Sunday, 1 November – Attitude in Christ

1 November – All Saints Day

Instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown. It owes its origin in the Western Church to the dedication of the Roman Pantheon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs by Pope Saint Boniface IV in 609, the anniversary of which was celebrated at Rome on 13 May. Pope Saint Gregory III consecrated a chapel in the Vatican basilica in honour of All Saints, designating 1 November as their feast. Pope Gregory IV extended its observance to the whole Church. It has a vigil and octave, and is a holy day of obligation; the eve is popularly celebrated as Halloween.

– Patron Saints Index

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Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14

I, John, saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel.

After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’

One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’

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1 John 3:1-3

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.
Surely everyone who entertains this hope
must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.

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Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

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Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

When we think about God’s plan in our lives and as we live according to His will, we are led to think about Mother Mary, who submitted entirely to God’s will. And while this may be a good starting point, we could end up quite disillusioned to think that God’s plan entails only suffering and pain, without realising that His plan for us is to be happy and satisfied. In the Beatitudes, we are reminded that God calls us to be ‘blessed’, for which another term is ‘happy.’

Should it surprise us then that the lover of our souls gives priority to our happiness? It is no wonder then He reveals to the disciples ‘the secret to happiness’ in the form of the Beatitudes. If we were to be merciful or clean of heart, it should be no different when we are mourning or being gentle or poor in the spirit. In understanding the Beatitudes, we ask for His wisdom to see as He does and not as we or the world does, just as He has reminded us that His thoughts and His ways are not as ours are (Isa 55).

The Beatitudes – the attitude of Jesus, can bring true and total happiness. In the days leading up to the launch of the Year of Mercy, I am most aware of a particular beatitude, ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ This is also the theme for the upcoming World Youth Day in Poland. We had T-shirts on that theme and wore them for some of our activities and will be wearing them during World Youth Day. Most times, I am at the crossroads figuring out how to embrace mercy as a personal preparation for our pilgrimage to Poland.

I find myself being reminded constantly of the unending, unfathomable mercy of our Lord, that He would love a sinner like me. That He who is above all, has called me His child and He cherishes me; and how, as a Father, He is truly proud of me and as a lover that He truly desires me. This resonated well with a recent homily at mass when the priest said that mercy is something that is undeserved.

And when it comes to relationships with others, what is the role of mercy? Lately, even though I am a grown woman, living alone and making my own decisions in life, I found myself imitating the things my dad does. It comes from a place of true admiration and looking up to a man of virtue. In the same vein, I am aware that God is more of my father than my daddy, Stephen. He is the Divine Mercy and, at times, I feel like I am in touch with the pain within myself when I choose not to imitate Him and His mercy, by not extending it towards others and also to myself.

The times when I am not inclusive in my love and friendships, the times when I hold on to what I consider my right and my ‘place’ and treat mercy as if it was a privilege to a few, I put a barrier between my Father and myself.

How do we imitate this saintly habit of being merciful is a question we all should ponder. Are we at a place in our lives when we are trying to be more worthy of His mercy? Do we realise that just as we are called to love ourselves, we also need to be merciful to ourselves? Are we able to accept and forgive our failings and shortcomings without beating ourselves too much over them? We need to strive to become like St Peter who, despite denying our Lord three times, went on to build His church which stands tall till this very day. St Peter was merciful towards himself maybe because He saw it first in our Lord.  Today, let us remember that Jesus is merciful to everyone, even to Judas who betrayed Him, and that His mercy is greater than any sin of ours or of others.

Today, on this blessed feast of All Saints, let us ask our patron saint to pray for us and with us. Let us be inspired by the saints we hold dear. Let us remind ourselves that we are all called to be saints and that this is not a privilege of only a few.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Lord of Mercy, show us your mercy that we become One with you by imitating your Mercy and love. Help us to be living saints and to live a life of happiness as you had intended for us. St Stephen, St Paul, St Anthony, St Pio, St Faustina, St John Paul, St Raphael and all Holy angels and saints of God, pray for us. 

Thanksgiving: Lord, we are the people who want to see your face. Thank you for the gift of the holy saints.

 

Saturday, 31 October – Conducting Our Affairs with Humility

31 October

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Romans 11:1-2,11-12,25-29

Let me put a further question: is it possible that God has rejected his people? Of course not. I, an Israelite, descended from Abraham through the tribe of Benjamin, could never agree that God had rejected his people, the people he chose specially long ago. Do you remember what scripture says of Elijah – how he complained to God about Israel’s behaviour? Let me put another question then: have the Jews fallen for ever, or have they just stumbled? Obviously they have not fallen for ever: their fall, though, has saved the pagans in a way the Jews may now well emulate. Think of the extent to which the world, the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection – then think how much more it will benefit from the conversion of them all. There is a hidden reason for all this, brothers, of which I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do. One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered, and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. As scripture says: The liberator will come from Zion, he will banish godlessness from Jacob. And this is the covenant I will make with them when I take their sins away.

The Jews are enemies of God only with regard to the Good News, and enemies only for your sake; but as the chosen people, they are still loved by God, loved for the sake of their ancestors. God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

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Luke 14:1,7-11

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do.

Most of my friends will call me a no-nonsense kind of a person; take no prisoners. I simply cannot stand it when someone is constantly late for appointments or meetings. When something needs to get done, I see through a person’s excuse for not putting in their fair share of work.      I hate it that people worm their way out of things. I used to give my colleagues and friends the killer look or a sarcastic one-liner. They would know when I am annoyed.

But there is another side of me not many people see – I am a real softie at heart. I hate seeing the wee old man selling tissue packs (though I know that it’s a syndicate fleecing us), or the little old lady painstakingly collecting cardboard boxes and peering into trash bins looking for cans. My heart aches just a little when I hear personal stories about how they give up ‘normal lives’ that you and I take for granted, for far more noble vocations. 

I have been a benefactor of sorts for a particular individual for some time. Simply because this person has given up much. It gives me immense joy to be able to do something for this person and I really do not expect anything in return. Or so I thought. Recently, I felt a little taken for granted. And I started to resent what I was doing. I started to resent the person as well. Why was I doing so much without getting a single ‘Thank you. That was nice of you!’ In fact, to this person, I am hardly visible. So for a long while, I simply stopped. I harboured hurt, indignation and disappointment.

Today’s gospel reading tells us that the person who deems himself distinguished, may well have to take a hit in his own self-importance.  But the humble will be exalted.

In both scenarios, I am far from humble.

In Scenario 1, I was judging people by my own ridiculously high standards, refusing to see or acknowledge that there might be a really good reason for people being late, or not doing something they were meant to do. Even if they were really just lazy or disrespectful of other people’s time, who am I to judge?

As for Scenario 2, I was brought down to earth! One afternoon, I was reflecting on Luke 16: 19-31 (The story of the rich man & Lazarus). “Who would have gladly eaten his fill of scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” At this time, I was still in ‘resentment’ mode. These words sprung to my mind….Be humble and not haughty. You think you are generous?  For it is easy to be generous with those we love. Are you doing this for them or yourself? It appeared I was being reprimanded by our Lord. As I thought about it more, was I really doing this for the love of a brethren? Or was I doing this to feel good about myself?

“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a lavish giver. The greater you are, the more humbly you should behave, and then you will find favour with the Lord; for great is the power of God, by the humble he is glorified” Sirach 4:17-19.

In today’s first reading, Saint Paul told the Romans ‘I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do.’ Do I know everything and the circumstances about the person who has hurt me? Am I being too quick to jump to conclusions and thus judging someone indiscriminately?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Father, teach us to not be so judgmental and self-important that we don’t take the time to walk in the other person’s shoes. Forgive us for our wilful and stubborn ways. May we not get so caught up in getting things done in the busy-ness of life that we hurt and trample upon others with our callous words. Teach us Lord, humility, in every aspect of our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank You, Lord for caring for each and every one of us as individuals. Though You are perfect, You are God; You never expected us to be perfect. Flawed as we are, You still love us so much. Thank You, Lord.

 

Friday, 30 October – Immense Love

30 October

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Romans 9:1-5

What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood. They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen.

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Luke 14:1-6

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. ‘There in front of him was a man with dropsy, and Jesus addressed the lawyers and Pharisees. ‘Is it against the law’ he asked ‘to cure a man on the sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent, so he took the man and cured him and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a sabbath day without hesitation?’ And to this they could find no answer.

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I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood.

Which of us would not do anything in our power to pull our loved ones out of a difficult situation no matter what it takes? Which parent would not gladly trade their lives for that of a terminally ill child? I know I would.

In today’s first reading, we see the anguish and grief Saint Paul felt for the Jews because of their stubborn persistence, and rejection as a nation, and the many miseries which he foresaw to be coming upon them. Yet his affection was so great for his brothers and sisters that he was willing to be condemned, disgraced and be in the deepest distress and cut off from Christ. All this he would suffer, if it meant he could rescue them from destruction that was about to befall them because of their unbelief.

Recently, I came across a story which moved me so much that it stuck in my mind. This is about what a child would go through, not only for herself, but for her parent. I felt a mixture of sadness and anger at our affluent society.

This is the story of a young 17 year old girl. Her parents divorced and their lives turned upside down. Both mother and daughter were left without a home. They had no financial means to rent one and no one could offer them a place to stay. Mother and daughter had to separate – a relative took the mother in, while the daughter stayed for short periods with whomever could offer her a place to sleep for the night. At times, when there was no place she could go, she would stay up at void decks or at the beach.

At the time, she was also on scholarship at a local arts academy. Her monthly allowance could not cover her mother’s medical bills and other expenses; not to mention her school materials. With the pressing issues at hand, she found herself skipping classes. She simply did not have resources to go to school. The school threatened to expel her. The local education ministry was going to pull the scholarship and wanted her to pay back what they had invested in her. She begged the school and the ministry to give her a second chance, determined to finish school.

She worked several jobs to make ends meet. The money she made enabled her to be reunited with her mother again – she was able to rent a room for them. It did not matter that it was a modest space, what was important was – they were together. To cut short the story, she eventually graduated with help and encouragement from her teachers and friends. Today she has a roof over her head together with her mother and is an art teacher.

This is a story of determination, courage and immense love for loved ones. She could have gone the other way. She could have given up and fallen in with unsavoury company. She could have fended for herself and not cared for her mother. Despite what our society threw at her, no help, no empathy, no support but pain and humiliation – she remained steadfast, determined and committed.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a Sabbath day?’ The Pharisees were so caught up in rules and legalism that they failed to see God’s intention for the Sabbath — which is to do good and to heal!

What have we, as part of this Singaporean family done to help her? Are we so caught up in legalism that we have lost all sense of compassion?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, may our lives be testimony of the love and affection You have for us. Increase our faith, hope and charity. Fill us with Your love, that we may never hold back our love and compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters.

Thanksgiving: God of all blessings, thank You for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. Thank you for this very day, one more day to love, one more person to love and by whom be loved. For these, and all blessings, we give you thanks, eternal, loving God, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

 

Thursday, 29 October – A Deep Relationship with the Father

29 October

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Romans 8:31-39

With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.

Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked. As scripture promised: For your sake we are being massacred daily, and reckoned as sheep for the slaughter. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us.

For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came up. ‘Go away’ they said. ‘Leave this place, because Herod means to kill you.’ He replied, ‘You may go and give that fox this message: Learn that today and tomorrow I cast out devils and on the third day attain my end. But for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on, since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.

‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused! So be it! Your house will be left to you. Yes, I promise you, you shall not see me till the time comes when you say:

‘Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!’

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For today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on.

My father is a man that enjoys his food and loves his food jaunts with his friends. But being diabetic, the over-indulgence of food often lands him into trouble. His sugar level would play havoc on him and he would end up in hospital. No amount of nagging at him or being mad at him would have him give up his favourite food.

In early October 2010, on my birthday, my father got warded into hospital. We thought it was gout but that morning, the pain he experienced turned out to be far worse than we thought.

Overnight, large red blisters the size of my palm appeared on his left leg – filled with fluid and water. He had developed cellulitis. The antibiotics administered did nothing to alleviate his pain or get rid of those horrible blisters. A week later, he had to have emergency surgery. He came out of the operation alright but he also suffered a heart attack.

This was the turning point of our lives. For dad and for our family. By the end of October, the medical team told us that there was nothing more they could do to save his leg. He was fighting a battle with his immune system. It felt like someone punched me in my stomach really hard. Numb dull pain afterwards. I called my orthopaedic friend for a second opinion and the prognosis was the same as that of the hospital’s medical team. I would have given my life for everything to be good again for Dad – for his freedom, the walks, and the daily lunches with his friends. How would this all change for him? For us? How would I tell him the news? It would literally break him.

In early November, I did the hardest thing any child could possibly do – tell their parent that there is nothing anyone can do to save his limb – but to amputate it.  I had to put on the bravest front, to be the most practical. I had been a wreck for a week before that. How could I gently tell him? How he would take this news. Dad’s response surprised us. “Just get rid of it and let me go home!” he said. This was probably out of frustration for being in such pain and stuck in the hospital for a month.

On 5th November, my dad lost his leg. My heart broke into a million tiny pieces when I walked into that hospital room that evening. Seeing him lay there with a stump – a clear void where his left leg used to be, was just too painful. I put on a brave front for him, asked him how he felt but walked right out of the room and bawled my eyes out. I’d thought I’d be stronger than that. I wasn’t.  But dad was. He was alert, ate his biscuits and even planned his lunch menu for the next day. Unbelievable. He was determined to get on and go back home. But for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on. Nothing was going to stop him living his life. I learnt a lesson that day. That while I was worried sick about how life would change for all of us thereafter; if dad might get into a depressive state. But he was a trooper. His will to live life as normally as he possibly could showed me not only how strong his faith was, but his determination.

In today’s gospel reading, we see how Jesus was determined to carry out his mission despite threats on his life. Nobody likes discomfort along the journey of life. Yet, Jesus signed up willingly for a journey whose path would be strewn with resistance, rejection, humiliation, pain and ultimately end in death. What kind of person signs up knowingly for that? Jesus’ faith flows from his sense of mission and his deep relationship with the Father.

When we face a rough patch along our journey of life, can we have the same determination to stay on course?

Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Abba Father, when life throws us lemons, help us always to remember that no created thing can ever come between us and the love of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for loving us so much, that you willingly chose to walk through the treacherous path that led to your death. So that we might live.

 

Wednesday, 28 October – Our Relationship with God is Personal

28 October – Saints Simon and Jude

Simon is eleventh in the list of the twelve Apostles. He is known as Simon the Zealot, but nothing else is known about him. His other name of “Simon Cananaeus” simply adapts another Hebrew word for “zeal” and has nothing to do with the town of Cana.

Jude, also called Thaddaeus, is the apostle who at the Last Supper asked the Lord why he showed himself only to the disciples and not to the world. For many centuries he was scarcely venerated because people confused him with Judas Iscariot. He is the patron saint of lost and desperate causes.

– Universalis

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Ephesians 2:19-22

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

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Luke 6:12-16

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

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He spent the whole night in prayer to God.

Living abroad some years back, I noted that the friendships built there were somehow more real. When we ask “So how are you doing?” we can expect a real genuine response. We’d share our little wins for the day, our discoveries, and also our challenges and anxieties. Why are some relationships more authentic than others? Well, maybe being in a foreign country with no family and familiar friends, we develop bonds faster. We were ‘in it’ together and there was none of the need to ‘save face’.

Cultivating relationships with people takes time and effort. Getting to know them — the intimate fabric of their lives, their likes, dislikes, their quirky ways, their funny demeanours, what makes them happy or sad — it all takes time. The one-on-one conversations and time together helps build and solidify the bond. It helps build trust and a level of comfort.

Do you have that sort of comfortable relationship with someone?  A person you are so at ease with that there is no need to build walls around you, no need to put on societal masks, and you are at liberty to be yourself – warts and all! Free to show your authentic, vulnerable side, and not be afraid of being judged.

A relationship with God is no different. It follows the same rules as when one forms any other relationship. It takes time, and requires us to be authentic. It takes both parties to be comfortable with each other. He loves us and desires us to have a close personal relationship with Him. But where do we start? We can begin our personal relationship with God by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord.

The bible gives us many comparisons of our relationship with God. Christ the bridegroom, and the Church the bride (Eph 5:25-27), that of a Father and Son (1 Jn 2:28-3:10), the Shepherd and His Flock (Jn 10:14).

Jesus had that personal relationship with the Father. He always turned to God, before He made any major decisions, spending alone time ‘in consultation’, to seek advice, to listen, to pray.

In today’s gospel, before He chose the twelve disciples, ‘Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God’. Before his ministry started, He goes off to the desert and spends forty days alone with God; when He hears the bad news about His friend, John the Baptist, He goes away to be alone with God.

Today are we facing an important decision we need to make? Are we worried about how our decisions would affect our loved ones? Is there an event in your life that is causing you some anxiety? Have we gone away and spent time with God to seek His wisdom and counsel? Do what Jesus does. He prays all night, and then when it is morning, He goes out and makes his choice.

So my brothers and sisters, seek intimacy with Him. Spend time with Him today. And in the silence and stillness of our hearts, you will find Him there. When no words can describe, when we feel that no one else would totally understand, even if we tried to explain, He does. Because, our relationship with God is personal.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Almighty Father, lead us to a deeper more meaningful relationship with You. That we will grow in faith and seek You in the depth of our hearts. Lord, may we hear your voice as you speak to us in the still voice within our souls. Walk with us, and take us to new levels, where we will experience Your love. Grant us to know you and love You more.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God for the gift of prayer. That through these intimate moments with You, we come to know your heart and will. Amen.

 

Tuesday, 27 October – Trust in the Lord

27 October

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Romans 8:18-25

I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free. For we must be content to hope that we shall be saved – our salvation is not in sight, we should not have to be hoping for it if it were – but, as I say, we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet – it is something we must wait for with patience.

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Luke 13:18-21

Jesus said, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden: it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.’

Another thing he said, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God with? It is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’

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We must hope to be saved.

Last week, I went on a personal retreat. I was looking forward to this, a time to be alone with the Lord. I needed this time to escape. I had been feeling out of sorts and my prayer life was completely dry. Actually, dead as a rock.

I arrived literally at the retreat centre just 5 minutes before evening mass, so I dumped my bags and made my way to the chapel. The day’s gospel reading touched on trees and its fruit. My heart was still a little unsettled as we began mass. Father began his homily saying “If we planted a tree, can we expect it to bear fruit in 3 months?” Naturally the answer is no. “We need patience!” The word struck me and stuck with me throughout the retreat.  It was a theme which has been prevalent in my life this past year. I protested for the past few months “So how long more? I have been very patient already, okay?!”

Patience is defined as ‘waiting without complaint’. I looked up some other definitions. In Hebrew, the word is ‘qavah’, meaning ‘to wait for, to look for, to hope, or to expect.’ In Greek, it is ‘hypomen?’ which means ‘to remain, to abide, to preservere, endure, or to bear bravely and calmly.’

The Bible tells us that patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is so easy to be patient when things are going hunky dory. But the true test of patience is when our rights are violated, when we are tested in every way beyond our own endurance. Today, patience seems to be a virtue only when it fits our circumstance. At other times, the world sees ‘impatience’ as a given right! How often have we insisted that people we work with, for example a vendor, delivers a project to an unrealistic timing? “I am the client and the client is always right!” I admit, I have been guilty of this.

In the first reading today, St Paul tells the Romans “What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.” God’s plans must happen in His time. As we mature in faith, we understand there are times in our lives that we have to wait. Sometimes longer than we expect.

As I prayed the evening prayers that night, the following reassured me of my own struggles.

“Jesus refuses to be confined to expectations too small to accommodate the vast wisdom of God.”

“Beware of boxes too comfortable to allow God to intrude with plans far different than your own.”

Truly, what we suffer today is nothing compared to what God has planned for us. Like the parables in today’s gospel, His plan cannot be hurried along. It takes time. Time to grow to its full potential. A seed planted needs time to grow to a fruit-bearing tree. The kingdom of God may have small beginnings, but it will increase. Yeast is tiny in size, only a little is kneaded into the dough. With time, the yeast will spread through all the dough and make it rise.

Learn to trust God, who knows all things, and accept that some of our questions may not be the right questions, and may never be answered.  Proof of our patience is when we trust God and do not worry.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ Pro 3:5-6

Waiting on God can be the most wretched experience of your life. But if we remain in Him and trust in His faithfulness, it can be the greatest ride of your life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, we ask for your grace to learn to leave things alone and stop feeling like we need to understand everything all at once. We ask the Spirit to fill us, empowering and directing us even as we continue to wait on the Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for everything You have taught us, especially through the rough and uncertain times. You have shown us that everything happens in Your time. Thank you for how patient you have been with us. And we pray for everyone that is in the anxious place of waiting. That they may find you in the midst of whatever circumstances they are in.

 

Monday, 26 October – When We Are Bent and Broken

26 October

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Romans 8:12-17

My brothers, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves or to live unspiritual lives. If you do live in that way, you are doomed to die; but if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.

Everyone moved by the Spirit is a son of God. The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs as well: heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.

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Luke 13:10-17

One sabbath day Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit that left her enfeebled; she was bent double and quite unable to stand upright. When Jesus saw her he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are rid of your infirmity’ and he laid his hands on her. And at once she straightened up, and she glorified God.

But the synagogue official was indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, and he addressed the people present. ‘There are six days’ he said ‘when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the sabbath.’ But the Lord answered him. ‘Hypocrites!’ he said ‘Is there one of you who does not untie his ox or his donkey from the manger on the sabbath and take it out for watering? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years – was it not right to untie her bonds on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his adversaries were covered with confusion, and all the people were overjoyed at all the wonders he worked.

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You are rid of your infirmity.

I have seen this over and over again. And each time, my heart aches with sadness. We sit at a hawker centre enjoying our meal. When we are done, we simply push aside our plates. Old men and women who should be spending their twilight years enjoying the fruits of their labour with family and loved ones, are out working. They clear up our half-eaten meals, dirty plates and utensils, cleaning tables, waiting on us. Have you come across the little old woman in the grey samfoo, face edged with lines from years of toil? Bent over at the waist, she has to crane her neck at an uncomfortable angle to look at anything other than the floor. She is pushing a cart full of cardboard boxes and empty soft drink cans. Simply to make a living.

In a society that teaches us about filial piety, how could families allow their parents or grandparents to do this? I would never allow this to happen to papa and mummy. But I am too quick to judge. We do not know their personal circumstance, nor their family situations which led them to do what they do. I am sure that there is a myriad of reasons behind all that. Their physical appearance is a testimony to years of suffering and hard work.

In today’s gospel, we see a woman who has suffered her ailment for 18 years. Double bent and unable to stand up straight, she probably can’t remember seeing the world any other way. She probably heard about Jesus and how He heals the sick. This might have been her last ditch effort, her last hope, but she didn’t want to bring her hopes too high. She had already been disappointed quite a bit in life. Jesus, who is all compassionate, heals her immediately with these words, “Woman, you are rid of your infirmity.” With that, she felt power surge through her whole body and she stood up straight and tall. These words of faith and freedom restored her to wholeness again.

Today, we too are bent and broken. Is there anything in our lives that keeps us bound up and burdened? Is there a family argument that has torn the family apart? Have we hurt someone in our deeds and words that we have not sought forgiveness for? Has someone treated us so badly that all we can think of is revenge? In life, have you ever been thrown a bad set of cards that you have given up on the Church and the community? Has a priest hurt you in the way he spoke to you? Infirmity, whether physical or spiritual, cripples us when we live lives that are not authentic.

Jesus is waiting for us today and every other day. He is inviting us to go and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to seek His healing, love and forgiveness in the priest that he has hand-picked for us. ‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.’ (1 John 1:7). Let us not get so caught up and entangled in our sins and pain that we lose sight of God’s mercy. Jesus healed on the Sabbath because God does not rest from showing his mercy and love. God’s word has power to change us spiritually and physically.  Let the Lord speak his word to us and give us freedom. Let Him straighten us up so that we can see the world from the perspective that He intended for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Abba Father, by Your compassion, forgive us for our sins. Heal us, for we are weighed down and burdened by our sins, pain, unforgiveness and anger. Do not let our fear, shame or  bad experiences of the past, prevent us from being healed. Bind up our wounds and release us from our bondages so that we might experience your love and tenderness. Straighten up our lives so that we see it from Your perspective.

Thanksgiving: Lord, the giver of life. Thank you for your compassion and love; for Your everlasting presence and healing grace when we are crippled by our infirmities. Thank you for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we meet you face to face.

 

Sunday, 25 October – Darkness Turns to Light

25 October

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Jeremiah 31:7-9

The Lord says this:

Shout with joy for Jacob!
Hail the chief of nations!
Proclaim! Praise! Shout:
‘The Lord has saved his people,
the remnant of Israel!’

See, I will bring them back
from the land of the North
and gather them from the far ends of earth;
all of them: the blind and the lame,
women with child, women in labour:
a great company returning here.

They had left in tears,
I will comfort them as I lead them back;
I will guide them to streams of water,
by a smooth path where they will not stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my first-born son.

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Hebrews 5:1-6

Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God, as Aaron was. Nor did Christ give himself the glory of becoming high priest, but he had it from the one who said to him: You are my son, today I have become your father, and in another text: You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.

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Mark 10:46-52

As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man. ‘Courage,’ they said ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Rabbuni,’ the blind man said to him ‘Master, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

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Let me see again

I am in a midst of reading a book about someone’s personal journey and midlife experience. The abyss of what a midlife crisis feels like — getting in touch with the flow of their interior lives, crossing over from one identity to another. Being in a personal or spiritual crisis is that one point in time when one feels completely and utterly stuck, unable to move forward and not wanting to go back. I know this quite well as I have gone through three such crises in my life so far! How many midlife crises can one person go through?!

To get out of this rut, one is called to separate our old selves and move onto the new. Simple, right? But to get to that stage, we go through a passage of separation, moving between dark and light, idleness and growth, clinging on and letting go. But all too often, we move a step forward only to burrow back into that safe place of sameness — our secure place, no matter how stale and arid it has become. Then we never grow. We never get out of our cocoons. We cling to what is familiar.

I attended a talk last month by a brother on Christian Discernment. He outlined the steps that could help in discerning God’s voice.

  1.  Time in prayer – bring your pressing issue to God.
  2.  Take notice – Of little things happening around you. People you meet and what they might be saying to you. An incident that happened that piqued your interest or curiosity.
  3.  Turn from my will – process of surrendering to God.
  4.  Take action – take that first step and see where it leads you.
  5.  Test the spirit – are you at peace with the decision, the steps taken. Does the action bring about the fruit of the Spirit?

Step number 3 (Turning from my will) brings to mind blind Bartimaeus in today’s gospel reading. I’d imagine the anguish, pain, humiliation and loneliness he endured before he got to this point in his faith. He must have been so desperate for healing that even though he was rebuked for calling out to Jesus, he was undeterred. Letting go of what others might think of him, he simply called out to Jesus knowing he will be healed.

When we pray for wisdom to discern God’s will when it comes to making a life decision, a job change, finding a new job, if we are to stay in a relationship, about finding the grace to forgive someone who has hurt us; when we say “your will be done.” Do we really surrender it to God? Or are we bargaining for God to give us an outcome we ask for? When we do hear God’s voice, are we too afraid to take that step He asked? Do we simply retract back into that cocoon? Or can we let go. Can we throw off the cloak of fear and trepidation and simply run to Jesus?

In my mind, surrendering to God will involve some serious effort on my part. I need to consciously summon up a great effort to put myself in that ‘disposition’; a bit like gritting my teeth and clenching my fist, willing myself to let go. But through personal experience, out of sheer tiredness or trying too hard, I learnt it was not so. Letting go is simply to relax, uncurling our fingers off the control wheel, submitting the process to God so that He will lead us through experiences, encounters and events that come into our lives.

The healing of Bartimaeus can be likened to us being healed of our blindness when the murky cloud of fear, anxiety, pain, anger and jealousy is lifted when we simply let go and let God work his miracles in us. The darkness turns to light.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, as we pray today for your wisdom to guide us in our decisions, may we have the courage to let go and let you lead. Uncomfortable and unfamiliar as the path maybe, may our love for You educate our reason in discerning Your will. May you shine your light on the step we are on, so that we can confidently take the action to move forward.

Thanksgiving: Lord, you know every detail and fabric of our lives. Thank you for loving us and also for giving us free will to choose and reason. That when we go the wrong way, all we need is to call out to You and You are there to lead us back to safety. Thank you for healing us of our blindness, so that we can see with Your eyes.

 

Saturday, 24 October – Listen to your heart

October 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 8:1-11

The reason why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. God has done what the Law, because of our unspiritual nature, was unable to do. God dealt with sin by sending his own Son in a body as physical as any sinful body, and in that body God condemned sin. He did this in order that the Law’s just demands might be satisfied in us, who behave not as our unspiritual nature but as the spirit dictates.

The unspiritual are interested only in what is unspiritual, but the spiritual are interested in spiritual things. It is death to limit oneself to what is unspiritual; life and peace can only come with concern for the spiritual. That is because to limit oneself to what is unspiritual is to be at enmity with God: such a limitation never could and never does submit to God’s law. People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

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Luke 13:1-9

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

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…through His spirit that dwells in you.

It is certainly difficult to act as Christ does and to give life in situations where people have made mistakes. Yes, the situation at work is still bugging me and I am struggling to find a response to my team that would reassure and encourage, rather than reproach and discourage. I know I need to convene a meeting this coming week but what I tell them and how I do it is going to be crucial so as not to deepen the rift between the new joinees and those who have been with me for the past two to three years.

Like the man in the gospel who wonders if he should cut down the fig tree, I too need to ascertain if I continue letting people make mistakes and learn from them, or ‘lay down the law’ and tell them how I want certain things to be done. My heart is telling me to be like the gardener, who prefers to nurture and encourage growth, rather than to destroy what God has probably ordained. For who are we to interfere with God’s plans? But my head continues to tell me to just solve this problem and move on because there is still much to accomplish, and time is ticking by quickly.

The Lord says, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man…but rather in his conversion that he may live.’ (Ez 33:11) Therein lies the answer for me. Jesus Christ always approached every situation with Love for his fellow man. He gives each and every one of us a choice to make. Over the years, I have made many wrong choices and have had to deal with the various consequences. But as I look back, I can discern the hand of God supporting me and carrying me through the many crises which I brought upon myself. Such is the extent of God’s love for us that no matter what choices we make, He is always there to hold our hand so that the moment we are ready, He sets us free like a soaring eagle. 

Brothers and sisters, we are all weighed down by our daily affairs and our individual crosses. And when we come to a major decision point, or a crossroad, many of us automatically rely on our ‘head self’ to weigh the pros and cons, analyse possible scenarios and outcomes, as well as seek the opinion of others before we take a decision. How many of us actually retire to a quiet corner or go to an adoration chapel to listen to what God has to say in the matter? I know of many who do, and I also know that many a time, we don’t have that luxury. But when it concerns the lives of those around us (and oftentimes, a decision will have an impact on others), just lift up a prayer to our heavenly Father and ask for his guidance and to speak to you. I humbly ask for your prayers as well.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon) 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for your spirit to speak to us and to prompt us in our daily lives so that we may truly act from our hearts, wherein Christ dwells. 

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for the precious gift of free will.  Remind us of the tremendous responsibility we bear when exercising that privilege.

Friday, 23 October – Standing Guard

23 October – 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 7:18-25

I know of nothing good living in me – living, that is, in my unspiritual self – for though the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want. When I act against my will, then, it is not my true self doing it, but sin which lives in me.

In fact, this seems to be the rule, that every single time I want to do good it is something evil that comes to hand. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates. This is what makes me a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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Luke 12:54-59

 

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud looming up in the west you say at once that rain is coming, and so it does. And when the wind is from the south you say it will be hot, and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the face of the earth and the sky. How is it you do not know how to interpret these times?

 

‘Why not judge for yourselves what is right? For example: when you go to court with your opponent, try to settle with him on the way, or he may drag you before the judge and the judge hand you over to the bailiff and the bailiff have you thrown into prison. I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the very last penny.’

 

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…evil is at hand. 

It has been a trying two weeks and it ended yesterday with a closed-door outburst of anger, which some of my staff may have witnessed. After a long, tiring day, I was informed by a colleague of a mistake he made which was published in the dailies, resulting in a query from a counterpart in the government ministry we report to. So as I looked forward to leaving the office early and getting some rest, I ended up ‘stewing’ in my office for a good two hours or so, until everyone left so that I could avoid venting my anger. 

I have discovered that as I start claiming progressive victory over one sin, another has started to surface. And I am beginning to see first-hand how the evil one tries to claim us through our daily trials. Looking back, I can sense the spirit of anger slowly trying to take hold of me. How I know this is because I have had to consciously hold my tongue or even walk away from a meeting quite a few times, so as to avoid injuring others with my negative thoughts. Whilst ordinarily, I would probably have spoken out either sarcastically or verbally blasted the other party, something has told me to just take a breather and approach the situation calmly and rationally.

I know it is God’s spirit at work, guiding me and shielding me from causing more harm. But I have found myself questioning when these trials will end. I fear that my negative thoughts, especially my anger, will transfer to other members within my team. In fact, just a few days ago, at the height of a stress-filled morning, someone snapped and yelled at a junior staff – something that I certainly do not condone, especially from a new joinee. So I now have to set it right and to nip this behaviour in the bud. On reflection, the manger may have reacted to my own frustration when I found out that certain items had not been prepared prior to a ceremony. And while my team have always said they’d rather I just brush things off and accept mistakes, the perfectionist in me rises up and says ‘No, do not tolerate such things, otherwise it will deteriorate further.’

Brothers and sisters, the wicked one is always on the prowl to catch us just as we think we are on the verge of conquering sin. We must always be on our guard and not let it down, so that we can face the many challenges steeled in the confidence that our heavenly Father is moulding us and shaping us through these difficult times. We must never live in fear but always in hope that one day, we will eventually conquer our sins and will be fully ready to meet Jesus Christ as He welcomes us into His kingdom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our day of battle, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks for your constant protection.