Monday, 04 May – The Holy Advocate II

4 May 

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Acts 14:5-18

Eventually with the connivance of the authorities a move was made by pagans as well as Jews to make attacks on the apostles and to stone them. When the apostles came to hear of this, they went off for safety to Lycaonia where, in the towns of Lystra and Derbe and in the surrounding country, they preached the Good News.

A man sat there who had never walked in his life, because his feet were crippled from birth; and as he listened to Paul preaching, he managed to catch his eye. Seeing that the man had the faith to be cured, Paul said in a loud voice, ‘Get to your feet – stand up’, and the cripple jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done they shouted in the language of Lycaonia, ‘These people are gods who have come down to us disguised as men.’ They addressed Barnabas as Zeus, and since Paul was the principal speaker they called him Hermes. The priests of Zeus-outside-the-Gate, proposing that all the people should offer sacrifice with them, brought garlanded oxen to the gates. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening they tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings like you. We have come with good news to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that these hold. In the past he allowed each nation to go its own way; but even then he did not leave you without evidence of himself in the good things he does for you: he sends you rain from heaven, he makes your crops grow when they should, he gives you food and makes you happy.’ Even this speech, however, was scarcely enough to stop the crowd offering them sacrifice.

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John 14:21-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’
Judas – this was not Judas Iscariot – said to him, ‘Lord, what is all this about? Do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied:
‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
And my word is not my own:
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything,
and remind you of all I have said to you.’

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“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.”

How beautiful it is and privileged are we to have God assigned to us 24/7, that He will also be our constant reminder of all that we need to know in order to live a life pleasing to Him.

Within my circle of friends, we sometimes expect to be reminded of our meet-ups and it is rare that someone takes on the role of the ‘secretary’ (the one who sends reminders). It is just unpopular. On the corporate front, we have people following up on something if it is of benefit to them. But today we are reminded of one of the great promises Jesus made while He hung on the cross — that He would give us an advocate and friend. To a large extent, this is unbefitting of a sinner, to be with God while we harbour sin and even ignore His gentle voice. Certainly our Lord does not think as we do and perhaps, because He recognised this need for the Holy Spirit, He made this promise to us.

When I was in my early teens, I wanted to take up swimming lessons. We did not have access to a swimming pool in school and the only way we could swim was to take swimming lessons. I was adamant and asked my younger cousin to come with me. She was immediately given permission to attend swimming classes, which were out of regular school hours, because my uncle knew that we would be together and that we would look out for each other. It seems to me that Jesus is that loving Father who wanted someone — not just anyone — but God Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to watch over us, guide us and be our friend.

I am sure that most of us love God. But how faithfully are we listening to His words? Are we able to ensure that our love for God is an act of obedience and faithfulness? Can we shun temptation to take heed to His calling and His way? Let us be encouraged to know that we are not alone and that we have a faithful companion on this journey.

What are our habits that cling to us so hard today? Is it an addiction, a stubborn heart, unforgiveness, or a stubbornness that says we do not need go for confession and partake in the Eucharist? What drives us and motivates us on a daily basis? is it our obsession for success, fame, control, power, beauty, youthfulness, freedom and the fulfilment of all our dreams? Are these not our idols?

Can we listen to Him today while we await His healing from illness and brokenness? While we wait for the return of a loved one? While we wait eagerly for a positive response from a potential employer or an invitation for another date with someone we fancy?

Let us offer our dreams and obsessions to the Lord and live a life free of idols of any kind. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord help us to weed out any form of idolatry in us. Guide us Lord to follow your commandments.

Thanksgiving: Not to us, O Lord, but to your name we give the glory. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 03 May – The Holy Advocate

3 May – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31

When Saul got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple. Barnabas, however, took charge of him, introduced him to the apostles, and explained how the Lord had appeared to Saul and spoken to him on his journey, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Saul now started to go round with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. But after he had spoken to the Hellenists, and argued with them, they became determined to kill him. When the brothers knew, they took him to Caesarea, and sent him off from there to Tarsus.

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

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1 John 3:18-24

My children,

our love is not to be just words or mere talk,
but something real and active;
only by this can we be certain
that we are children of the truth
and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence,
whatever accusations it may raise against us,
because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.
My dear people,
if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience,
we need not be afraid in God’s presence,
and whatever we ask him,
we shall receive,
because we keep his commandments
and live the kind of life that he wants.
His commandments are these:
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
and that we love one another
as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments
lives in God and God lives in him.
We know that he lives in us
by the Spirit that he has given us.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said:
‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’

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Do what pleases Him

At some point in our lives, each of us aspires to live a life pleasing to God. Today is the best time to reflect on why we choose to do so and to seriously take stock on the times we turned our backs on God and did as we pleased or to please others.

It is so common for us to give and receive advice that “we should listen to our hearts and not our minds”. In today’s reading we are told that God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything. Hence will it not be more befitting for us to listen to God rather than our hearts? Because the fruit of listening to Him and following His commandments is that we remain in Him. Take a moment today to think about what it would be like to remain in Jesus.

I always feel that when I choose to focus on my love for God, it is the easier part of the bargain compared to loving my neighbours, which is a different ball game all together. During the recent Lenten season, I was hurt by how my loved ones were treated and despite the hurts I felt, God was seeing me through this difficult time. As I was reflecting on a particularly trying day, I was reminded of the similarity of my experience with that of Mother Mary when she witnessed the torture, humiliation, pain and death of her beloved Son. It gave me great consolation to know that our Blessed Mother had set an example for each of us to follow. So that each time we feel helpless because we cannot love our persecutors unconditionally; each time we are hurting and angry, we know that as Christians, we are called to forgive — all the time and every time. In today’s reading, St John tells us that if our hearts are not condemned, they remain in Him and we receive everything we ask for. Could it be that in our condemnation,  we are simply overwhelmed by our feelings, and simply led astray by circumstances?

We pray only when we feel like it, we ‘fall in love’ momentarily despite the promise of our marital vows, we show compassion, love and kindness depending on our moods. Are our hearts so condemned that we sometimes act in this manner?

But there is always the Hope in the risen Lord, who renews our ways so that we can live in the truth. And because loving others is not the easiest thing to do, let us also encourage others; especially those who trespass against us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

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Prayer: Father God, help us to live a life pleasing to you. Forgive us for the times we have fallen short of loving you and our neighbour. Mother Mary, pray for us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for giving us people who love in deed and truth.

Saturday, 02 May – Even Greater Works

2 May – Saint Athanasius

He was born in Alexandria. He assisted Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea and later succeeded him as bishop. He fought hard against Arianism all his life, undergoing many sufferings and spending a total of 17 years in exile. He wrote outstanding works to explain and defend orthodoxy.

Athanasius’s passion for the truth seems tactless to many of us today, to the point where some Catholic devotional works even express embarrassment over it. This is grotesque. Before we congratulate ourselves on being more gentle and civilised than Athanasius and his contemporaries, we should look at the lack of charity that characterizes academic controversies today (from string theory to global warming) and the way that some of the participants are willing to use any weapon that comes to hand, from legal persecution to accusations of madness to actual assault. The matters in dispute with the Arians were more important than any of these scientific questions. They were vital to the very nature of Christianity, and, as Cardinal Newman put it, the trouble was that at that time the laity tended to be champions of orthodoxy while their bishops (seduced by closeness to imperial power) tended not to be. The further trouble (adds Chadwick) is that the whole thing became tangled up with matters of power, organization and authority, and with cultural differences between East and West. Athanasius was accused of treason and murder, embezzlement and sacrilege. In the fight against him, any weapon would do.

Arianism taught that the Son was created by the Father and in no way equal to him. This was in many ways a “purer” and more “spiritual” approach to religion, since it did not force God to undergo the undignified experience of being made of meat. Islam is essentially Arian, granting Jesus a miraculous birth, miracles, a crucifixion and a resurrection, but all as a matter of God demonstrating his power by committing more spectacular miracles than usual.

Arianism leaves an infinite gap between God and man, and ultimately destroys the Gospel, leaving it either as a fake or as a cruel parody. It leaves the door open to Manichaeism, which mixes Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Gnostic elements into Christianity, so that God is good but creation is bad (or at worst, a mistake) and the work of an evil anti-God. Only by being orthodox and insisting on the identity of the natures of the Father and the Son and the Spirit can we truly understand the goodness of creation and the love of God, and live according to them.

– Universalis

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Acts 13:44-52

The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:

I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’
It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.
But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

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John 14:7-14

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him, ‘and you still do not know me?
‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask for anything in my name,
I will do it.’

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I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.

It came to my realisation lately that great works mean different things to different people. If you are doing things and serving in a ministry which challenges you and puts you out of your comfort zone, that is indeed ‘great works.’ It is timely to ask God what great works He wants us to do. Does He want us to let go of the past, let go of an addiction, forgive a long-standing grudge and hurt, or is He just asking us to smile at the storm we are facing and to trust in Him completely?

In today’s reading, we are reminded that what we ask of Him we will receive. Sometimes, we throw a tantrum because we do not receive what we have been praying for. This can lead to potentially dangerous behaviour as we constantly look at our unmet needs and wants and eventually become so self-absorbed that we are not able to recognise God.

Just like Philip, we have the presence of God and yet we tend to question Him and doubt His love and mercy. Is it time for us to do something great by trusting in Him compeletly? If we are praying for healing, can we see Jesus in all those who are ill? If we have been praying for a job or success in our exams can we see the face of Jesus in the homeless, the illiterate and those who cannot afford an education for their children. If we have been praying for the gift of children in marriage or for a spouse, are we able to treat everyone as a precious child of God (especially with potential suitors)? Are we able to sacrifice our evenings and weekends to nurture orphans and teach skills to underprivileged adults?

What is God asking us to see today and would we see Him while we wait to receive? Do we have the humility and compassion to cry with someone today because mere words won’t do? Are we able to share our meal because that is all we have to offer?

In today’s Psalm, I am reminded of the hymn “All the ends of the earth, all you creatures of the sea, lift your hands to the wonders of the Lord…” If that is the manner that animals worship God, how then are we supposed to praise, worship and give thanks to our Lord?

Today, let us recognise God who lives. Let us challenge ourselves to see, do, feel and act in ways that are beyond ourselves.

If we were to see Jesus today, would we recognise Him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

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Prayer: Father, we thank you for all we have and we ask you to help us so that we can recognise your face in others, especially as we wait on You, Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for always granting us our hearts desire.

Friday, 01 May – Inheritance

1 May – Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker is not a mere Catholic copying of the Communist First of May – any more than Christmas is a mere copy of the pagan feast of Saturnalia. The dates are taken over, for obvious reasons; but the content is radically different.

The Christian view of work is the opposite of the materialist view. A worker such as St Joseph is not a mere lump of labour – “1.00 human work units.” He is a person. He is created in God’s own image, and just as creation is an activity of God, so creation is an activity of the worker. The work we do echoes the glorious work that God has done. It may not be wasted; or abused; or improperly paid; or directed to wrong or pointless ends. To do any of these things is not oppression, it is sacrilege. The glory of the present economic system is when it gives so many, of whatever class, the chance to build and create something worthwhile, whether from their own resources, or in collaboration with others, or by attracting investment from others. But its shame is when that does not happen: when people are coerced, by greed or by poverty, into being “lumps of labour.” Whether the labour is arduous or not makes no difference; whether it is richly paid or not makes no difference.

Because she must combat the anti-humanist Communist heresy the Church is sometimes thought to be on the side of capital. Reading the successive Papal encyclicals on labour and society, from Rerum Novarum (1891) onwards, will soon dispel that illusion. The enemies of the Church have no reason to read them; all too often we feel too comfortable in our present economic state and refrain from reading them also.

– Universalis

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Acts 13:26-33

Paul stood up in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, held up a hand for silence and began to speak: 

‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you. What the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did, though they did not realise it, was in fact to fulfil the prophecies read on every sabbath. Though they found nothing to justify his death, they condemned him and asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the tree and buried him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem: and it is these same companions of his who are now his witnesses before our people.

‘We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead. As scripture says in the second psalm: You are my son: today I have become your father.

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John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

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Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession

I recently found out that a friend of mine, who was the god-daughter of an aged couple, had inherited a house because the couple decided to bequeath one to her after they lost their only son. Up till then, my friend had been actively looking to buy a property to call her own.

We spend so much time thinking about our earthly inheritance that we sometimes lose sight on what it means to be His heir as His sons or daughters. In a video addressing young men, Jason Evert said to those who were attracted to the same sex and kept referring to themselves as ‘…this is who I am’, “Stop saying that because that is not who you are. You are a son of God. That is who you are.”

If we really understood what it means to be a son or daughter of God, our lives and thoughts would be different. If only we would spend some time reflecting on what a privilege we enjoy with the King of Kings. Many parents would be able to relate to this as they truly know the depth of their love for their children, and the extent to which they would do anything for them. I am privileged to be loved by my parents unconditionally; I cannot think of a single thing that they would deny me. If my earthly parents would do as much, then what is extent of my sonship with the Lord? It is common for children to mirror their parents so today, with our eyes fixed on the risen Lord, how are we acting, thinking or feeling?

Do we love others to the same extent? Do we treat our friends and family members as precious children of a perfect Father? Are our words, thoughts and actions befitting of an heir to an everlasting kingdom? If we think that it is too much to ask of us, let us take a moment to reflect on the obstacles we face. Do we need a change of heart? Is it time to see others with love and dignity? Are our relationships life-giving and do they glorify God?

Even if we do not get it right all the time, a sinless man and God stretched out His mighty arms and paid the price of His blood so that one day, we could enjoy an inheritance better than anything we can ever imagine. He is waiting joyfully for this beautiful family reunion and He literally gave His Son so that people who are half-hearted, unwilling and unworthy could call heaven their home.

Today, let us look around us and find ways to invite others to join our Lord in this heavenly reunion. There are enough rooms for all of us so let us allow the Lord to use us to gather all His children.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

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Prayer: Lord, help us to love your royal family and guide us when we go astray.

Thanksgiving: You are the way and the truth and the life. Thank you for making a way for all us to be reunited with you one day.

Thursday, 30 Apr – At Your Service

30 Apr – Pope St Pius V

He was born near the Italian town of Alexandria, on the Adriatic, and joined the Dominicans and taught theology. He was made a bishop and fought to reform the moral laxity of the clergy. He was elected Pope in 1566. He strenuously promoted the Catholic Reformation that was started by the Council of Trent. He encouraged missionary work and reformed the liturgy.

– Universalis

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Acts 13:13-25

Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem. The others carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the sabbath and took their seats. After the lessons from the Law and the Prophets had been read, the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message: ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul stood up, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out, and for about forty years took care of them in the wilderness. When he had destroyed seven nations in Canaan, he put them in possession of their land for about four hundred and fifty years. After this he gave them judges, down to the prophet Samuel. Then they demanded a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. After forty years, he deposed him and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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John 13:16-20

After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
no servant is greater than his master,
no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.
‘Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.
‘I tell you this now, before it happens,
so that when it does happen
you may believe that I am He.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’

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Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master

My soon-to-be 8 year old challenges me on an almost daily basis when it comes to our faith and what it is to be Christian. For example, today my daughter shared that Bibik (her father’s domestic helper) has a lot of chores to complete daily and that she felt she wanted to go over and help her with them. I suggested that perhaps it would be best for her to help someone else who is in a similar predicament — her own grandmother — whom we live with and who does a lot for the family. This includes cooking, cleaning and even helping with my daughter’s homework! I went on to stress that her granny was doing this not as a job (which is what Bibik is doing) but out of pure love for her own family. My daughter rebutted by explaining that because her granny is so loved for doing so, we needed to help Bibik – who doesn’t have love. I shared that the likelihood of her being loved is very high given that she is very much appreciated by her employer. The conversation soon digressed into something else.

As her words continued to linger on, I was led to remember the time she challenged me (as is her habit) and asked why God did not come as a mighty King, living in a grand castle, with a large army, a fancy entourage of outriders to escort Him etc. I tried to explain that the only way He could really show us how to ‘be’ was to become one of us. As a 6-year-old back then, that idea was a little hard for her to grasp. I asked her “what is the likelihood of our Sultan knowing exactly how you feel when you are hungry, and getting punished for something you didn’t do in school or yelled at and hit for trying to speak the truth?”

The truth is this – no King (and no other God) has ever come down to our level to show us how to be triumphant in our struggles, to conquer pain and to come out winners in the end. All this was made possible only because He became one of us. If Jesus didn’t come to serve us, we would be anything but Easter people today. There are many examples in our community of believers today. Take our priests for instance – they celebrate mass for us, pray for us, work for us (technically) just so that we can have a relationship with God! It is the same for those who volunteer in church ministries as well as those on mission.

To be a servant also means dealing with ugly struggles we would rather not put up with. It’s a task that will see a lot of back-biting, betrayal, deceit, jealousy, hatred – the list goes on. But guess what? These are things that our own Servant Lord encountered just so He could remain obedient to His Father’s will and because He loved us. It’s a lot like ‘granny’ who puts up with our complaints, bickering, accusations and hurts along the way as a result of wanting to be a servant of love to her family. Is there someone in your life that does so much for you to a point where you have become complacent and totally ungrateful for their very presence and assistance? Are you numb to those who serve you with love? Could you do something different to make it possible for them to see and believe that they are appreciated? Allow yourself some compassion today towards those who serve you for, like Scripture says, ‘we are not above them’.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to see and appreciate all that is done for me through the people you have placed in my life. Amen

Thanksgiving: My Lord and my God, thank you for teaching me humility through servanthood. Help me to forever seek this position that is beneath the rest and not above them. Amen.

 

Wednesday, 29 Apr – The Light of the World

29 Apr – Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin, Doctor

She was born in Siena and, seeking perfection, entered the Third Order of the Dominicans when she was still in her teens. In 1370 she was commanded by a vision to leave her secluded life and enter the public life of the world. She wrote letters to many major public figures and carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, urging him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States. She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. She died on 29 April 1380. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

– Universalis

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Acts 12:24-13:5

The word of God continued to spread and to gain followers. Barnabas and Saul completed their task and came back from Jerusalem, bringing John Mark with them.
  In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
  So these two, sent on their mission by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. They landed at Salamis and proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; John acted as their assistant.

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John 12:44-50

Jesus declared publicly:
‘Whoever believes in me
believes not in me
but in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me,
sees the one who sent me.
I, the light, have come into the world,
so that whoever believes in me
need not stay in the dark any more.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully,
it is not I who shall condemn him,
since I have come not to condemn the world,
but to save the world.
He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already:
the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
For what I have spoken does not come from myself;
no, what I was to say,
what I had to speak,
was commanded by the Father who sent me,
and I know that his commands mean eternal life.
And therefore what the Father has told me
is what I speak.’
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Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.

I started my day off by spending some time on scripture and then a lot more time reading up on the life of St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrate today. We are all called to live life like the saints did and so I took everything I read and reflected on what it would be like to be her in this century.

The reflection started and ended with this fact – St. Catherine of Siena was the 24th child of 25 children. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I couldn’t fathom how hard it would have been for all of them! All would agree, it is a very daunting task for today’s families. I asked myself, “Would I even attempt such a feat?” I am a mother of one, and that itself is a huge challenge. Having 24 more would be great, if I had 24 people to help me.

I am, however, a single mum and I echo the words of the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Julian Leow, when he addressed the youth in his homily. He said “Youth – I do not envy you. Youth – I do not envy you.” He said it slowly and repeated it twice. Powerful and very true. The world we are raising our kids in today is a trying place. I can relate to this because though my daughter is only 7, she has been accidentally exposed to pornographic material via someone else’s phone through a conversion with a girl her age, who said she would like to try it out with her.  One can only imagine the horror I experienced when she explained in detail what she had seen on the phone, as she innocently scrolled through this person’s ‘Gallery’. The girl had used it to take some shots prior to that.

My reflection on St. Catherine of Siena had me pleading and seeking her intercession for our Lord’s protection over my child and children across the world, who will encounter this new drug sweeping across the Internet. As parents, we can try to control our children’s usage of phones, tablets and monitor the content they view. But without God, all of this will be in vain as we are fighting a perverted form of love that is portrayed a concept in a very appealing form.

Though raising children may seem like a mammoth of a task, I draw strength from Christ’s reassuring words in today’s Gospel acclamation – “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life.”  This I know and this I will remember; for His light permeates all darkness.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Lord, help me remain steadfast in my vocation as a parent, a child, an adult, a teacher, an aunt, a godparent and a friend to all. Help me carry this cross so that I maybe pleasing to you. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Father God, you who sent your only begotten Son into the ugliness of this world to shine bright for us, I honour You, praise You and adore you profoundly for the gift of your Son to us.

 

Tuesday, 28 Apr – Sedition

28 Apr – Memorial of St Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort

Confessor, Marian devotee, and founder of the Sisters of Divine Wisdom He was born Louis Maie Grignon in Montfort, France, in 1673. Educated at Rennes, he was ordained there in 1700, becoming achaplain in a hospital in Poitiers. His congregation, also called the Daughters of Divine Wisdom, started there. As his missions and sermons raised complaints, Louis went to Rome, where Pope Clement XI appointed him as a missionary apostolic. Louis is famous for fostering devotion to the Blessed VirginMary and the Rosary. In 1715, he also founded the Missionaries of the Company of Mary. His True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin remains popular. Louis died at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre. He was canonized in 1947.

– Catholic Online www.catholic.org/saints

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Acts 11:19-26

Those who had escaped during the persecution that happened because of Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but they usually proclaimed the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, who came from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch where they started preaching to the Greeks, proclaiming the Good News of the Lord Jesus to them as well. The Lord helped them, and a great number believed and were converted to the Lord.

  The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
  Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’

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John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

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Scattered by the persecution

Malaysia has a tendency of making news for all the wrong reasons. From missing planes and the bomohs on their magic carpets, to POTA — a new law that revives preventive detention without trial – which was passed without amendment at the Dewan Rakyat at about 2.25am on April 7 after a debate of more than 12 hours. The Human Rights Watch states “…it leaves many key terms undefined so as to afford maximum flexibility for law enforcers to interpret them as they see fit.”

That said – this is still my country and I love it to death (literally speaking). I was born and bred here and have no plans of leaving it for what many may deem a ‘better life’ elsewhere.

In the past days though, since POTA came into effect, I have started to feel a lot like the persecuted Christians of the early church with threatening gag orders and executions to beat obedience into its citizens. It’s starting to look like someone is out to suppress the truth. But of course the ruling government claims it to be otherwise.

In today’s first reading we see how the method of suppression has somewhat no effect on these people who feel compelled to share the good news and nothing but the truth. We also see how they were willing soldiers who were ready to die for the truth and were not perturbed by the said actions of the Sanhedrin. Neither were they eager to hide and run away to another country, never to see or hear of them again. They trudged forward and went on for the good fight.

At a casual discussion with some church elders on the laws of the country, one stood out to state clearly that if persecution is to be us, so be it. I couldn’t agree more. I asked myself – am I willing to die for my Lord? Am I called to martyrdom?  Yes, I believe I am. I believe all of us are. The early Christians did it for us. They did it because the truth needed to live on in society today. And indeed it has! Today we are Christians because of the persecution they undertook in the face of hope, love and justice for all mankind; so that all could be saved, so that all will hear the good news of the Lord and come to know Him, the one true God.

It all boils down to this question – are you willing to sacrifice all you’ve got for your God?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, be with us as we take on the ugliness of the world so that you will shine forth with mercy and kindness, and all will come to know you through our brave witnessing, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. You are my Shepherd and I hear YOUR voice. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  My Lord and my God, we are blessed to have received you in our hearts. Thank you for never abandoning us and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who continues to inspire the truth amongst the people. Amen.

 

Monday, 27 Apr – Doors

27 Apr 

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Acts 11:1-18

The apostles and the brothers in Judaea heard that the pagans too had accepted the word of God, and when Peter came up to Jerusalem the Jews criticised him and said, ‘So you have been visiting the uncircumcised and eating with them, have you?’ Peter in reply gave them the details point by point: ‘One day, when I was in the town of Jaffa,’ he began ‘I fell into a trance as I was praying and had a vision of something like a big sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners. This sheet reached the ground quite close to me. I watched it intently and saw all sorts of animals and wild beasts – everything possible that could walk, crawl or fly. Then I heard a voice that said to me, “Now, Peter; kill and eat!” But I answered: Certainly not, Lord; nothing profane or unclean has ever crossed my lips. And a second time the voice spoke from heaven, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” This was repeated three times, before the whole of it was drawn up to heaven again.

  ‘Just at that moment, three men stopped outside the house where we were staying; they had been sent from Caesarea to fetch me, and the Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going back with them. The six brothers here came with me as well, and we entered the man’s house. He told us he had seen an angel standing in his house who said, “Send to Jaffa and fetch Simon known as Peter; he has a message for you that will save you and your entire household.”
  ‘I had scarcely begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the same way as it came on us at the beginning, and I remembered that the Lord had said, “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” I realised then that God was giving them the identical thing he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?’
  This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God. ‘God’ they said ‘can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life.’

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John 10:1-10

Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’

Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.

So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

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I am the gate for the sheep

Life has taken us through many a door. Some have been amazingly memorable, some not so. As Jesus speaks about Him being the door, it takes me back to the many doors I went through previously before taking the one to Him. One of the many disastrous ‘doors’ that I recall at this moment is the door to a club where I had met the man I was to marry.

It was at a company event and there he was chatting me up, trying to sound intelligent throughout (I obviously bought into it) with his flamboyant nature. Towards the end of the night, I refused to share my number but he did eventually get my office number and started contacting me there.

On our first date, we were chauffeur-driven and at the restaurant we were accompanied by his body guard. “Impressive”, I thought to myself. However, a lil’ siren did go off (but clearly not loud enough) as I started to ask myself ‘why would he need one?’.

Days led into months and a proposal was made. The preparations were rushed.  I was told that his dad was ill and it was necessary to get it done before the year ended. 10 days, exactly 10 days before the wedding, on the night of my hen’s night, my now fiancée revealed a side to him I had never seen previously. He was drunk and a fight ensued, leaving me badly bruised and bleeding, climbing out of a rubbish chute to escape the building. That’s the gist of it.

Now as I look back, I see how this door to a new life was never meant for me to begin with. The fact that my Lord had allowed these events to unfold clearly shows me that He did not want this for me and was waiting for me to make a decision, my own choice; to leave it and get out.

He was waiting for me to look for my door back to Him, which I did that same year. With my heart crushed, hurt but grateful, I ran back to Him, a broken child. I had come to realise that the doors before me had really been a huge distraction from seeking the door to my Lord’s heart. The world had so much to offer and I was hungry to go through the doors of life eager as ever, and never discerning my every move. But my Father God is so faithful – he came after me, looking for me, waiting for me.

You’ve heard scripture say – The road to life is narrow. The road to destruction is wide. In today’s Gospel we get Jesus’ invitation to choose that path, a door that will not necessarily be easy, but it is one that is worth an eternity – a life forever in happiness with the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, help me to be wary of the many ‘inviting’ doors I encounter in my life. May I never be led astray from you. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  My Lord and my God, thank you for never leaving my side. Thank you for dying on the cross (a door no one would ever consider) for me, your child, so that I may be one with you. Amen.

 

Sunday, 26 Apr – Why Things Happen The Way They Do

26 Apr – Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Lord has truly risen, alleluia

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Acts 4:8-12

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter said: ‘Rulers of the people, and elders! If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple, and asking us how he was healed, then I am glad to tell you all, and would indeed be glad to tell the whole people of Israel, that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence, today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone. For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’

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1 John 3:1-2

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.

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John 10:11-18

Jesus said:
‘I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd;
I know my own
and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have
that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock,
and one shepherd.
‘The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
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 I know mine and mine know me

I am a cradle Catholic. This often suggests that I have been a Catholic for more than 30-odd years but, sadly enough, I haven’t quite been the Catholic I ought to be. Not up to now perhaps. I say ‘now’ because the Catholic I am today is not the Catholic I was just 24 hours ago. Things change and evolve almost on an hourly basis for me on this faith journey. His very presence in my life has me waking up each day refreshed from the day gone by.

That said, this was never the observation I had some 4 years ago. I was oblivious to God’s ever-present hand in my daily setting. From waking me up on time, to helping me pick out the perfect outfit, meals that come with a tinge of spiciness (just the way I like it) or the cab that arrives just as it starts to drizzle. It was often a case of me being “lucky” or the vain thought that ‘I really am that good at doing all that I do’. God had no hand in anything.

Never was it because of my good shepherd – the one who says “I know mine and mine know me”.  The truth is, I never knew Him. As such, I couldn’t identify with a Him who would move the cosmic forces around just for me. To see to my needs, to make perfect a moment, to make things happen because He knows what’s best for me even though I couldn’t for the life of me see it as such at that very moment.

But today, almost every hour, every minute and every second of the day, the Holy Spirit gives me a nudge to remind me that ‘Hey, I’m right here you know‘. It is because of this constant nudging that I am reminded that though I am a sinner, I am a child of God – a child who constantly needs Him in my life, to feed, care and look out for me just as I would with my own child. I am His child, no matter how ‘old’ I get. He knows me and I know Him – my Abba Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Fiona Biggs)

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Prayer:  Abba Father, may I never forget your presence in my life – your words, your touch, your care, your guidance and most of all, your love for me. Help me – a sinner, to always know that there is a You who always will love me, no matter how far I may wander off.

Thanksgiving:  Lord, I praise you and thank you for choosing me and making me worthy to be yours.

Saturday, 25 Apr – Community

25 Apr – Memorial of Saint Mark, the Evangelist

The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New Testament, is sometimes called John Mark. Both he and his mother, Mary, were highly esteemed in the early Church, and his mother’s house in Jerusalem served as a meeting place for Christians there.

St. Mark was associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas (who was Mark’s cousin) on their missionary journey through the island of Cyprus. Later he accompanied St. Barnabas alone. We know also that he was in Rome with St. Peter and St. Paul. Tradition ascribes to him the founding of the Church in Alexandria.

St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, probably in Rome sometime before the year 60 A.D.; he wrote it in Greek for the Gentile converts to Christianity. Tradition tells us that St. Mark was requested by theRomans to set down the teachings of St. Peter. This seems to be confirmed by the position which St. Peter has in this Gospel. In this way the second Gospel is a record of the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles. His feast day is April 25. He is the patron saint of notaries.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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…it is the same kind of suffering that the community of your brothers throughout the world is undergoing.

Since February this year, a group of us have been meeting once every two weeks as a discipleship group (DG) at CSC. Prior to this, we were in ‘cell groups’ and we had been sharing the Word of God together quite regularly. The change to DGs came about with a change in our spiritual director, who recognized the need for all of us in ministry to first be able to strengthen ourselves spiritually in order that our service, whether at retreats or other occasions, would flow from our hearts rather than be seen as a task or job to perform. Thus began our spiritual recovery journey as individuals and as a community.

This change has opened up tremendously my understanding of our faith. What used to be a very private faith, even as I was serving in CSC, is now one that is anchored on a community of brothers who struggle and fight their own battles on a daily basis. But, as I shared a few days ago, we know that we do not fight alone. Each one of us prays for the other and whenever we come together, I can feel the bonds deepening and strengthening. Truly, God is working within our small community and keeping the flame burning in each one of us.

I never thought that I would ever reveal my deepest secrets and transgressions to openly to anyone else. As Fr Erbin (our new SD) has said, “In this process, once you share, you will realise that you are not alone. And to know that someone else identifies with you and can empathise with you is truly something special.” He believes that these sharings are how we break the bonds of sin and condemn the devil to defeat. Because when we hold no secrets in our heart, the devil cannot play on them or use them against us.

Brothers and sisters, it is true that we all suffer. And by going it alone, we will only end up wallowing in our own fear, anxiety, self-pity and every other negative emotion you can think of. We all belong to the body of Christ. Therefore, ours is not a private faith. We are meant to be part of a larger community that is united in God’s love. It is inevitable that as part of a community, we will encounter all kinds of situations and people that will test us (parents-in-law are an oft-quoted example). As Catholics, we must be able to accept that we cannot change others and that what needs to change is ourselves. Only then can we truly say that we are a community of brothers and sisters who are united in one heart, one mind and one spirit in the love of Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: Lord, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to you O Lord, for our brothers and sisters who journey with us in life and teach us what being a part of the body of Christ means.