25 October, Wednesday – Readiness

25 October 2017

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Romans 6:12-18

You must not let sin reign in your mortal bodies or command your obedience to bodily passions, you must not let any part of your body turn into an unholy weapon fighting on the side of sin; you should, instead, offer yourselves to God, and consider yourselves dead men brought back to life; you should make every part of your body into a weapon fighting on the side of God; and then sin will no longer dominate your life, since you are living by grace and not by law.

Does the fact that we are living by grace and not by law mean that we are free to sin? Of course not. You know that if you agree to serve and obey a master you become his slaves. You cannot be slaves of sin that leads to death and at the same time slaves of obedience that leads to righteousness. You were once slaves of sin, but thank God you submitted without reservation to the creed you were taught. You may have been freed from the slavery of sin, but only to become ‘slaves’ of righteousness.

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Luke 12:39-48

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Peter said, ‘Lord, do you mean this parable for us, or for everyone?’ The Lord replied, ‘What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you truly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time coming,” and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, 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 unfaithful.

The servant who knows what his master wants, but has not even started to carry out those wishes, will receive very many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but deserves to be beaten for what he has done, will receive fewer strokes. When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.’

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…when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.

I have been struggling of late, with a ‘second in command’ who has not had the benefit of ever being guided in his career/job. As such, he has not learnt how to lead a small team of communications professionals, nor ever budgetted for a small unit, let alone how to ‘let go’ and delegate work to others.

As such, his small team have been struggling to produce work that I deem acceptable because everything has to go through his approval first. Inevitably, because of a lack of in-depth knowledge on his part, and the inability to spot errors, the drafts end up being sent back by me for repeated improvements and clean ups. It got to a point where I started dealing with each of his team, just to determine each one’s strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, after 2 to 3 weeks, I discovered that the weak link was in fact their direct report. Because on their own, the three actually could produce good work.

I have always told them that the true worth of a good team is that they produce in spite of having the odds stacked against them. And that they stand on their own two feet because of the work they produce, not because of who their boss is. So that no matter what happens, they will always be regarded well on their own merits. To get to that level, we must always be prepared and always ‘ahead of the curve’ in terms of knowledge and readiness. We must never just accept the easy victories, the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Because that does not build character. It actually encourages complacency.

Brothers and sisters, in today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us yet again to stand watch and be ready. Because the minute God calls us, we must be equipped to spring into action. For He has entrusted each of us with a mission here on earth. Whether as a religious, a lay person, a parent, godparent, brother, sister, cousin, confidant, spouse, teacher, counsellor…the list goes on. Each of us has been given life by God in order to help Him fulfil His plan for humankind. Yes, all of us have a purpose here on earth. And whatever that purpose is, God will take us on a journey that will eventually end.

The question is, once that journey ends, whose lives will we have made a difference to? Can we truly say that we have impacted on someone else’s life and, in so doing, given that person hope? How ready are we to stand up and be counted when the time comes?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray that you always give us the prompting to remain steadfast and ready to serve at a moment’s notice.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being our Truth and our Way.

24 October, Tuesday – Living God’s Call

Oct 24 – Memorial for St. Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop

Anthony Mary Claret (1807–1870) was a weaver and a seminary student with Blessed Francis Coll. He was ordained on 13 June 1835, and became a missionary in Catalonia and the Canary Islands. He directed retreats and founded the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians). He became Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba on 20 May 1850, and founded the Teaching Sisters of Mary Immaculate.

Following his work in the Caribbean, Blessed Pope Pius IX ordered him back to Spain where he became confessor to Queen Isabella II and was exiled with her. He had the gift of prophecy and miracles, and was reported to have preached 10,000 sermons, published 200 works. He spread devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Romans 5:12, 15, 17-21

Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned; but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous. Again, as one man’s fall brought condemnation on everyone, so the good act of one man brings everyone life and makes them justified. As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. When law came, it was to multiply the opportunities of failing, but however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater; and so, just as sin reigned wherever there was death, so grace will reign to bring eternal life thanks to the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Luke 12:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready.’

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…grace will reign to bring eternal life

Just as Adam brought sin into the world and hence, as humans, we bear in us ‘original sin’ – which is the sin of origin – Jesus came to give us life eternal. He is the second Adam. Who then is the second Eve? For without Eve in the Old Testament, Adam would not have taken a bite from the forbidden fruit.

Mary, having conceived Jesus in her womb, is the second Eve. But unlike Eve, Mary stands firmly with God and conquers the serpent (the Devil) and remains humble and steadfast, in spite of the many trials that come her way. And in giving birth to Jesus, she gives birth to the church. We were recently asked to ponder the question of Jesus’ formation before he began his public ministry. Everyone is aware of how Christ spent 3 years preaching and healing; but what of his first thirty years here on earth? Who took on the responsibility of teaching him, forming him and imparting values to him? It was his earthly parents – Mary and Joseph.

In Mother Mary, we have a living example of how God’s graces can flow through someone who is willing to give up his or her life in faith, truly dedicated to God’s mission. And in today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us to stay awake because we never know when God will call us. So how are we to ensure that we will always be ready? Simply by living the life that God has called us to live. Because by living the life God called Mary to live, she helped to mould and prepare Jesus for his ministry on earth. So, just as God called Mary, He too calls us each and every day so that we can slowly shape and mould ourselves more and more to live Christ-centred lives. Thanks to Mary and Jesus, we now have the Sacraments as well as the rosary to help us get through each day as we struggle.

The recent visit of the statue of Fatima to Singapore opened the door for me to better appreciate Mother Mary’s role in our church and also to listen to the preaching of Fr Francis Tiquia, a truly anointed son of God. He exhorted that as Catholics, we needed to practice CARE in our lives. To go for weekly Confession, daily Adoration, say the Rosary (4 to 5 times a day) and to go for daily Eucharist.

Brothers and sisters, we have been saved by Mary and Jesus through their sacrifices in humble obedience to God the Father. Let us honour them by living a life of sacrifice and humility so that others may see through us the living example of what it means to be a child of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the grace of humility as you call us to mission.

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord for your patience and everlasting love.

23 October, Monday – The Material Is Immaterial

Oct 23 – Memorial for St. John Capistrano, Priest

John (1386–1456) was the son of a former German knight. His father died when John was still young. He studied law at the University of Perugia, and became a lawyer in Naples, Italy. He was the reforming governor of Perugia under King Landislas of Naples. When war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta in 1416, John tried to broker a peace, but instead his opponents ignored the truce, and John became a prisoner of war.

During his imprisonment, he came to the decision to change vocations. He had married just before the war, but his marriage was never consummated and, with his bride’s permission, it was annulled. He became a Franciscan at Perugia on 4 October 1416 and was a fellow student with St. James of the Marshes, and a disciple of St. Bernadine of Siena. He was a noted preacher while still a deacon, beginning his work in 1420.

He was an itinerant priest throughout Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, preaching to tens of thousands. He established communities of Franciscan renewal, and was reported to heal by making the Sign of the Cross over a sick person. He wrote extensively, mainly against the heresies of the day.

After the fall of Constantinople, he preached Crusade against the Muslim Turks. At the age of 70, he was commissioned by Pope Callistus II to lead it, and marched off at the head of 70,000 Christian soldiers. He won the great battle of Belgrade in the summer of 1456. He died in the field a few months later, but his army delivered Europe from the Muslims.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 4:20-25

Since God had made him a promise, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him.’ Scripture however does not refer only to him but to us as well when it says that his faith was thus ‘considered’; our faith too will be ‘considered’ if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Jesus who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us.

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Luke 12:13-21

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?.” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’

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…a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.

Greed can certainly become an all-consuming ‘passion’ and drive someone to do things that totally do not make any sense from a rational point of view. In fact, I know of many instances where families have been torn apart because of greed and, in some cases, over rather insignificant sums of money.

Fortunately, I have never been in any position to share any wealth I have accumulated over the years as I used to be quite bad at managing my own finances. I had the tendency of spending well outside of my means in my 20s and 30s, even going into quite significant credit card debt. But, having seen the error of my ways, I have also recently discovered the joy of decluttering – getting rid of as many of my ‘useless’ possessions as I can. One item at a time, one bootload of ‘rubbish’ at a time, I have come to realise that we truly do not need much more than a roof over our head and two (or three) hot meals each day.

It has been a year since I came back from my Camino and last month, as a friend of mine was updating me on his 5-day walk, I couldn’t help but wonder how my brother in Christ, Helge, was getting on. As I looked back at my Facebook posts from last year, the tears welled up as I recalled that day we reunited as I was walking into Santiago. I still feel the same emotions hearing him recount what happened to him that week we seemed to have ‘lost each other’ on the road. How he had to resort to selling his things and, eventually, his boots so that he could continue his walk. How he was down to his last Euro when we met up again and how he was planning to spend two nights in the airport because he simply could not afford to stay in Santiago.

And, even though he had been told that his mother had passed away just the day before, he was still as joyful and more in love with Jesus than when he started his walk 5 months earlier from Berlin, with no job and no home. The two days he spent with us were filled with laughter, tears and wonderful meals as we shared freely about our own struggles and our lives at home. As I watched him walk away from my window the day he left for the airport, I couldn’t help but feel in my heart that for those two glorious days, I had been in the presence of Christ himself.

Brothers and sisters, as I have written yesterday, we are merely ‘in transit’ here on earth. Let us not waste our time here caught up by all things material. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing we can take with us when we eventually depart for the next life.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are too caught up in greed to see the error of their ways and to be free from this capital sin.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give thanks for all that you bestow on us.

22 October, Sunday – Paying Our Dues

October 22 – World Mission Sunday

World Mission Sunday is a day set aside for the Catholic Church throughout the world to publicly renew its commitment to the missionary movement. It is celebrated on the penultimate (next-to-last) Sunday of October every year.[1] It was created by Pope Pius XI in 1926 as the day of prayer for missions.

  • Wikipedia

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Isaiah 45:1, 4-6

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more:

‘It is for the sake of my servant Jacob, of Israel my chosen one, that I have called you by your name, conferring a title though you do not know me. I am the Lord, unrivalled; there is no other God besides me.

Though you do not know me, I arm you that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.’

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1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

From Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace.

We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.

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Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’

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…give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.

A minister one day approached a noble king and asked this question, “My Lord, I have been in your service for the last 50 years. As I am about to retire, how do you intend to reward me for my loyalty?” After giving it some thought, the King told his minister to take a horse from the royal stable and ride from daybreak till dusk. However much land the horse encircled would be given to the minister and his family.

The next day, the minister awoke bright and early and rode furiously from sunrise to sunset. The moment he stopped, both the horse and him dropped dead from sheer exhaustion. In the end, all that was given to the minister was just enough land to accommodate his coffin.

Brothers and sisters, it is very easy to be consumed by the material world, especially when society judges you by your postal code, make of car, brand of handbag and how frequently you dine at expensive restaurants. Jesus’ reply truly gives us some context in terms of how we should aim to live our life here on earth. Because at the end of the day, this temporal existence of ours is merely a prelude to an eternal life either in Heaven, or in total damnation and despair. If we allow ourselves to be consumed by greed, envy and pride, there is no end to the misery that we will be inflicting upon ourselves and our loved ones.

For me, Jesus’ reply works on two levels. First, he teaches us to be good, law-abiding citizens by giving back to our rulers what is owed to them. On the other hand, if you look at it from His perspective, He knows that no matter what we do, there is no amount of riches we could ever own that could even begin to repay our God for all He has done for us. So why then should we go to church and celebrate the Eucharist as often as we can? Why bother when God can never, ever be repaid in kindness and generosity?

The answer is that Jesus doesn’t want us to give up trying. We must have faith and carry within us the hope that our loving Father will always look upon us and embrace us in His loving arms as we lay down to sleep each night, comforted by the fact that He has forgiven us our sins and is waiting to welcome us with open arms. All we need to do is to pray each and every day.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Bless us heavenly Father, with the spirit of contentment so that we do not succumb to greed but hunger for what you can give us every day.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for all that you give to us.

21 October, Saturday – Faith In The Dark

21 October 2017

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Romans 4:13, 16-18

The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith. That is why what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us. As scripture says: I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.

Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars.

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Luke 12:8-12

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare himself for him in the presence of the angels. But the man who disowns me in the presence of men will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.’

‘Everyone who says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.’

‘When they take you before synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say, because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say.’

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If anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare himself for him in the presence of the angels.

How comforting it is to be promised a defense before the court of angels – by Jesus Christ himself! No, this is not a pipe dream, the candy-coated part of our faith that we will never live to see. It is true in the present, in that the heavenly court is an unseen reality right now. But of course, this is invisible to the naked eye. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1).

St Paul tells the Romans that Abraham is their father of faith too, precisely because they have received their faith through Christ Jesus and not by Jewish tradition. “The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law, but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith.” (Rm 4:13). This was a very important statement in the time of the early church because there was often strife between the Jews of Abrahamic descent, and the pagans and gentiles who were adopted into the faith. Those who became adopted children of God could sometimes face discrimination or a lower esteem as ‘second-class family members’. I suppose this could be the experience of some of our young brethren in this day and age. St Paul wanted to assure them of their equal sonship through Christ.

The thing about the gift of faith is that the length of reception into the family does not matter. What matters is a deep desire and sincerity in believing in God. “What fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us” who believe in the one God “who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist” (Rm 4:16-17).

A totally new life in Christ is what awaits those amongst us who have yet to come to know God the Heavenly Father, or have yet to be fully received into the Church family. What lies behind them no longer matters in this new life. As St Paul encourages the early Philippian church too, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi 3:13-14).

And even those of us who struggle to put one foot in front of the other in this dark night of our faith journeys, let us be comforted that: “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised” (Rm 4:18).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for a deeper trust in God, in responding to this gift and mystery of faith. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you God, for this gift of knowing you and your Son Jesus Christ who walks with me.

20 October, Friday – Yeast of Sincerity

20 October 2017

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Romans 4:1-8

What shall we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are all descended? If Abraham was justified as a reward for doing something, he would really have had something to boast about, though not in God’s sight because scripture says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him. And David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:

Happy those whose crimes are forgiven, whose sins are blotted out; happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.

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Luke 12:1-7

The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.

‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’

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Every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid.
A little yeast is a dangerous thing. Throughout the Bible, yeast is referred to repeatedly. Scripture speaks of yeast in this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Mt 13:33). But in most places, yeast seems to have a negative connotation, as we read in the Gospel today “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). Elsewhere, we are called to bring unleavened bread and wafers as our offering to God (Lev 10:12; Num 6:14-15; etc). For Holy Communion, we use unleavened wafers to represent the Body of Christ.
Initially, I was a little confused between this reference to yeast and salt. Why is salt good and why are we called to be ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13; Mk 9:50)? But yeast seems to hint at different meanings. Yeast is used as leitmotif for sin and evil intentions in one place, but is also used as a peace offering and wave offering to God (Lev 7:13; 23:17).
I suppose this is the very thing that Jesus warns us against – this ‘yeast of hypocrisy’. It is hard to be certain when yeast can be used for good or bad. Haven’t we experienced something of this nature in our personal experiences before? Conversations amongst a church community may start with the best intentions of sharing faith experiences, but can also become a stumbling block for those who begin to believe themselves more faithful or obedient than others. It is truly no easy balancing act!
I believe the clue to understanding this is seen in the first reading today – the age-old question of what justifies us in God’s eyes. This is where the symbiotic and intertwining relationship of faith and good works comes to bear. St Paul tells the Romans: “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him” (Rm 4:2-4). Abraham had to ‘put his faith in God’, and not merely ‘have faith’. This is evidence of an active faith – one that required a living action and not a passive reception (Jas 2:14-26). This is the trip-up that Jesus calls us to be on guard against.
Faith and Works are like flour and yeast; though their significance can differ according to each person. It is the foolish man who thinks he knows which parts of his faith and how many parts of his good works contribute to counting him worthy in God’s eyes. How will we ever know? It is not for us to count towards our self-justification. After all, David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven,
whose sins are blotted out;
happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Help us Lord, to humbly discern our own spiritual needs and cultivate our own faith garden. Help us not to peek over the fences into our neighbour’s garden to compare spiritual fruits which are yours alone to give. 
Thanksgiving: Happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless!

19 October, Thursday – Who Can Understand God?

Oct 19 – Memorial for Sts. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, martyrs; Memorial for St. Paul of the Cross, Priest

John de Brebeuf (1593–1649) was a French Jesuit. He wanted to enter the priesthood since young, but his health was so bad there were doubts he could make it. His posting as a missionary to frontier Canada at the age of 32 was a literal godsend. He spent the rest of his life there, and the harsh and hearty climate so agreed with him that the Natives, surprised at his endurance, called him “Echon”, which means “load bearer”. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear of sinking.

John had great difficulty learning the Huron language. “You may have been a famous professor or theologian in France,” he wrote in a letter home, “but here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse.” However, he eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.

According to the histories of the game, it was John who named the present-day version of the Indian game ‘lacrosse’ because the stick used reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (la crosse).

He was martyred in 1649, tortured to death by the Iroquois. By 1650, the Huron nation was exterminated, and the laboriously built mission was abandoned. But it proved to be “one of the triumphant failures that are commonplace in the Church’s history”. These martyrdoms created a wave of vocations and missionary fervour in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.

– Patron Saint Index

Isaac Jogues (1607–1646) joined the Jesuits at Rouen, France in 1624. He was ordained a priest and taught literature. He became a missionary to New France (Canada) in 1636, starting in Quebec and working among the Hurons and Petuns in the area of the Great Lakes. This was a rough assignment – not only were the living conditions hard, but the locals blamed the ‘Blackrobes’ for any disease, ill luck, or other problems that occurred where they were.

He was captured on 3 August 1642 by the Mohawks, enslaved, tortured and mutilated for 13 months, but he taught the Faith to any who would listen. With the help of local Dutch settlers he finally escaped and was sent back to France to recover.

In 1644, he returned to Canada to continue his work with the natives and negotiate peace with the Iroquois. He was martyred with fellow Jesuit priest John de Brebeuf and several lay missionaries when the natives blamed Christian sorcery for an epidemic and crop failure. He is one of the North America Martyrs.

– Patron Saint Index

Paul of the Cross (1694–1775) was the son of a merchant and a pious youth. After receiving a vision and while still a layman, he founded the Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion (Passionists) in 1721 to preach about Jesus Crucified. He was a preacher of such power that hardened soldiers and bandits were seen to weep.

The community lived a penitential life, in solitude and poverty, teaching people in the easiest possible way how to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. He was ordained in 1727 along with his brother John Baptist by Pope Benedict XIII. After ordination, they devoted themselves to preaching missions in parishes, particularly in remote country places where there were insufficient priests pastorally involved. Their preaching apostolate and the retreats they gave in seminaries and religious houses brought their mission to the attention of others and gradually the community began to grow.

However, the austere life of the Passionists did not encourage large numbers and at one point all the brothers in the Order deserted him. But Paul preferred a slow, at times painful, growth to something more spectacular. In 1741 his Rule was approved by Pope Benedict XIV, and the community began to grow again.

During his lifetime, Paul of the Cross was best known as a popular preacher and a spiritual director. More than two thousand of his letters, most of them letters of spiritual direction, have been preserved. By the time of his death, the congregation had 80 fathers and brothers. He is considered among the greatest Catholic mystics of the 18th century.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Romans 3:21-30

God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law, since it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone, Jew and pagan alike, who believes in Jesus Christ. Both Jew and pagan sinned and forfeited God’s glory, and both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith. In this way God makes his justice known; first, for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand, then, for the present age, by showing positively that he is just, and that he justifies everyone who believes in Jesus.

So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them. What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do. Is God the God of Jews alone and not of the pagans too? Of the pagans too, most certainly, since there is only one God.

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Luke 11:47-54

Jesus said:

‘Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets, the men your ancestors killed! In this way you both witness what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building.

‘And that is why the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles; some they will slaughter and persecute, so that this generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary.” Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all.

‘Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.’

When he left the house, the scribes and the Pharisees began a furious attack on him and tried to force answers from him on innumerable questions, setting traps to catch him out in something he might say.

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So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)

The readings today are truly confounding. Let us put aside what we already know, to step into the shoes of all who were present in the scene where Paul preached, or in the presence of Jesus as he denounced the Pharisees and lawyers. How might we feel?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul cautioned them against self-righteousness amongst themselves, whether Jews or pagans. It is not enough just to live within the bounds of the Law, for all have sinned and forfeited God’s glory. We understand this reasoning when we pause long enough to recognise even the minor wrongs we commit against our neighbours through gossip, judgmentalism, lies. It is not enough to be of the same Christian stock or label – for every person’s individual flaws and weaknesses are different. Paul tells us, “…both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus… so as to win reconciliation through faith” (Rm 3:24-25).

We must not be complacent and boast about our salvation simply because we outwardly profess our faith in Christ Jesus. This can become misguided and exclusionary. “What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do…” (Rm 3:27-28)

Only God can look into the hearts of man. Even the holiest of men cannot see into the soul of another, though he may be able to discern it. This is what made Jesus furious as he lambasted the Pharisees and lawyers of the time. He accused them of the same sins as their ancestors, by “taking away the key of knowledge” (Lk 11:52). Jesus was referring to their wrongful gatekeeping of the faith and misrepresentation of the Laws.

Theirs was a love of the law of the Law, and not the the love of Love itself. By their interference, they became the obstacle between their fellow men and God – murdering prophets and apostles ‘between the altar and the sanctuary’. “You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.” (Lk 11:52).

Are there occasions where I have (through my zealousness or judgmentalism) unconsciously interfered in the gift of faith that God was working in someone’s life?

This is a moment for me to pause and contemplate what the words of scripture mean personally for me. It is not only by works; yet, it is not only by faith. Both can be superficial extremes which Jesus denounces. How I am called to act and respond in every moment, to each person, is a unique sensing of God’s Wisdom. God’s grace is always at work within me; may I not neglect the Holy Spirit in my daily life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help us to deepen our own spiritual sensing and hide our life with Christ; for even narrower is the gate to heaven for those with spiritual pride. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for this gift of faith I have received by your sacrifice.

18 October, Wednesday – Neighbours

Oct 18 – Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

Luke (d. 74) was born to pagan Greek parents, and possibly a slave. He was one of the earliest converts, and a physician studying in Antioch and Tarsus. He probably travelled as a ship’s doctor, and many charitable societies of physicians are named after him. Legend has that he was also a painter who may have done portraits of Jesus and Mary, but none have ever been correctly or definitively attributed to him; this story, and the inspiration his Gospel has always given artists, led to his patronage of them.

He met St. Paul at Troas, and evangelised Greece and Rome with him, being there for the shipwreck and other perils of the voyage to Rome, and stayed in Rome for Paul’s two years in prison. He wrote the Gospel According to Luke, much of which was based on the teachings and writings of Paul, interviews with early Christians, and his own experiences. He also wrote a history of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He was likely to have been martyred for his faith.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Timothy 4:10-17

Demas has deserted me for love of this life and gone to Thessalonika, Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia; only Luke is with me. Get Mark to come and bring him with you; I find him a useful helper in my work. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, and the scrolls, especially the parchment ones. Alexander the coppersmith has done me a lot of harm; the Lord will repay him for what he has done. Be on your guard against him yourself, because he has been bitterly contesting everything that we say.

The first time I had to present my defence, there was not a single witness to support me. Every one of them deserted me – may they not be held accountable for it. But the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.

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Luke 10:1-9

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

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Eat what is set before you

How nice it must have been, how comforting to know that if you knock on a door, as a traveler, that household was obliged to give you shelter and some bread. The Jewish customs valued life, for if they turned a traveler away in the middle of the night, they might find him dead in the morning. So either out of fear or hospitality, it was a time where you should not be sleeping on the streets, unless you were a leper or were short of a limb, then strangely you were an outcast for fear your curse would be inflicted on them.

I myself am not one who opens his door all day long and engages in long conversations in the corridors. Thankfully, I married someone who really sees the person behind the faces she meets, she greets, she asks, she cares, and she’s engaged in a conversation along the corridor, long after I have gone into the house and put my feet up. I have truly learnt the value of being a neighbour — my neighbours have come to our aid many times, as have we in their times of need. From borrowing potatoes, to drills, to watching the baby and even sharing home-cooked meals, it does feel like I have something rare on my floor.

So as the disciples did, as Jesus commanded, I pray we sincerely wish our peace upon our neighbours, and as Jesus said, if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; if not, your peace will return to you. We have nothing to lose in reaching out, being kind, being neighbourly. We have become rather guarded but in opening our gates, I think we will find that most of the time there are bridges to be built. And hopefully, they will know that we are Christians by our love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: Pray for us St Luke, that we may be evangelists too and not be afraid to give away some of this infinite love that Christ has given us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the challenge to love outside our comfort zone, and for the promise that we will not lose anything.

17 October, Tuesday – Wisdom

Oct 17 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Ignatius (c. 50–107) was a convert from paganism to Christianity. He succeeded Peter as bishop of Antioch, Syria. He served during persecution of Domitian. During the persecution of Trajan, he was ordered to be taken to Rome to be killed by wild animals. On the way, a journey which took months, he wrote a series of encouraging letters to the churches under his care. He was the first writer to use the term The Catholic Church. He was an apostolic father and a martyr. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Legend says he was the infant that Jesus took into his arms in Mark 9.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 1:16-25

I am not ashamed of the Good News: it is the power of God saving all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen!

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Luke 11:37-41

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’

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The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew
I’d like to touch on a very real trait that is well-known in Singapore society: ‘kiasu-ism’. The Hokkien term ‘kiasu’ denotes someone who is afraid to lose and would literally do anything to get ahead and stay ahead. Sometimes, this includes withholding information from other people, so as to have a “first mover advantage” or to place oneself in an important position because you possessed that information.
I once worked with a manager who liked to do that. In fact he even had a reputation in the office for not sharing important information, even with his own team members. During meetings with the clients and bosses, he would present this information, giving the impression that he was in the ‘know’ and therefore creating value for himself at the expense of his team. It’s difficult to work with people like this. I can understand their motives, though I may not agree with it. In this dog-eat-dog world, it really is the survival of the fittest, and if you can’t stay in the game, you would be out.
In today’s reading, St Paul condemns those who had the knowledge of God but refused to share it with others. God revealed this to them so that they would go forth and spread the Good News of the gospel. Some of these people felt privileged that such a revelation should come upon them and turned that privilege as a bargaining chip for position. They felt important, and believed that they were smart because people would look to them. Consumed by pride, they believed only in their own reasoning and the Word of God became obliterated.
Knowledge is a gift given to us by the grace of God. We know the things that we do because God made it so. Some people are smarter than others, but it doesn’t mean that they are more important. Perhaps others possess a gift for speaking, or a gift for the arts, that another person does not have. The Holy Spirit gives each of us special gifts as he sees fit (1 Cor 12:11). What we know about work and life is because we were given the smarts to do that by God. Our ability to digest numbers, recite the law, or comprehend technical terms is undeniably from our own efforts, but more importantly because God blessed us with the ability to understand these things.
So for those of us whom God has blessed, let us ask ourselves: what are we doing with the knowledge that God has given us? Are we sharing it as we should? Are we using it for the right purposes? Are we applying discernment to what we know? Are we giving Him glory? God gives us the wisdom to know Him, His word and His creations. If we ask, we would receive it. But it is a gift and, as with all of God’s gifts, if we use it unwisely, it may one day be taken away from us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, help us shed our ‘kiasu’ spirit and learn to share what we have with those who need it most.   
Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for giving us the wisdom to understand Your word and the wisdom to discern. We pray that we will not take this gift of knowledge for granted.

16 October, Monday – Silence Speaks To Open Hearts

Oct 16 – Memorial for St. Hedwig, Religious; Memorial for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

Hedwig (1174–1243) was the daughter of the Duke of Croatia, and aunt of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She married Prince Henry I of Silesia and Poland in 1186 at the age of 12, and became the mother of seven. She cared for the sick both personally and by founding hospitals. Upon her husband’s death, she gave away her fortune and entered the monastery at Trebnitz.

– Patron Saint Index

Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690) was healed from a crippling disorder by a vision of the Blessed Virgin, which prompted her to give her life to God. After receiving a vision of Christ fresh from the Scourging, she was moved to join the Order of the Visitation by Paray-le-Monial in 1671.

She received a revelation from our Lord in 1675, which included 12 promises to her and to those who practiced a true devotion to His Sacred Heart, whose crown of thorns represent his sacrifices. The devotion encountered violent opposition, especially in Jansenist areas, but has become widespread and popular.

The Twelve Promises of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary for those devoted to His Sacred Heart are:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will establish peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
  5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
  9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.
  10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
  12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under any displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 1:1-7

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.

This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead. Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name. You are one of these nations, and by his call belong to Jesus Christ. To you all, then, who are God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace.

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Luke 11:29-32

The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

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This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign

Don’t you just hate it when someone asks you for some advice on a situation, yet they continue to persist in the same way, until someone else – or two – comes along with the same advice and suddenly their ears are open and they pay heed? Isn’t it just worse when they come back to you and share how that advice had changed their lives or made so much sense? It seems this person forgot that you gave the same advice from the start. I am sure this is a common experience for many, and it is definitely more irritating when it happens with someone close such as a family member or a good friend.

This happens to me; and I have done the same to the people who try to help me. Actually, for some of us, we do need to hear the same message, probably twice or thrice, before it sinks in and we take note.

However, the readings of today reveal an important ingredient: wisdom. It is not enough for us to ask for a sign, to ask for the way to be shown us. After all, Paul tells us in the first reading, the signs, the Good News had been promised by God long before through the prophets in the scriptures. The people who lived in the time of these prophets had heard the prophecies loud and clear – Jonah, Moses, Elijah – but not everyone heeded their clarion call. Well, they were mere men anyway.

But here comes Jesus. Jesus, Paul proclaims, is the Son of God, the Christ our Lord. Paul is reminding the Romans that Jesus Christ is the sign for this generation. ‘For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation… and there is something greater than Solomon here… and there is something greater than Jonah here.’ (Lk 11:31-32) These were the very words of Christ himself as he preached amongst the Jews and Pagans that he walked amongst.

As I pondered this scene, I wonder if I were one of those around him back then, would I have truly listened with wisdom and discernment, or merely heard and forgot. Would I have walked on from that crowd and joined another gathering to listen to yet another wise man preach, aimlessly asking for teachings and signposts like a mindless addiction for cure-alls? Or do I choose to open my heart to the Living Word of God to seek His wisdom and love for a deep conversion within?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to sit still and let Your Word in the scriptures sink into my being like food from heaven for my weary soul.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for the gift of a morning or night-time silence when we can reflect on our days and Your presence.