Friday, 4 September – Joy in the Presence of the Lord

4 September

________________

Colossians 1:15-20

Christ Jesus is the image of the unseen God
and the first-born of all creation,
for in him were created
all things in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and everything invisible,
Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers –
all things were created through him and for him.
Before anything was created, he existed,
and he holds all things in unity.
Now the Church is his body,
he is its head.
As he is the Beginning,
he was first to be born from the dead,
so that he should be first in every way;
because God wanted all perfection
to be found in him
and all things to be reconciled through him and for him,
everything in heaven and everything on earth,
when he made peace
by his death on the cross.

________________ 

Luke 5:33-39

The Pharisees and scribes said to Jesus, ‘John’s disciples are always fasting and saying prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees too, but yours go on eating and drinking.’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely you cannot make the bridegroom’s attendants fast while the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come, the time for the bridegroom to be taken away from them; that will be the time when they will fast.’

He also told them this parable, ‘No one tears a piece from a new cloak to put it on an old cloak; if he does, not only will he have torn the new one, but the piece taken from the new will not match the old.

‘And nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and then run out, and the skins will be lost. No; new wine must be put into fresh skins. And nobody who has been drinking old wine wants new. “The old is good” he says.’

________________

He is the head of the Body, the Church.

It should not come as a surprise to us when we are faced with instances where people create an uproar about respecting authority, simply because it happens almost everywhere we go. The same situation occurred when the Pharisees and scribes could not accept Jesus as the head of the church, hence their condescending questions on the conduct of His disciples. We face the same situation today — questioning the way things are, merely to find fault and undermine the leaders of our churches and in our workplace. Sometimes, even we face questions from people who may want to know or even challenge the way things are done at our ministry or workplace.

I was sharing with someone that I am currently one of the ‘Core team in training’ members of our parish youth ministry. This then led to someone questioning me about the leadership of our ministry, without any grounds to do so.  I found that it was asked in a way which undermine my leaders. I assured this person that I felt that the right people were doing the right things and I would not want to assume that I am better than the core team, which has been in place for the past few years. The core team members bring with them experiences that are valuable based on their interactions with youths in the parish, as well as working with other leaders in our parish. Their personal journeys and spiritual experience in ministry is invaluable, making them more worthy youth leaders than myself. All this comes from today’s reading where we recognise Christ as the head of the body, which points to each of us being His instruments. Today, let us refrain from ‘falling in’ with the Pharisees and scribes (who undermined the teachings of the Church),  by questioning the leadership of our parish priests and ministry heads. It does not matter if we are active in church ministry or not. We all need to recognise that He is Lord and head of the Church. We need to embrace our Pope, bishops, priests, lay leaders unconditionally.

Most of us will agree that there is joy in His presence but how often do we actively seek Him through the Eucharist and the word of God? What is stopping us? Is it our lack of humility? We also encounter God in our suffering. Mother Teresa aptly states that suffering brings you so close to Jesus that you can kiss Jesus. And for those of us who are not in the suffering season, have we at least made any attempt to attend a retreat so that we can be restored in the source of true Joy? Let us recognise that pursuing our passion and achieving our goals does not meet this, it is the Lord who waits at the tabernacle, the confessional. The embrace of the leaders we choose not to accept, because of our lack of humility, is where the Joy of the Lord resides.

Today, if we fail to reflect and do anything, let us just do this one thing – to embrace humility as a way of our life. He is our head and He was humble, humble till death on the cross and we are called to be His with the same humble heart and demeanour.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Create in us O Lord, a humble person, renew our self-seeking ways and restore it with humility. Protect us from the temptation of questions and doubting like the Pharisees of the past. Lead us to perfect trust and acceptance of our beloved clergy and lay leaders.

Thanksgiving: Father, you are the Head of the Body; make us worthy to serve in your kingdom, seeking the good of the others above our own.    

 

Thursday, 3 September – Jesus, I Trust In You

3 September – Pope St Gregory the Great

He was born in Rome and followed the career of public service that was usual for the son of an aristocratic family, finally becoming Prefect of the City of Rome, a post he held for some years.

He founded a monastery in Rome and some others in Sicily, then became a monk himself. He was ordained deacon and sent as an envoy to Constantinople, on a mission that lasted five years.

He was elected Pope on 3 September 590, the first monk to be elected to this office. He reformed the administration of the Church’s estates and devoted the resulting surplus to the assistance of the poor and the ransoming of prisoners. He negotiated treaties with the Lombard tribes who were ravaging northern Italy, and by cultivating good relations with these and other barbarians he was able to keep the Church’s position secure in areas where Roman rule had broken down. His works for the propagation of the faith include the sending of Augustine and his monks as missionaries to England in 596, providing them with continuing advice and support and (in 601) sending reinforcements. He wrote extensively on pastoral care, spirituality, and morals, and designated himself “servant of the servants of God.”

He died on 12 March 604, but as this date always falls within Lent, his feast is celebrated on the date of his election as Pope.

– Universalis

________________

Colossians 1:9-14

Ever since the day we heard about you, we have never failed to pray for you, and what we ask God is that through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding you should reach the fullest knowledge of his will. So you will be able to lead the kind of life which the Lord expects of you, a life acceptable to him in all its aspects; showing the results in all the good actions you do and increasing your knowledge of God. You will have in you the strength, based on his own glorious power, never to give in, but to bear anything joyfully, thanking the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.

Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.

________________ 

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

________________ 

…but if you say so, I will pay out the nets

Today’s gospel encourages us to believe in a God of breakthroughs. It calls us to a total faith of doing whatever it takes as He commands us to. It is also a much needed reminder that we are capable of the same level of faith and faithfulness as St Peter as he lowered his nets. As His apostles today, we are called to lower our nets once again. And although we have been trying to catch fish all day, we are also called to leave everything behind just to follow Him.

Many of us struggle with illness, financial distress, unemployment, troubled relationships, addictions, abuse, etc over the course of our life. For those of us who have been battling the same issues for a long time, the Lord is inviting us today to trust in Him.

Unbelief in the Lord is a great barrier in receiving His blessings and promises so today, let us examine our unbelief. Let us offer it to our Father and ask Him to renew it. Our Lord is a righteous and loving God; yet, we sometimes fail to trust Him. He has never broken any of His promises to us so we need to examine the areas in our lives where we need to surrender totally to Him so that we can trust Him completely.

I have been single for some time now and, so far, have only walked down the aisle as the maid of honour at several weddings. It has taken me a while to realise that I need to trust God completely, and that He would lead my future spouse to me. Over the years, as I have waited,  I have also come to understand the level of trust which I need to place in Jesus. Most importantly I have learnt that I have to trust Him totally because this unbelief could become a barrier between me and my Lord. In the past, when it got difficult to trust Him, I would pray the Divine Mercy Novena. I encouraged my friends who have issues in this area to trust God, to pray the 9- day Divine Mercy Novena together with me.

Today, I now have a trust I would never have been aware of if I had been swept off my feet by the time I turned 25. And just as the Lord has drawn me closer to Him, He wants to do the same for you. First, you need to trust, especially so when you really feel like it is not worthwhile. St Peter did it as well and it was then that he realised who God is. What is it that God is asking you to trust Him with? Send it to Jesus and offer it up all to Him and your reward will await when you trust completely.

Are you willing to leave everything behind for God? Are you ready to leave your lack of faith and trust, your insecurity, your sin, your sinful relationships, your addictions today for our Lord? If our Lord is calling you to priesthood or religious life, are you willing to assume the obedience of the apostles? If the Lord is calling you to single life, are you still protesting that your desire is to get married? Which area in your life do you need to submit and be more obedient about? He is worth it and just as he said to St Peter two thousand years ago, He assures us “Do not be afraid.” We should not fear anything when the Lord is on our side, which He always is. He has made known his salvation for you and me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father God, please create in us a life of total trust in you. No matter what happens, let us never forget that we can trust you to give us a breakthrough in our lives. Help us to be faithful to you and be willing to answer your call. St Gregory, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; break into song; sing praise for you are worthy of all praise, trust and our unconditional obedience.

Wednesday, 2 September – Trusting in the Mercy of God Forever

2 September

________________

Colossians 1:1-8

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy to the saints in Colossae, our faithful brothers in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We have never failed to remember you in our prayers and to give thanks for you to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you show towards all the saints because of the hope which is stored up for you in heaven. It is only recently that you heard of this, when it was announced in the message of the truth. The Good News which has reached you is spreading all over the world and producing the same results as it has among you ever since the day when you heard about God’s grace and understood what this really is. Epaphras, who taught you, is one of our closest fellow workers and a faithful deputy for us as Christ’s servant, and it was he who told us all about your love in the Spirit.

________________ 

Luke 4:38-44

Leaving the synagogue Jesus went to Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever and they asked him to do something for her. Leaning over her he rebuked the fever and it left her. And she immediately got up and began to wait on them.

At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to him, and laying his hands on each he cured them. Devils too came out of many people, howling, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.

When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place. The crowds went to look for him, and when they had caught up with him they wanted to prevent him leaving them, but he answered, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, because that is what I was sent to do.’ And he continued his preaching in the synagogues of Judaea.

________________

You are the Son of God.

In the gospel readings from the past two days, we see that even the demons acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship. But today, there seem to be many who do not acknowledge that Jesus is God. Sure, the evil one just knows that Jesus is God but it is just mere knowledge of His Lordship. As Catholics, it is our duty to reach out both to those who do not know Jesus, and those who merely know Jesus but do not worship Him.

Today, let us look at how we can show mercy to others so that it is a reflection of how much we ourselves trust in God’s mercy. At the same time, we must also maintain a sense of perspective by remaining rooted in humility, acknowledging that we need the mercy of others as well and, therefore, being open to accepting the mercy of others.

When we reflect on mercy, we visualise a picture of unconditional love and acceptance, offered freely by our Lord. As His followers, we are called to do likewise. I cannot imagine that there would be any exceptions to this.

Sometimes, I think about people who have forgiven and reconciled with those who brought harm upon them. Two examples that come to mind are — St John Paul II, who visited his assassin in prison and forgave him; and parents of a friend who lost his life on board flight MH17, and yet forgave the perpetrators. It is human nature that we tend to focus on the perpetrators and the great hurts committed upon us. So much so that we fail to see how the smaller hurts and pains, which we all face each day, sometimes go unforgiven. Being in a state of unforgiveness is like being held captive within our arrogance, our self-righteousness, our past. Inevitably, we lose out on the renewal that takes place as God restores the situations, the relationships and ourselves. In our unforgiveness, we are unable to see how great God is, how immense His mercy is and we are unable to experience the resurrection in any given situation.

Some time back, I got into a misunderstanding within some members in our youth ministry, which resulted in me feeling alienated and ashamed for a few days. While I prayed about the situation, I felt very strongly that God was asking me to stay with this ministry. It did not make immediate sense to me and I struggled with the situation, all the while having to face and communicate with the ministry members. Happily, all of us reconciled and forgave each other soon after. It took me months to come in terms with the hurts and disappointments of that situation; but the breakthrough came only when I recognised my faults as well. It is at this precise moment when I experienced the resurrection within the situation as well as in my relationships with the ministry members. If I had chosen to leave the ministry, I would not have realised the mercy that was shown by my sisters and brothers throughout that situation. More importantly, I would have never recognised my faults and learned to be a better Catholic serving in ministry. It was mercy, both from my brothers and sisters, as well as from God, which restored the situation. Just as it had happened to me, many of us face situations which we need to be more merciful about, seeking the Divine Mercy.

It is time to give way to the reckless driver on the road, to listen attentively to the long-winded colleague, to forgive those who look down on us, to accept those who criticise us and mock us. Let us especially be merciful to all those who do not give Jesus the rightful place in their lives.  Let us, in turn, accept the mercy shown upon us by acknowledging that we have sinned against our brothers and sisters.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Lord help us to be merciful as you have been merciful.

Thanksgiving: We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for His mercy on us and our trespassers. Lord, we thank you for the gift of everyone who has been merciful towards us.

Tuesday, 1 September – See Good Things in the Land of the Living

1 September

________________

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6,9-11

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.

But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober. God never meant us to experience the Retribution, but to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, alive or dead, we should still live united to him. So give encouragement to each other, and keep strengthening one another, as you do already.

________________ 

Luke 4:31-37 

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because he spoke with authority.

In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil, and it shouted at the top of its voice, ‘Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the devil, throwing the man down in front of everyone, went out of him without hurting him at all. Astonishment seized them and they were all saying to one another, ‘What teaching! He gives orders to unclean spirits with authority and power and they come out.’ And reports of him went all through the surrounding countryside.

________________

Dwell in the house of the Lord ….

In the past, I frequently found myself indulging in the self-talk that I will have a breakthrough in my life; that all my problems will be no more once I have reached my Father’s house, our eternal home. I thought that I had to endure life and all the pains it brings upon me, while I am still alive. But in today’s Psalms, we are reassured that we will see the great work of the Lord in the land of the living. It certainly takes a lot more faith to expect great things to happen in our lives while we are here on earth as mortal beings, living a life we already know. Today, we need to learn to confront and diminish anything that keeps us from claiming this promise that we will be blessed in the here and now.

Today’s readings remind us that we need to be alert and sober, stout-hearted even while others we know might be asleep and aloof. Clearly, we are called not to just set a standard; we are also called to lead and encourage others to live a life that prepares us to meet our Maker. We are called to bring others along, to follow the good deeds, to adhere to the call of His kingdom.

It is in those moments when we are tempted to do it on our own, when we really need to call our colleagues, friends and family members so as to share in His kingdom. He never meant for anyone one of us to perish and we are His instruments wherever we are planted, without any exceptions whatsoever.

In my dealings in church ministry, I have felt countless times the Lord urging me to reach out to others; to be patient with them, to believe in them. In some cases, He has even prompted me to slow down with certain brothers and sisters, knowing full well that everyone is at a different stage in their faith journey. It should never be about achieving targets and completing tasks for we Catholics are formed amidst people. While we realise and wholly accept this, let us not refrain from the temptation of judging others, dismissing others and even making assumptions that we are more spiritually superior that the others. We need to walk with each other, stopping, pausing, reflecting, coaxing and challenging each other as Christ did with a heart full of love and wisdom, choosing the right approach for each person and situation. In a recent homily, a priest exhorted that Jesus loves the greatest sinner the most, so who are we to not accept His most beloved on our quest for holiness for His kingdom? If, in the past, we have done this, let us make a new start today, knowing that our Father wills us to walk together with our brothers and sisters, and not as lone individals towards Him.

Today, let us think of all the times we have failed to encourage others in our midst. Let us also receive with a contrite heart, the encouragement of others when we have failed to live as we have been called to. No finger pointing, no favourites, no judgments. We are all His and He loves us all.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you give the right dose of boldness and patience to lead people towards your Kingdom. We ask you to make a way for us to reach others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for your great love that though we ‘sleep’ sometimes, you have sent your most precious Son to suffer and die for us sinners so that we may be yours forever.

Monday, 31 August – Bringing Good Tidings to the Poor

31 August

________________

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

________________

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

________________

They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town

Jesus walked upon this earth and came to live like you and me. Yet there were some quarters who never believed in Him. Over 2000 years later, there are still people who do not believe in Him.

I can imagine like me, you believe that He is the Son of God and He is the Almighty. This is really great and so what are we to do, we have found God and we have identified that it is Him we long for in our hearts. Today’s gospel is a reminder of our call to be active Christians, to reach out to the downtrodden and marginalised, and to be a witness where we are today in our lives.

How faithful are we towards this call? Are random acts of kindness and charity sufficient? I would think not, simply because our benchmark is always to do as Christ would have done. I sometimes cannot believe that He would want me to love that person who constantly ridicules my faith; that I should be merciful to the person in my ministry who never shows up on time nor does any work; the colleague who backstabs; the reckless driver on the road; the person who hurts my loved ones; the migrant workers I see daily at work and at my apartment. Let us reflect today on our choice of words and deeds in order to bring sight to the blind and to make the captives free.

While we focus on all the good deeds so as to be more like Him, let us not lose sight of Him. Let us not act like someone who is in love, but who has completely lost sight of the lover. It becomes easier to give Him his rightful place if we continue to be faithful in our primary relationships as children, spouses, parents, employees, employers, students and teachers, parishioners, leaders and citizens. It is when we have been faithful to our loved ones and when we have performed our responsibilities do we realise that, none of this satisfies but Jesus alone. That way, we can go on to worship Him wholeheartedly, knowing that our relationships and our loved ones, our wealth, our status, our popularity and our beauty can never complete us. It is Jesus that we have desired all along and we belong, first and foremost, to Him. If we have move away today from our family and responsibilities or our Lord, let us come right back to it immediately.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father, you are the ruler of the world and the prince of our hearts. We ask you to bless us and bless our nation, Malaysia which celebrates its Independence Day today.

Thanksgiving: He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy. He is our Lord, yesterday, today and forever.

Sunday, 30 August – From Within Your Hearts

30 August 

________________

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8

Moses said to the people: ‘Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God just as I lay them down for you. Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.” And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?’

________________

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

________________ 

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

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

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

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

________________

…coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world

It is not surprising that our Catholic faith promotes love, charity and ownership. Personally, I feel that people and situations come our way so that we can be God’s instruments to both the person(s) and within the situation. I always had a soft spot for widows and was even open to meeting potential suitors who are widowed. My uncle became a widower five years into his marriage and he continued to stay unmarried till the day of his death. Growing up in the same house with him and his daughter since she was 4, definitely created an impression upon me. At some level, I wanted to be able to be a mother for children who had lost their mom by virtue of my own experience.

It is uncommon that people are widowed at a young age, but then again, the age of the ‘downcast’ should not matter as we should still show mercy and compassion upon them, regardless. I used to know someone who was around my age, and who was orphaned, but it was simply an effort to offer him that same compassion. I was too ‘conditional’ in my mercy and compassion.

Common sense reveals to us that being a “hearer and not doer” never makes the cut. During a recent lesson in Sunday school on reconciliation and mercy, there was a lot of name calling and of hitting among the children and these circumstances presented a valuable lesson — that knowledge without action is useless.

I have heard this before — that we should not speak filth because it is with the same mouth and tongue that we receive Jesus. Yet sometimes, we have the tendency to blame others for our shortcomings and even our sins. We can be disillusioned enough to belief that evil thoughts, words and actions come from outside of us, from others, from the media and from society. Today’s gospel summons us to take ownership of the bad that comes from our hearts. This same heart of ours bears Jesus and belongs to Him and He, in His mercy and compassion, resides in this less than perfect heart of ours. Can you imagine sharing a room with a King? Yet we sometimes find it a problem to share, to give, to extend ourselves and our mercy as freely as we ought too.

For more than 3 years, in the early days of setting up my department, I used to be based in the CEO’s office and we had some of the best facilities, including a well-equipped pantry. When we shifted to our own office, we were not as thrilled to be sharing the pantry especially with the security guards. There are two points of focus here: first — when I had a privilege, I never knew its value; and second — many of us, myself included, can be very selective about our circles of interaction. Today, let us make a pledge to extend Christ to others by being unbiased in our friendship, love, compassion and mercy. Let us see the suffering of others and be the first to give some assistance, money, food and our time. Recently after paying RM10 for parking at an up-market mall, I decided to approach the janitor to give her a RM10 bill. I am sure this is more valuable to her than mere parking fees and I feel that its value has multiplied simply because she can truly do a lot more with it than I can.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord, we ask you to bless and watch all those who are poor, neglected, the widowed and the orphans. We ask you to give us a heart that reaches out to them so that we are worthy doers of your precious words and will. Help us to be compassionate and merciful like You.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for promising us your precious presence even when we are just sinners.

Saturday, 29 August – Grudge

29 August – Memorial of the Beheading of  St. John the Baptist

Cousin of Jesus Christ. Son of Zachary, a priest of the order of Abia whose job in the temple was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a descendent of Aaron. As Zachary was ministering in the Temple, an angel brought him news that Elizabeth would bear a child filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth. Zachary doubted and was struck dumb until John’s birth.

Prophet. John began his ministry around age 27, wearing a leather belt and a tunic of camel hair, living off locusts and wild honey, and preaching a message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. He converted many, and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. He baptized Christ, after which he stepped away and told his disciples to follow Jesus.

Imprisoned by King Herod. He died a victim of the vengeance of a jealous woman; he was beheaded, and his head brought to her on a platter. Saint Jerome says Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occasionally stabbing the tongue with his dagger because of what John had said in life.

          Patron Saint Index

________________

1 Thessalonians 4:9-11

As for loving our brothers, there is no need for anyone to write to you about that, since you have learnt from God yourselves to love one another, and in fact this is what you are doing with all the brothers throughout the whole of Macedonia. However, we do urge you, brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make a point of living quietly, attending to your own business and earning your living, just as we told you to.

________________

Mark 6:17-29

Herod sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

________________

I will give you anything you ask

Imagine if all our prayers were answered by God, will we be content and happy? Or will we continue to ask for more? Recently I realised I bore a grudge on 2 people. The first person was Mr Hong, who did not pay me for my work done over a year ago. Despite my chasing him for money, I doubt I will ever receive the $1,000. He just delays payment every month when one chases for money. Mr Hong also defaulted his payment for another of my contacts. My contact brought this to small claim court. However Mr Hong’s company is under his wife’s name, hence there is a slim chance of regaining the money.

The other person is Ms Chew, who introduced me to the person who defaulted payment.  I was very angry as this was hard-earned money, especially if you are working for yourself. Every cent earned is precious. Though Ms Chew just did the introduction, I wished she could do more than just be a bystander. It’s an irony that she also does charity work. Personally I wonder at the credibility of her network of friends. It was upsetting and angry just thinking of these 2 people. Yet God, in his own amazing way, gave me a job which would offset the debt. I told a mutual friend, due to this job, I will not pursue the matter anymore. By doing so, I let go of the grudge and there was forgiveness within me.

In the Gospel, we saw the cruelty and tyranny of Herodias. She was manipulative and malicious. On the other hand, John the Baptist was honest and upright. Herodias wanted to silence John, who mentioned that it was not right for Herod to live with his brother’s wife. She was bent on getting her way, while John was bent on proclaiming a repentance that could cleanse the conscience and place the people on the path toward godliness. He was bent on doing God’s way.

Which role do we take on in our daily lives? Am I unforgiving and vengeful? Do I harbour a critical spirit that shifts the blame on others? Or am I one who is able to emphatize, love, forgive and be compassionate to others? Are we faithful, patient and generous to the people that we meet? If we have a choice to choose, can we pass on the character of Christ?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Patricia Ang)

Prayer: Jesus, give us the grace and clarity to do your will. Cleanse us from our selfishness so that we can pass on the faith, love and compassion to the people that we meet.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for your unconditional love and forgiveness.

Friday, 28 August – Watch Yourselves

28 August – Saint Augustine

He was born in Thagaste in Africa of a Berber family. He was brought up a Christian but left the Church and embraced the Manichaean heresy, later seeing how nonsensical it was and becoming a Neoplatonist instead. He led a wild and dissolute youth. He took a concubine by whom he had a son, Adeodatus. He had a brilliant legal and acedemic career. At length, through the prayers of his mother, and the teaching of St Ambrose of Milan, he was converted back to Christanity. He was baptized in 387, shortly before his mother’s death. He returned home to Africa and led an ascetic life. He was elected Bishop of Hippo and spent 34 years looking after his flock, teaching them, strengthening them in the faith and protecting them strenuously against the errors of the time. He wrote an enormous number of works: the Office of Readings has many extracts from them. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1308.

– Universalis

________________

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

What God wants is for you all to be holy. He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to him in a way that is holy and honourable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God. He wants nobody at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in these matters; the Lord always punishes sins of that sort, as we told you before and assured you. We have been called by God to be holy, not to be immoral; in other words, anyone who objects is not objecting to a human authority, but to God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

________________ 

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him.” At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, “Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out.” But they replied, “There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves.” They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. “Lord, Lord,” they said “open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you solemnly, I do not know you.” So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.’

________________

Stay awake

“If only you would listen to him today!” cries out Psalms 95:7. This is plea that I imagine many a saddened parent would have cried out to their wayward child. I was just watching a program on TV, which had the very honest reflections and interviews of teenage gangsters-turned-good. These were now young men in their early twenties, who confessed to spending their youth either rioting or abetting in illegal gambling, amongst other crimes and debauchery.

What struck me most and touched me deeply was the face and words of the young man on the program, Joshua who finally repented of his wayward activities and cleaned up his act, admitted that he realised there was no place that he would rather be than at home with his family. He recounted how he had avoided and hated school since kindergarten through primary and secondary school, and how he intentionally stayed away from home everyday. But instead, when he was released from juvenile remand, he found himself returning home repented, relieved, and reconciled. When we listen to such stories of extremities, are we often immune to the plain truth behind these seeming clichéd lines? There are times when I do roll my eyes and think, “Okay, didn’t he already know?” But yes, sometimes we really just don’t know how far we’ve gone off.

Today’s gospel reading reads like a flashing warning sign!

Watch yourselves. Stay awake. Praying at all times. For the strength to survive and hold your ground.

The imagery of these words call to mind soldiers at the frontline lying in tense and critical positions, keeping watch on the enemy line and keeping up their strongest defense. What do we face which requires us to be armored and ready for battle, always ready to spring to action? This is the world and its deceptive trappings. These temptations would be different for each of us and we have to be fearless to face our demons. It could be addictions like pornography, gambling, drinking, or weaknesses like anger, lying, stealing, envy, and greed. Our God-given nature desires and seeks to help us become better versions of ourselves. But in reality, we are constantly doing battle with our worser selves.

We have to acknowledge the truth that the enemy lies within, before we can even win this battle. Let us not be slothful and disinterested in our internal struggles, but be brave and honest to confront these enemies. Let us clothe ourselves with the protective armor of the Holy Spirit to be the Watchman of our hearts. We never fight this battle alone, for God has sent Jesus Christ for us, and Christ at His Resurrection has left us the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us deeper into communion with Him.

Keep praying for God’s strength and keep hoping for the deliverance from all evils and deceptions that bind you to your worser self. The Sacrament of Confession through Christ is our greatest armory to lose all evil and unhealthy binds and deliver us back to the loving heart of God the Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I ask you Jesus, to be with me in this time of need, to send your Spirit to guide me along this darkness of the night that I now walk in. I ask for your pure shining light to pour upon me and lead me back to Your Sacred Heart.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who keeps watch over us at all times with His blazing fire of truth and love. We ask Him to stay in our hearts to protect and strengthen us.

Thursday, 27 August – Second Chances

27 August – Saint Monica

She was born at Thagaste in Africa of a Christian family. She was married young, to Patricius, and among her children was Augustine. He had a brilliant intellect and uncertain morals and his wayward spiritual career saw him at one time a Manichee and then a Neoplatonist. With many tears she prayed unceasingly to God for his conversion and her prayers were answered shortly before she died. She had a deep faith and outstanding virtue and is a wonderful example of a Christian mother.

– Universalis

________________

1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

Brothers, your faith has been a great comfort to us in the middle of our own troubles and sorrows; now we can breathe again, as you are still holding firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel before our God on your account? We are earnestly praying night and day to be able to see you face to face again and make up any shortcomings in your faith.

May God our Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, make it easy for us to come to you. May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

________________ 

Matthew 24:42-51

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

‘What sort of servant, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their food at the proper time? ‘Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you solemnly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the dishonest servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time,” and sets about beating his fellow servants and eating and drinking with drunkards, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’

________________

What sort of servant then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household

When God opens up a road for us late in life, the choice to walk it is very different than if we were still in the bloom of youth. Life has happened to us, and we are experienced enough to know not to take decisions lightly. I started school last week. When you do things the second time around – whether it be a new career or if you’re going back to school – you tell yourself, ‘This time, I’m going to do things differently. I’m going to make it count”. I thought about all the mistakes I made the last time I was in school more than twenty years ago. I thought about all the opportunities I squandered, all the experiences I missed out on because I was too intimidated. Mostly I thought about how I would like it to be different this time round. 

The gospel reading today talks about the path of a servant leader, one who has risen through the ranks and who is now, entrusted with fiduciary duty over his master’s household. The qualities of faithfulness and prudence are not something we are born with. They are learned, acquired through painful experience. The ‘faithful and prudent servant’ was not made overnight. He was tested first with small tasks, which he executed faithfully, despite their insignificance. Then he was given more tasks, which he again, executed faithfully and responsibly. And as he completed these tasks, the master of the house began to notice him as one who could be relied upon to get things done. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters, is also dishonest in great ones.” (Luke 16:10).

Not all of us will have the vision to see this in our youth, to know that faithfulness and trustworthiness are proven, one small task at a time. Most of us would have flaked on our commitments at some point. We would have been untrustworthy in our word, not showing up when we said we were going to. The mistakes we make in our youth haunt us, well into our adult lives. But even when we have been unfaithful, the Lord is ever faithful in His love and His forgiveness. Ours is a God of second chances. We are given opportunities to redeem ourselves, even if they occur late in life. For that we have to be grateful. For that, I am so very grateful. Because who would have thought I would be given a second shot at this – to walk this path again, only this time with the benefit of experience?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are embarking on second careers. Let’s make it count. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the second chances we were given, that we never earned nor deserved.

Wednesday, 26 August – Supportive

26 August

________________

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Let me remind you, brothers, how hard we used to work, slaving night and day so as not to be a burden on any one of you while we were proclaiming God’s Good News to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, that our treatment of you, since you became believers, has been impeccably right and fair. You can remember how we treated every one of you as a father treats his children, teaching you what was right, encouraging you and appealing to you to live a life worthy of God, who is calling you to share the glory of his kingdom. Another reason why we constantly thank God for you is that as soon as you heard the message that we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking; and it is still a living power among you who believe it.

________________ 

Matthew 23:27-32

Jesus said, ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption. In the same way you appear to people from the outside like good honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who build the sepulchres of the prophets and decorate the tombs of holy men, saying, “We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our fathers’ day.” So! Your own evidence tells against you! You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets! Very well then, finish off the work that your fathers began.’

________________

… We treated every one of you as a father treats his children…

Tommy, our Labradoodle, was attacked by two Rottweilers last week. The whole thing happened so quickly. While we were in the park, they came out of nowhere and pounced on him, tearing the flesh on his leg and puncturing his forehead with their powerful jaws. It was all so surreal because neither of us had done anything to provoke them. It’s been tough for the little guy since then. Tommy has become jumpy, nervous and hyper-vigilant of his surroundings. I read that dogs suffer from post-traumatic stress. My dog is certainly exhibiting signs of it.

During this time, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in unsolicited ‘puppy parenting’ advice. I’m convinced that the word ‘should’ ought to be banned from our vocabulary – ‘You should have been more watchful’. ‘You should continue to go to the park so he doesn’t develop a phobia’. ‘You should be able to take his stitches out by now, why is it taking so long?’ It is not cool to judge another parent’s efforts, especially when you have never been in her position yourself. She’s trying her best. The word ‘should’ implies that she’s doing it wrong and you know better. No one likes to be judged or told they don’t measure up. I’ve been fielding a lot of ‘shoulds’ this week and frankly, I’m really tired.

The best thing that you can do for someone is to be supportive of them. Paul, in Thessalonians, gives an example of how to approach someone. Exhorting and insisting are all forceful actions, but delivered with compassion and encouragement instead of judgment and criticism, they can be effective. Too often, we think that evangelizing means telling people what to do, showing them the error of their ways. That was the way the Pharisees conducted themselves, and all they did was engender distrust. People want to see our faith in action, the love we preach lived out in our lives. We’ll make more progress if we simply showed them a compassionate heart, a generous spirit and a patient ear. Not everyone is looking for us to offer up solutions. Sometimes they just need to feel that they are understood. Leave the problem solving to God. Let’s just work on the simple art of being supportive.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self awareness to hold our tongues, instead of jumping to offer solutions to problems we might not fully understand. God help us to learn the simple art of being supportive. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for friends and family who support us without judgement or criticism.