful to Edessa, where he founded a theological school. He helped introduce the use of hymns in public worship, wrote poems and hymns, and used them to fight Gnosticism and Arianism. In 1920, St. Ephrem was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Kings 18:41-46

Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.’ While Ahab went back to eat and drink, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel and bowed down to the earth, putting his face between his knees. ‘Now go up,’ he told his servant ‘and look out to the sea.’ He went up and looked. ‘There is nothing at all’ he said. ‘Go back seven times’ Elijah said. The seventh time, the servant said, ‘Now there is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea.’ Elijah said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness the chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”’ And with that the sky grew dark with cloud and storm, and rain fell in torrents. Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and tucking up his cloak he ran in front of Ahab as far as the outskirts of Jezreel.

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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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You will not be released until you have paid the last penny

My neighborhood church sits high on a hill, looking out to sea. Her building is modest, but her heart is big. When you enter, you’re greeted by a twenty foot wooden sculpture of Jesus with his arms outstretched. The cross of Calvary looms large behind him. It’s a big structure, but it isn’t foreboding. It’s embracing – which is how I felt the first time I sat in those pews. I felt embraced.

Joining a church is like starting a relationship. In the beginning, you’re overwhelmed by feelings of warmth and happiness. You feel loved and accepted. It is only after a few months in, when you start getting involved in ministry, that you begin to see things that don’t exactly sit right with you. That has started to happen to me. And I have had to take a step back to remind myself that one or two bad experiences should not color how much I love this body of God’s people. And how even after two years, there are more things that I love about it, than there are things that exasperate me.

To aim for that standard of perfection, or at least to expect it in church is to fall into the trap that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel reading. Very often, I hear complaints of how, “I can’t believe he/she is Catholic!” or “Why do these people behave that way? They’re supposed to be Catholics!” I’ve been guilty of the same indignation myself. But Catholics aren’t born flawless. If we were, we wouldn’t need salvation as Jesus says, we would have a righteousness that ‘surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees’. We wouldn’t need Christ to save us. And that just makes no sense.

God’s commandment to us was, above all, to love one another as I’ve loved you. Make no mistake, there were times when our Shepherd himself grew frustrated (e.g. in Luke 9:37-56, when he rebukes his apostles for their unbelief, pride and general bone-headedness). But he never gave up, despite their failings. So who are we to walk away from our ministry because we feel frustrated, disillusioned and betrayed by our brothers and sisters in Christ? Is there some way we can rebuke to correct, as Jesus did, without becoming bitter, angry and resentful? Pray today for Christ to help us break through our disenchantment. Return to the ministry that you walked away from. Adopt Christ’s embracing heart and return to the fold.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who have fallen away from the church because of disillusionment.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those whom God sends to love us despite ourselves.

8 June, Wednesday – Divided

8 June

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1 Kings 18:20-39

Ahab called all Israel together and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped out in front of all the people. ‘How long’ he said ‘do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.’ But the people never said a word. Elijah then said to them, ‘I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given us; let them choose one for themselves, dismember it and lay it on the wood, but not set fire to it. I in my turn will prepare the other bull, but not set fire to it. You must call on the name of your god, and I shall call on the name of mine; the god who answers with fire, is God indeed.’ The people all answered, ‘Agreed!’ Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one bull and begin, for there are more of you. Call on the name of your god but light no fire.’ They took the bull and prepared it, and from morning to midday they called on the name of Baal. ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they cried, but there was no voice, no answer, as they performed their hobbling dance round the altar they had made. Midday came, and Elijah mocked them. ‘Call louder,’ he said ‘for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.’ So they shouted louder and gashed themselves, as their custom was, with swords and spears until the blood flowed down them. Midday passed, and they ranted on until the time the offering is presented; but there was no voice, no answer, no attention given to them.

Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’, and all the people came closer to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord which had been broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, ‘Israel shall be your name’, and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Round the altar he dug a trench of a size to hold two measures of seed. He then arranged the wood, dismembered the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the holocaust and on the wood’; this they did. He said, ‘Do it a second time’; they did it a second time. He said, ‘Do it a third time’; they did it a third time. The water flowed round the altar and the trench itself was full of water. At the time when the offering is presented, Elijah the prophet stepped forward. ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,’ he said ‘let them know today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, the Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts.’

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust and wood and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this they fell on their faces. ‘The Lord is God,’ they cried, ‘the Lord is God.’

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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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How long will you straddle this issue

What chaos on Mount Carmel – the hawing bulls, the screams, the blood, the self-flagellation. The anger and fury of the masses, recorded in such graphic detail, is a reflection of the turmoil we face when we don’t have God in our lives. The reading in 1 Kings occurs at the tail-end of a natural disaster. No rain has fallen for three years now. The drought and the ensuing famine have pushed the people to mad desperation. And desperate people make bad choices. In that context, godlessness isn’t such an incomprehensible concept. When we are pushed against the wall, how would we ourselves choose, if we don’t have His word in our hearts?

Cultivating God in our hearts is a long process. In times of abundance and plenty, we seek pleasure, physical beauty and self-fulfillment before we seek God. Just open any Instagram feed and there you have it! Jesus summarized it as “… whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven”. Too often we hear the words ‘empower yourself’ bandied around like a mantra. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that are supposed to be ‘uplifting’, how we are to ‘commit to yourself’ or ‘respect yourself’ or how we are to ‘have faith in your strength’. Physical perfection is celebrated and spiritualized, self-fulfillment is applauded, celebrity is fetishized as if these were the paths to a more enlightened existence. But they’re not. When push really comes to shove, it all crumbles because these are nothing but the ‘false gods’ of our time.

We are not really that far removed from the chaos on Mount Carmel. We descend into vitriolic on social media. We hiss and cuss at each other, we scream angry pronouncements. So how different are we than the confused mob at the altar of Baal? Our hearts are just as divided, our thoughts equally confused. The times might have change, but the issues remain the same. “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images” – Hosea 10:2

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern the ‘false gods’ in our lives and to tread warily.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the force that centers us around His will and His word.

7 June, Tuesday – Purpose

7 June

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1 Kings 17:7-16

The stream in the place where Elijah lay hidden dried up, for the country had no rain. And then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, ‘Up and go to Zarephath, a Sidonian town, and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to give you food.’ So he went off to Sidon. And when he reached the city gate, there was a widow gathering sticks; addressing her he said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a vessel for me to drink.’ She was setting off to bring it when he called after her. ‘Please’ he said ‘bring me a scrap of bread in your hand.’ ‘As the Lord your God lives,’ she replied ‘I have no baked bread, but only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am just gathering a stick or two to go and prepare this for myself and my son to eat, and then we shall die.’ But Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said; but first make a little scone of it for me and bring it to me, and then make some for yourself and for your son. For thus the Lord speaks, the God of Israel:

“Jar of meal shall not be spent,
jug of oil shall not be emptied,
before the day when the Lord sends
rain on the face of the earth.”’

The woman went and did as Elijah told her and they ate the food, she, himself and her son. The jar of meal was not spent nor the jug of oil emptied, just as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.

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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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Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

I think the older we get, the more we are able to discern when the things we are doing is NOT God’s purpose for us. The hardest thing for me has been to yield to His will rather than apply my logic and common sense. Living God’s purpose is a tough walk because faith shows you only the next step. And I’m the sort that reads the spoilers before I watch a movie.

Yesterday we read that Elijah set up camp by a stream during the drought and was sustained by its fresh water and the pickings of wild ravens. Well, that spring dries up in today’s reading. Logic would have told Elijah that if no rain fell, this was a probable outcome at some point and perhaps camping out there might not have been the best idea in the first place. But God was not ready for the prophet to meet the widow in Zarephath. “To every thing there is a season, and a time and purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) And here lies the first truth in today’s readings – that God will show us our purpose at His appointed time. Our job is just to buckle down and have faith enough to trust Him with the timing of things.

The widow whom God designated to help Elijah had not the means to help even herself, but she did so anyway. Very often, we will get asked to step up to a role that we feel we are woefully ill-equipped to do. While the temptation is often to just give up because it is too hard, staying the course can yield surprising results. And that’s the second truth in today’s readings – our scarcity and weakness is an opportunity for God to show His abundant blessings. In fully trusting Him to aid our endeavors, we open ourselves to a life enriched. If she had turned Elijah away, she would never have witnessed the miracle of God’s grace. It must have occurred to her that she shouldn’t spend her last bit of flour on a wild man from the desert. But logic did not prevail and God gave her the opportunity to live out His purpose for her.

When we fail to step up to a calling – because we say we have no time for it, or are too busy, or don’t have the qualifications for the job – do we ever wonder what riches we are denying ourselves in that missed opportunity? If our light is to shine before others, are we doing enough to grasp the opportunities that He sends our way? Food for thought.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the mindfulness and the discernment to walk away from that which does not serve us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the opportunities He sends our way and the reserves of strength that He gives us to step up to our roles.

6 June, Monday – Willing Suspension of Disbelief

6 June – Memorial for St. Norbert, bishop, religious founder

St. Norbert (1080-1134) had been born to the nobility and raised around the royal court. There he developed a very worldly view, taking holy orders as a career move when he joined the Benedictines. A narrow escape from death led him to a conversion experience, and taking his vows seriously.

He founded a community of Augustinian canons, starting a reform movement that swept through European monastic houses. St. Norbert also reformed the clergy in his see, using force when necessary. He worked with St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Hugh of Grenoble to heal the schism caused by the death of Pope Honorius II, and for heresy in Cambrai, France with the help of St. Waltmann. He is one of the patron saints of peace.

-Patron Saint Index

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1 Kings 17:1-6

Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years except at my order.’
The word of the Lord came to him, ‘Go away from here, go eastwards, and hide yourself in the wadi Cherith which lies east of Jordan. You can drink from the stream, and I have ordered the ravens to bring you food there.’ He did as the Lord had said; he went and stayed in the wadi Cherith which lies east of Jordan. The ravens brought him bread in the morning and meat in the evening, and he quenched his thirst at the stream.

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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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Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Yesterday we talked about conversion. Upon re-reading my entry, it occurred to me that I might have given the impression that conversions happen instantaneously. They do not. The saying, ‘All in God’s time’ really is true. Some conversions take years, with hard edges smoothed out like patient water on rock. And the process of change doesn’t begin to happen until we give ourselves over to God. That’s essentially the Beautitudes’ cornerstone message, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”.

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? Jesus doesn’t say that the poor are especially blessed, nor does he equate being ‘poor in spirit’ to material poverty. The first reading from 1 Kings 17 offers a dramatic visual. We see Elijah the prophet, humble in obedience, relying only on a stream and the pickings of ravens for his sustenance. Being ‘poor in spirit’ is an attitude, a state of mind where we acknowledge our dependence on Him, and relinquish control of our common sense, giving ourselves to God. Can one be wealthy and still be ‘poor in spirit’? Yes, if we can recognize that our wealth is impermanent, transient in its quality. Can we be comfortable and still ‘poor in spirit’? Probably not because being comfortable implies a lack of struggle, and without struggle, there is no finding God.

At this point, some of us will be saying ‘Yes, well you can’t take everything literally in the Bible. How can a man survive on grubs and worms brought to him by ravens? That makes no sense!’ We will never be able to prove with confidence that Elijah really survived on bird food, but while the Bible may not be all fact, it IS all truth. We will never be ‘poor in spirit’ until we give ourselves over to God and realize that we are nothing without Him. Recognizing that our efforts are futile, that our ambitions are worthless without His grace, is the first step. So is the ‘willing suspension of (our) disbelief’. The Beautitudes are an affront to modern sensibilities. And that’s just the thing. God wants us to suspend ourselves, our wills, our thoughts and like Elijah, give it all over to Him. Can we do it? “The Lord will guard your coming and your going, both now and forever” (Psalms 121:8).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the awareness to recognize that not everything that happens needs to be about us. We pray for the humility to give ourselves over to God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those whom He sends to aid us when we fully depend on Him. We give thanks for the opportunities that He provides us to do the same in return.

5 June, Sunday – Conversions and Resurrections

5 June 

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1 Kings 17:17-24

The son of the mistress of the house fell sick; his illness was so severe that in the end he had no breath left in him. And the woman said to Elijah, ‘What quarrel have you with me, man of God? Have you come here to bring my sins home to me and to kill my son?’ ‘Give me your son’ he said, and taking him from her lap, carried him to the upper room where he was staying and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, do you mean to bring grief to the widow who is looking after me by killing her son?’ He stretched himself on the child three times and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, may the soul of this child, I beg you, come into him again!’ The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah and the soul of the child returned to him again and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. ‘Look,’ Elijah said ‘your son is alive.’ And the woman replied, ‘Now I know you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth itself.’

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Galatians 1:11-1

The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.
Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord.

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Luke 7:11-17

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

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“Young man, I tell you arise!”

I love a good comeback story! Who doesn’t see in himself the hero of his own tragicomedy? The failed, flawed individual ever optimistic, always on the verge of a comeback. We want to succeed. To claim greatness.  We want to recognize that same yearning and struggle in someone else. So with indefatigable optimism, we cheer him and ourselves on.

Scripture is filled with comeback stories. One of its brightest has to be Paul. Paul, the Christian slayer, the zealot Jew. Filled with high-minded wrath and fury, Paul is struck down on the road to Damascus.  He loses his sight, but learns to see with his heart. Conversion is a lot like resurrection. Paul does a complete about-face after meeting Jesus, and switches sides.  Proving that you can be at once, a hero and a traitor.  Be vilified by your old friends, and embraced by your new ones. With Christ, one really can lose one’s life and gain another.

And that’s the visual in today’s readings – the parallel between resurrection and conversion. “Young man, I tell you arise!”, says Jesus to the dead man. “Let the life breath return to the body of this child”, says Elijah to the dead boy. Modern day resurrections lack the drama of the stories in scripture, but they’re no less meaningful. Change happens, in incremental steps perhaps, but it does happen. Living in Christ, we’re more aware, more mindful of things that would never have occurred to us before. We no longer see with just our eyes, but through the prism of hearts renewed.  Hearts lifted up by his Hand.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who have taken the sacraments of baptism and confirmation this Easter, that their journeys continue with courage and grace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who work to help new Christians find their faith. Taking the first step is hard, staying on the path is even harder. We give thanks for all those who help us to keep to the narrow road.

4 June, Saturday – Openness of Heart

4 June – Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary began as early as the twelfth century. During the seventeenth century in France, St John Eudes popularised this devotion along with that to the Sacred Heart. St Luke’s Gospel twice mentions that Mary ‘kept all these things in her heart’, pondering the word of God. Mary shows us how to listen to the words the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, and how to respond in faith.

Source: Universalis

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The attention of Christians was early attracted by the love and virtues of the Heart of Mary. The Gospel itself invited this attention with exquisite discretion and delicacy. What was first excited was compassion for the Virgin Mother. It was, so to speak, at the foot of the Cross that the Christian heart first made the acquaintance of the Heart of Mary. Simeon’s prophecy paved the way and furnished the devotion with one of its favourite formulae and most popular representations: the heart pierced with a sword. But Mary was not merely passive at the foot of the Cross; “she cooperated through charity”, as St. Augustine says, “in the work of our redemption”.

In the midst of the second world war Pope Pius XII put the whole world under the special protection of our Savior’s Mother by consecrating it to her Immaculate Heart, and in 1944 he decreed that in the future the whole Church should celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is not a new devotion. In the seventeenth century, St. John Eudes preached it together with that of the Sacred Heart; in the nineteenth century, Pius VII and Pius IX allowed several churches to celebrate a feast of the Pure Heart of Mary. Pius XII instituted today’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the whole Church, so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” (Decree of May 4, 1944).

Source: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2016-06-04

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2 Timothy 4:1-8

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths. Be careful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.

As for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

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Luke 2:41-51

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart.

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Be careful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.

Am I open to the will of God? Am I open to His teaching? Am I living out His commands for me?

These, to me, are relevant questions that pop up in my mind once in a while.

Occasionally, I find myself cherry-picking at some of the teachings of the church at my own will, or when I feel like it and give myself reasons to justify why it is ok to do certain things.

But is that what holiness is about?

The first reading today tells us that we need to be careful always to choose the right course. That is, whatever is holy, righteous and good, we should be doing it. But sometimes because of our own human frailties, we easily give in to temptation and sin.

Sometimes, we forget the teachings of God and rather turn to our own human strength and knowledge to live our life. At times, when we are faced with a difficult situation, we trust what we read or hear from other sources instead of trusting fully in the Lord.

St Paul urges us to “refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience”.

Do we correct the errors of others with love and patience? Or do we simply turn a blind eye?

To be honest, I tend to choose to mind my own business and not correct others for fear of being rejected or ridiculed. And when others try to correct me, sometimes I get defensive because of my own pride.

Yet, God in His faithfulness continues to keep the door open for all of us. He still welcomes the repentant sinner back into His embrace. He is patient in teaching and correcting us.

Let us like St Paul say when our time comes: “I have fought the good fight, to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me…”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Lee)

Prayer: Dearest Father, teach me to be open to You in all things. Help me to always trust in Your unconditional love for me. Grant me Your love and patience in helping others to know You. Amen!

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for Your faithfulness. Thank you for the people in my life that have helped me to understand Your teaching and will in my life.

3 June, Friday – Perfect Love of the Shepherd

3 June – Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

“I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment” (Jesus to St. Margaret Mary).

Sixteenth century Calvinism and seventeenth century Jansenism preached a distorted Christianity that substituted for God’s love and sacrifice of His Son for all men the fearful idea that a whole section of humanity was inexorably damned.

The Church always countered this view with the infinite love of our Savior who died on the cross for all men. The institution of the feast of the Sacred Heart was soon to contribute to the creation among the faithful of a powerful current of devotion which since then has grown steadily stronger. The first Office and Mass of the Sacred Heart were composed by St. John Eudes, but the institution of the feast was a result of the appearances of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675. The celebration of the feast was extended to the general calendar of the Church by Pius IX in 1856.

The Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions (today, in other years) is superseded by the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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Close to the Heart of the Son is the Heart of the Mother
The Church, in this month of June, giving us the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, wishes us to understand the consequential devotion to Our Lady traditionally lived in the Marian month par excellence: the month of May. The Heart of Jesus is the See and Throne of Divine Mercy, revealed to the world in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI speaking of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus two years ago said: “In biblical language, “heart” indicates the centre of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy. Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life” (Benedict XVI, Angelus 5 June 2005).

The call which comes from this important feast day is first of all a call to Eucharistic adoration, because in the Sacred Host the Lord Jesus is truly present and He offers each of us His Heart, His Merciful Love. To spend time in the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord, to adore Him, is the best expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which, as we know, spread all over the world thanks to Jesus’ revelations to Saint Margherita M. Alacoque in the 17th century: “Behold the Heart which so loved mankind”!

Source: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2016-06-03

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Ezekiel 34:11-16

The Lord God says this: I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I shall bring them out of the countries where they are; I shall gather them together from foreign countries and bring them back to their own land. I shall pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in every inhabited place in the land. I shall feed them in good pasturage; the high mountains of Israel will be their grazing ground. There they will rest in good grazing ground; they will browse in rich pastures on the mountains of Israel. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest–it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.

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Luke 15:3-7

Jesus spoke this parable to the scribes and Pharisees:

‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.’

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But what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were sinners.

God loves us. God loves me.

Even though I’m a sinner. He chooses to love me still.

I must admit, that I’ve never been that far away from the Lord, in that I have never experienced being lost from the Lord (Thanks be to God!).

But that in itself is a true sign of His wondrous love for me. By not allowing me to be far from Him, I have not fallen down hard in my life.

I shared in one of my previous reflections that I suffer from eczema. Because of that, I have been exposed to the Charismatic movement from a young age as my grandmother would bring me for healing services held at various churches, in hope of receiving healing from the Lord.

Well, I have not been healed of my eczema yet. But there is definitely one thing that I have received from the healing services – the love of God.

I have come to understand, that it is because of the faith of my grandmother in bringing me for the healing services, I have come to know the Lord and to be open to His love.

As mentioned in today’s Gospel, the love of God is like a shepherd rejoicing because he has found his lost sheep.

For me, reading this Gospel, I imagine the Lord to be carrying me upon His shoulders when I exit the confessional after each Sacrament of Reconciliation, rejoicing that He has found me.

If I had not known the love of God, then would I be open to His mercy and forgiveness? Probably not.

Thanks be to God for finding me even when I’m not so lost and not in the darkest moment of my life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Lee)

Prayer: Dearest Father, You are the Good Shepherd who sought me out when I was lost. Help me to always remember that it is because of You that I am who I am today. Let me never lose sight of You and forget Your love for me. Amen!

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for Your love and mercy. Thank you for your faithfulness in guiding me on the right path.

 

2 June, Thursday – Living Out Love

2 June – Memorial for Sts. Marcellinus and Peter, martyrs

Marcellinus, a priest, and Peter, an exorcist, died in the year 304. According to a legendary account of their martyrdom, the two Romans saw their imprisonment as just one more opportunity to evangelise and managed to convert their jailer and his family. The legend also says that they were beheaded in the forest so that other Christians wouldn’t have a chance to bury and venerate their bodies. Two women found the bodies, however, and had them properly buried.

Source: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=77

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2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.
Here is a saying that you can rely on:

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.
If we disown him, then he will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful,
for he cannot disown his own self.

Remind them of this; and tell them in the name of God that there is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening. Do all you can to present yourself in front of God as a man who has come through his trials, and a man who has no cause to be ashamed of his life’s work and has kept a straight course with the message of the truth.

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Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.

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“So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.”

In yesterday’s reflection, I shared about witnessing to God’s goodness without fear. For me, today’s readings are all about living my own life for His glory. If I am His instrument, then I must live a life of holiness.

St Paul, in today’s first reading, says: “If we have died with him, then we shall live with him. If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.”

If we have died in the Lord and to our sinfulness, then surely we will rise to live with Him. How then, am I living my life worthy of the love of God? Have I given up my own sin to walk in His light?

What are some of the areas of my life that are coming between me and the light of God?

Yes, it is difficult to live a life of holiness. But I truly believe that God is faithful to us. Even St Paul says it himself, “We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful”. As long as we open up our hearts to the Lord and allow His grace and hand to take over, I’m certain He provides the grace to walk in His ways. There will be times when we will be put to the test. But let us take courage and continue to persevere in living out our baptismal promises.

Today’s gospel gives a very simple way of living a life of holiness, summarised in one commandment: Love. Loving God and loving neighbour.

To me, loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is to worship Him. And loving my neighbour as myself, is to offer myself as a sacrifice to my neighbour. Doing both allows me to be selfless, to deny myself and in turn live a life of holiness.

Let us take courage my brothers and sisters, to love God in all our ways, by giving Him the glory in all that we do, and to also be loving to our brothers and sisters. Again, let us remember that He is faithful in giving us the grace to do what He commands us to. All we need to do is to say “Amen.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Lee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are the source of love. Help me to love You and love my neighbour as myself. When it is difficult to love someone, grace me Lord to depend on Your faithfulness in love. Amen!

Thanksgiving: Thank You Lord for your love and faithfulness. When I struggle to love as you do, teach me to deny myself.

1 June, Wednesday – Witnessing Without Fear

June 1 – Memorial for St. Justin, martyr

He was born at the beginning of the second century in Nablus, in Samaria, of a pagan Greek family. He was an earnest seeker after truth, and studied many systems of philosophy before being led, through Platonism, to Christianity. While remaining a layman, he accepted the duty of making the truth known, and travelled from place to place proclaiming the gospel. In 151 he travelled from Ephesus to Rome, where he opened a school of philosophy and wrote defences and expositions of Christianity, which have survived to this day and are the earliest known writings of their kind. In the persecution of 165, in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, he was denounced as a Christian, arrested and beheaded. The transcript of his trial by the prefect of Rome, Rusticus, has also survived: it can be found in today’s Office of Readings.

Justin treats the Greek philosophy that he studied as mostly true, but incomplete. In contrast to the Hebrew tendency to view God as making revelations to them and to no-one else, he follows the parable of the Sower, and sees God as sowing the seed of wisdom throughout the world, to grow wherever the soil would receive it. When we dispute with people who disagree with us, we would do well to assume that they too are seeking wisdom and have found truth of a kind. Since there is only one God and one Truth, it is our task not to contradict or belittle their achievement, but to show them how their strivings and searches are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. This is harder to do – not least, because we have to take the trouble to understand our own faith thoroughly – but it is ultimately more worthwhile.

– Universalis

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2 Timothy 1:1-3,6-12

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus in his design to promise life in Christ Jesus; to Timothy, dear child of mine, wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

Night and day I thank God, keeping my conscience clear and remembering my duty to him as my ancestors did, and always I remember you in my prayers. That is why I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy – not because of anything we ourselves have done but for his own purpose and by his own grace. This grace had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus. He abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News; and I have been named its herald, its apostle and its teacher.

It is only on account of this that I am experiencing fresh hardships here now; but I have not lost confidence, because I know who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to take care of all that I have entrusted to him until that Day.

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Mark 12:18-27

Some Sadducees – who deny that there is a resurrection – came to him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first married a wife and then died leaving no children. The second married the widow, and he too died leaving no children; with the third it was the same, and none of the seven left any children. Last of all the woman herself died. Now at the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be, since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the Bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken.’

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Because I know who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to take care of all that I have entrusted to him until that Day.

I am quite an introvert. More often than not, I have a fear of speaking up. And it doesn’t stop there. I have a fear of this and a fear of that. So much so, that eventually I give up my right to speak, because I fear what others might think of me.

All these boil down to one thing: Pride. Because of my own pride, I fear what opinions others have of me.

But today’s first reading truly speaks to all of us who have a certain fear in our hearts. St Paul says: “God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord…”

Recently, Archbishop William Goh in his homily at the Pentecost Rally spoke about the need for Christians to evangelise, saying that it is not an option but an obligation to do so. Indeed, witnessing to the Lord is not an option but an obligation, with all its hardships and trials.

It is really not an easy task to speak about what God has done for us in our lives. I find it tough too. And sometimes I take the easy way out and choose not to do so; after all, I’m an introvert (and introverts would rather stay out of the party and hide at a corner).

But all the more, it is with suffering of hardships that we show how God is working in our lives. Sometimes words are not needed, but just pure actions. Living our sufferings with grace, by grace.

This also means that whatever our limitations and fears, we continue to depend on the grace of God to witness to His goodness. May I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to have a spirit of openness to rely on God as we live our lives to testify to love and tell of His greatness. This is also something which I am constantly reminding myself as well.

As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” So let us be faithful to our mission — to be evangelisers of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Lee)

Prayer: Dearest Father, You have given us the grace to call you Abba Father. Help us to always be faithful to our calling and mission to be witnesses to Your greatness. Enable us always to be courageous in the face of negativity when we are called to make Your name known. This prayer we make in Your name, Jesus. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for Your empowerment. Thank you for your abundant grace which gives us the courage to be missionaries of Your love.

31 May, Tuesday – Hail, Full of Grace

31 May – Feast of The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The feast of the Visitation recalls to us the following great truths and events: The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation; the cleansing of John the Baptist from original sin in the womb of his mother at the words of Our Lady’s greeting; Elizabeth’s proclaiming of Mary—under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost—as Mother of God and “blessed among women”; Mary’s singing of the sublime hymn, Magnificat(“My soul doth magnify the Lord”) which has become a part of the daily official prayer of the Church. The Visitation is frequently depicted in art, and was the central mystery of St. Francis de Sales’ devotions.

The Mass of today salutes her who in her womb bore the King of heaven and earth, the Creator of the world, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Sun of Justice. It narrates the cleansing of John from original sin in his mother’s womb. Hearing herself addressed by the most lofty title of “Mother of the Lord” and realizing what grace her visit had conferred on John, Mary broke out in that sublime canticle of praise proclaiming prophetically that henceforth she would be venerated down through the centuries:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me, and holy is His name” (Lk. 1:46).

—Excerpted from the Cathedral Daily Missal

(Source: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2016-05-31)

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And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

On this beautiful feast of the Visitation, I am reminded of my spiritual journey in the Catholic faith as I was baptised and received my First Holy Communion and Confirmation in the Church of Visitation Seremban, in Malaysia. My parents got married there. My uncles were ordained there. And my grandmother’s funeral was held in that church which I now consider my home parish. Mere memories aside, I see how growing both from childhood and also in my faith is as rich as it gets when Our Mother is its patron. I have many times asked, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” I would like to elaborate about this in three parts: Personal faith, Community and Our Mother’s Intercession.

Personal faith
I was raised devoutly Catholic by my parents and it was hard to even change things related to my Catholic prayer life even when I moved out to live in the city when I was twenty-one. It was more than a personal effort on my part to remain rooted in the faith. As I look back, I realise that Our Mother simply refused to let go of my hand, nor let me lose Her Son.

I was a minority ethnic individual, a junior staff, among majority Muslims in a workplace where colleagues and superiors openly implied that I should embrace Islam. I had my doubts and sometimes felt very harassed. Being a twenty-something year old, I know I did not do it on my own. It was my Mother who protected me and shielded me from leaving her Son.

As children, we used to pray the rosary daily at 8 pm and 12 noon during the school holidays. Things changed when we moved to our own house. I was about eleven at the time and our prayer time was a decade of the rosary. In my heart I knew something was amiss yet I was thrilled that prayer time was shortened. So I never complained about it. The one decade we prayed each day sustained us as a family. Our Blessed Mother is not impressed with how long we spent praying. Just like any loving mother she would love, care and pray for us, no matter what.

In my early twenties when life seemed impossible and there was no where to turn, one night I decided that I would pray the rosary before I went to bed in the hostel room I stayed at. That was the beginning of my prayer life as an adult Catholic and I never once looked back. She has never let me go and kept me faithful to my daily prayer even when my life seemed futile and my choices looked very distant from grace.

Community
The parishes I served were always Marion parishes. In the city, it was Our Lady of Fatima and then Church of Assumption. I learned how to grow with others while serving in these two parishes. It was with the youths at Church of Assumption that I learnt the spirit of Christian community and its necessity. I finally had a family out of my own within my parish. As any family we had our struggles, our joys, our hopes and our laughter and like any Mother she continues to pray for peace in this “family” of ours. She helped us to love, share and care for each other despite our personal differences. This sort of love is impossible yet God and our Mother, gave us glimpses of their love when we were opened to love as they did.

Our Mother’s Intercessions
Our Mother kept watching me and I started praying the 54 days rosary novena. I noticed that during the duration of the novena, how grace filled my life. At every occasion there was an answer to my prayers. My Mother led me to the areas of life that I never knew were within me. She gave me answers that I was not seeking and she loved me just the same when I was doubtful of her precious Son.

I started wearing the rosary bracelet about a year ago. It recently dawned on me that it really felt like the Mother, who held the Lord, now continually holds my hand. Especially when I am fearful and feel unworthy, this bracelet reminds me that the hands which rocked that cradle, continues to be with me, totally claiming the promise of Jesus, “Behold, thy Mother.”

She has calmed my fears, kissed away my sadness, and cheered me on even at my most measly achievements. She was and continues to be my true Mother.

Recently on a rather challenging day at work, I went to visit my parents though I live some sixty kilometers away. It was an impromptu decision. When I parked my car in the driveway, I saw my mother looking at me as she knew that something was not right, though she did not probe. She brought me a cup of tea and we spend hours talking, though not about what was really eating me up at that time. After that time, I felt my whole burden lifted. I feel the same way about Our Mother Mary and praying the rosary. I am praying a set of prayers from the Bible, in the Hail Marys, Holy Marys, Our Fathers and although it can sometimes feel repetitive and irrelevant, I feel that she (in her great mercy and love) not only removed my burdens but she clothes me with grace. And I am convicted of the power of One Hail Mary.

Dear sisters and brothers, there is no pain that she cannot kiss away. No tears of ours compares to the ones she has shed. She knows sorrows and pain and she loves us. Call out to Our Mother as a child would in need. In good times; in times that could have been better. She is filled with grace. She is the most blessed among women and the Mother of the only perfect child, our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.