31 August, Thursday – Constant Vigilance

31 Aug

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1 Thessalonians 3:7-13

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

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

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Matthew 24:42-51

Jesus said to his disciples:

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

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

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Stay awake

At this time of writing, I have been living in Canberra for more than two months. This is the first time I am living abroad on my own for an extended period of time, and is also a time of testing. I have been disconcerted and disappointed to find that when on my own, my thoughts often tended towards the negative and sinful, with the stress of assignments often compounding those dark thoughts. It is during this time that I realised my procrastination when it comes to daily activities also extends to sin and reconciliation with God. Yes, maybe I made the sinful choice now, but I can always go for confession and repent later, right?

Jesus taught his disciples about the narrow gate being the way to enter the kingdom of heaven. What is that narrow way? It is so easy in our days of material comfort to seek the same kind of comfort in the spiritual aspect as well. Instead of taking the narrow gate, I suspect that a lot of us are choosing to take the most comfortable gate, which will likely not lead one there, come to think of it.

“Constant vigilance!” is the mantra of Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody, a prominent character in the Harry Potter series. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus used the example of a vigilant householder who will earn the rewards of heaven. If I were to use a typical workplace example, most employees would take the opportunity to slack off work, take longer lunch breaks, etc in the boss’ absence. I have often done so myself, sad to say. But Jesus is not like any boss. The rules he set for entering His kingdom are tough, but are not meant to stifle and restrict us. In the great spiritual mystery that will only make sense if we put our hearts and minds to discerning God’s will and acting on it, following Jesus’ rules will set us free.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the discipline to turn away from sin and find the strength to make the difficult but God-loving decisions that are uncomfortable for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the forgiveness of God.

30 August, Wednesday – God’s Message or Human Thinking?

30 Aug

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1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

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

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Matthew 23:27-32

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

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

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You accepted it for what it really is

Are you happy? If you are not, is there something wrong? Should happiness be the main purpose of our lives? Popular thinking in contemporary times emphasises a lot on happiness and seeking it. People are consulting philosophy, psychology, science, religion and even pop culture to find the ingredients to not have to drag themselves along their lives in misery.

So how is Christianity different from the human thinking that so pervades our highly connected world now? What does Christianity offer? The answer is obvious and simple – Jesus. Our lives do not start and end with ourselves or the decisions we make. During this time abroad for my studies, I have faced several challenges. For example, having to deal with my own grades and assignments after a decade of being a teacher and not a student, having to overcome my laziness about domestic chores, trying to adapt to an unfamiliar culture and people. Very quickly, I realised that one really needs an anchor to navigate the choppy waters of life. This anchor cannot be a philosophy or some psychological finding limited by the extent of human thinking and ‘logic’. It has to be something beyond, something much greater.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11: 28-30) These words are probably among some of the most widely quoted verses of the bible, about what Jesus can give us if only we turn to Him. I am quite sure He is not offering happiness as such, but He is going all the way into the depths of our souls. It is not simply a matter of dumping all our sorrows and pain onto Him, but also accepting His yoke and learning His ways.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the humility to always seek guidance from the Lord, especially in our current climate of moral fluidity.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His life-giving grace.

29 August, Tuesday – Our Mission in Life

Aug 29 – Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (not used in 2010)

To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather is was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward. Since death was ever at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: “You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake.” He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that His chosen ones should suffer for Him: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”

– from a homily by Saint Bede the Venerable on the death of John the Baptist

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Jeremiah 1:17-19

The word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying:

‘Brace yourself for action.
Stand up and tell them
all I command you.
Do not be dismayed at their presence,
or in their presence I will make you dismayed.

‘I, for my part, today will make you
into a fortified city,
a pillar of iron,
and a wall of bronze
to confront all this land:
the kings of Judah, its princes,
its priests and the country people.
They will fight against you
but shall not overcome you,
for I am with you to deliver you –
it is the Lord who speaks.’

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Mark 6:17-29

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

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

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“They will not defeat you, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken.”

Today we celebrate the Passion of St John the Baptist. More remembered as the voice that cries out in the wilderness to make the way for the Lord, the baby in womb who leapt for joy when Mary visited, the one who baptised many, including Jesus. One who was steadfast in his faith, bold in reaching out to countless with his preaching.

In St John the Baptist, we have a role model that defines our mission in life too. When we say we evangelise, it’s not just to our friends, people who would listen, people whom we are comfortable with, but it’s to the exact opposite of the above.

The consequences or how his future was going to turn out like didn’t matter to St John for what was most important, was the encounter of Jesus. The relationship St John had was so strong that nothing could hold him back from sharing the beautiful gift with all. Do we have that conviction or that relationship with God? Why not?

We read in the Gospel that Herod was protecting St John, loved listening to him even though he felt uncomfortable. And I believe it’s because St John spoke the truth, though sometimes very uncomfortable, it’s something we cannot avoid forever but better if we can confront it, grudges, regrets, misunderstandings, unresolved hurts. Herod knew John was a holy man but eventually still succumb to a vow and took his life in such a cruel way.

Again, as from the past 2 reflections, what is really important to us, keeping to a vow that could have been made rashly, protecting one’s image, or like St John, speaking the truth, to know our mission in life. Our Lord has already given us His life and His love, it’s time for us to do the same for all. Let us stay true to our faith, to the creed we profess, to live a life of love. May we learn from St John the Baptist. St John the Baptist, pray for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we will continue to grow our relationship with you. To grow in conviction as we live out our mission. Empower us in our struggles, in our efforts to step out of our comfort zones. May we be beacons of hope, examples of love by our lives.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Lord for the gift of St John the Baptist. Thank you for helping us see that it is possible to love you as much in all our imperfect capacity. Thank you Lord for always being there.

28 August, Monday – Hypocrites

Aug 28 – Memorial for St. Augustine, bishop, doctor

After investigating and experimenting with several philosophies, Augustine (354-430) became a Manichaean for several years; it taught of a great struggle between good and evil, and featured a lax moral code. A summation of his thinking at the time comes from his Confessions: “God, give me chastity and continence – but not just now.”

Augustine finally broke with the Manichaeans and was converted by the prayers of his mother and the help of St. Ambrose of Milan, who baptised him. Upon the death of his mother he returned to Africa, sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and founded a monastery. He founded religious communities and fought heresies. His later thinking can also be summed up in a line from his writings: Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.

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1 Thessalonians 1:1-5,8-10

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

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

We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction. And you observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread – and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere. We do not need to tell other people about it: other people tell us how we started the work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.

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Matthew 23:13-22

Jesus said: ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.

‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

‘Alas for you, blind guides! You who say, “If a man swears by the Temple, it has no force; but if a man swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound.” Fools and blind! For which is of greater worth, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? Or else, “If a man swears by the altar it has no force; but if a man swears by the offering that is on the altar, he is bound.” You blind men! For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred? Therefore, when a man swears by the altar he is swearing by that and by everything on it. And when a man swears by the Temple he is swearing by that and by the One who dwells in it. And when a man swears by heaven he is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.’

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“someone who swears by heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.”

Today’s Gospel is a bit hard to digest, however I feel that the message that I’m called to share is that of, ‘Do we know who we are following?’, ‘Why do we do what we do?’

I currently work in the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and was previously working at Church of the Holy Spirit as the Youth Coordinator. Over the years, I’ve seen many who hold positions in the church and they, most of them are not your best role models or disciples for that matter. Maybe some are even worse off than those who don’t even come to church. Me included, there are countless of times where I look in the mirror and just see a hypocrite. Preaching one thing but not only do I not follow, I do the exact opposite.

We don’t need to hold a position to be considered to be a leader but the nature of our faith, as Catholics, people will already be judging us, our lifestyle and so on. And the reality is many have left the church because of priests, leaders within the church, bad experiences, where the expectations that one has of the church isn’t met.

The truth is we are all broken people and more so a good number of those who go to church. It’s quite easy to understand that people who are doing well, most of the time, wouldn’t exactly need God in their life? So the church is probably more broken than we ever imagine, but the beauty of it is that, God sees all and still chooses us to be His ministers, His disciples.

However, what is really key is that we need to know who we are following, who we are leading people to. And we should lead all to God, to only cling on Christ, to depend/rely on Him and not man, for man will continue to fall. Christ is the perfect role model and one we all should strive towards.

And so I urge all of us, not just to listen, follow blindly or be disappointed by man for man is broken and imperfect but to always have our sight on Christ. If we always hold on to the truths of the Gospel and love as Christ loves, then we won’t be far from being the face of Christ to others. Let us bind ourselves to Christ and we can be sure of a place for us with Christ in heaven. May your kingdom come and your will be done in our lives as it is in heaven. God Bless

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for strength to overcome the temptations that seek to pull us away from you. May our words lead to actions and may we grow to be more and more like you.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Lord for your love, for your constant forgiveness, for accepting us and loving us in all our brokenness, disobedience and rejection of you. Amen.

27 August, Sunday – Who do you say I am?

26 August 2017

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Isaiah 22:19-23

Thus says the Lord of Hosts to Shebna, the master of the palace:

I dismiss you from your office,
I remove you from your post,
and the same day I call on my servant
Eliakim son of Hilkiah.
I invest him with your robe,
gird him with your sash,
entrust him with your authority;
and he shall be a father
to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
and to the House of Judah.
I place the key of the House of David
on his shoulder;
should he open, no one shall close,
should he close, no one shall open.
I drive him like a peg
into a firm place;
he will become a throne of glory
for his father’s house.

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Romans 11:33-36

How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.

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Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

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“whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This reflection comes very timely as just yesterday I was at a session and we had to look ourselves in the mirror for about 10 minutes. It was an empowering time with Jesus.

When I first looked into the mirror, I saw, my outer appearance, kind of like, a first impression. More to how people see me versus whether or not they know me. I’ve many flaws, many things which I would like to change. I kind of prefer my old self, how I looked versus how I look now. But what is my reason for wanting to look good? So that I’ll be loved, popular, likeable?

I began to go deeper into reflection and what I saw next was, what did I represent? What values do I stand by? Why do people want to hang out with me? What do others see in me? I am proud of some of the things I stand for and firmly in my life, but some, I just simply fail to stand up to the temptations and pleasures of the world.

Then looking closer, I saw the stains in my life, the stains from my body that cannot be removed, no matter how many times I’ve gone for confession. These are my regrets and misses. And I realised the stains can’t be removed for they are a part of me, I can’t undo the past but I can embrace it, learn from it so that I’ll have a better future.

And finally, who am I? Am I defined by how I look? By what people think or say? By the stains and inadequacies of my life? By what I do? Where does my identity lie? In the world or in Christ?

It’s always easy to just say Christ but what does that really mean? We can only live in Christ if we know Christ. And if we know Christ then we will also know that He suffers whenever He sees us suffering, He hurts whenever we do wrong to others and to ourselves but most importantly, He loves us despite all our imperfections and sees the perfection in us always. It is this love that He gives which translates to our freedom, our freedom to choose Him or others.

So today when we are asked, who God is, may we speak with conviction, to proclaim that He is Lord, He is the Christ, He is Father of us all, King of Kings, Prince of Peace and Love itself. My identity is in Christ and may yours be too. God Bless.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we will grow to know you and to trust in your plan. For you didn’t create us just for us to survive, but you did so, in order that we may live. Help us to live this life according to your will, that we may help build your kingdom here on earth.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Lord for your Word, your Love, for choosing us even amidst the many times when we have chosen others before you.

26 August, Saturday – Titles & Positions

26 Aug

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Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11, 4:13-17

Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, well-to-do and of Elimelech’s clan. His name was Boaz.

Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Let me go into the fields and glean among the ears of corn in the footsteps of some man who will look on me with favour.’ And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ So she set out and went to glean in the fields after the reapers. And it chanced that she came to that part of the fields which belonged to Boaz of Elimelech’s clan.

Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Listen, my daughter, and understand this. You are not to glean in any other field, do not leave here but stay with my servants. Keep your eyes on whatever part of the field they are reaping and follow behind. I have ordered my servants not to molest you. And if you are thirsty, go to the pitchers and drink what the servants have drawn.’ Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground. And she said to him, ‘How have I so earned your favour that you take notice of me, even though I am a foreigner?’ And Boaz answered her, I have been told all you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death, and how you left your own father and mother and the land where you were born to come among a people whom you knew nothing about before you came here.’

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. And when they came together, the Lord made her conceive and she bore a son. And the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has not left the dead man without next of kin this day to perpetuate his name in Israel. The child will be a comfort to you and the prop of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you and is more to you than seven sons has given him birth.’ And Naomi took the child to her own bosom and she became his nurse.

And the women of the neighbourhood gave him a name. ‘A son has been born for Naomi’ they said; and they named him Obed. This was the father of David’s father, Jesse.

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Matthew 23:1-12

Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Someone I know was recently incensed about a ‘shake-up’ in his department. The management there decided to change the job titles and grades of the staff in his department, and the lack of communication and the way it was managed (or mismanaged) caused a bit of strife amongst the staff. The management had to hastily do some ‘damage repair’, but the damage was already done.

We place great importance on our job titles — it shows progression on our CVs, and hierarchical importance in the chain of command. Even clients and customers would prefer to deal with someone who has authority, and that authority is seemingly depicted in the title on our business cards. It gives us a sense of importance, especially when our position is acknowledged by others.

Jesus issued a warning to his disciples, especially on the pursuit of titles. He must have known that it would be so easy for his disciples to be sucked into the practice of ‘vain glory’, and let the pursuit of the position overshadow the purpose of their work. The title was not important, it was the role. And Jesus reminds us not to go down the route of the scribes and Pharisees, lest we too forget the reason for our calling.

Jesus reminds us that we are all equal in God’s eyes. There is only one Rabbi, and only one God. We may be the president of the company, or a tea lady in the pantry; whatever our position in life, at the end of the day, when we stand before God to account for our lives here on earth, that position is not going to matter.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” says today’s Gospel. Let us rid ourselves of the feeling of self-importance and remind ourselves that it is our service over self that will determine our true standing in heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, forgive us for the times when we have allowed self-importance to overshadow our work, especially in our work for God. Help us to realize that it is not how close we are to a position of authority, but how we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ that matters.

ThanksgivingLord, we are thankful for our positions in life. Let us realize that the real privilege that comes with our positions is the ability to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

25 August, Friday – Seeking God

Aug 25 – Memorial for St. Louis of France, married man; Memorial for St. Joseph Calasanz, priest, religious founder

As king of France, Louis (1214-1270) made numerous judicial and legislative reforms. He promoted Christianity in France; established religious foundations, aided mendicant orders, propagated synodal decrees of the Church, built leper hospitals, and collected relics.

“In prosperity, give thanks to God with humility and fear lest by pride you abuse God’s benefits and so offend him.” – St. Louis IX

Joseph Calasanz (1556-1648) and two fellow priests opened a small, free school for poor children. He was supervising several teachers and hundreds of students. When the school moved to larger quarters, the teaching priests were reorganised into a community recognised as a religious order called Le Sciole Pie (Religious Schools), also known as the Piarists, or Scolopii or Ordo Clericorum Regularium Pauperum Matris Dei Scholarum Piarum or Order of Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools; Joseph acted as superior of the Order.

The community encountered many obstacles. It was dissolved, then reorganised after Joseph’s death. They were restored as a religious order in 1669, and continue their good work today.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14-16, 22

In the days of the Judges famine came to the land and a certain man from Bethlehem of Judah went – he, his wife and his two sons – to live in the country of Moab. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she and her two sons were left. These married Moabite women: one was named Orpah and the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died and the woman was bereft of her two sons and her husband. So she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and went back to her people. But Ruth clung to her.

Naomi said to her, ‘Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. You must return too; follow your sister-in-law.’

But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you and to turn back from your company, for ‘wherever you go, I will go, wherever you live, I will live.

Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.’

This was how Naomi, she who returned from the country of Moab, came back with Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

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Matthew 22:34-40

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’

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Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge.

I once read somewhere that Ruth’s journey with Naomi was very much a representation of discipleship with Jesus — the walk with Him would be fraught with ups and downs and ‘foreign territory’ to us at best.

After the death of her husband and sons, Naomi was distraught and depressed. She felt that she had nothing to live for; to the extent that when she returned to Bethlehem, she told her people to call her Mara, for she felt that God had dealt very bitterly with her. She exhorted her two daughters-in-law to return to their family homes, but Ruth insisted on following Naomi back to Bethlehem, determined to be with her and adopt Naomi’s life as her own.

How does this relate to being disciples of Jesus? When Jesus calls us to be His disciples, He does not promise a walk in the park. Yes, He does promise that whoever gives up their lives for Him and the Gospel, would be rewarded in the present age, and eternal life in the age to come, but He also warns that with the rewards would also come persecutions (Mark 10:30). Not an easy path! Like Naomi, we would taste bitterness.

The ‘easy’ way would be to return to what we know best, and are comfortable with, i.e. the ways of the world. For some, this might mean more than just earthly life, this might mean a return to a sinful life. Alternatively, we can carry our cross and face the road ahead with fierce loyalty and passion like Ruth did, to adopt the life that Christ has set for us as our own, including its trials and tribulations.

God promised never to leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Will we be like Ruth and likewise not abandon or forsake Jesus? What will our choice be?

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, we know it isn’t easy to walk the path that you have set before us. But we pray for strength and courage, and take comfort in knowing that you will always be there for us.

ThanksgivingWe give thanks to the Lord for giving us a path to eternal life. Help us to be steadfast in our steps, no matter what lies ahead.

24 August, Thursday – Passionate About Passion

Aug 24 – Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle

Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles. He was probably a close friend of St. Philip, as his name is always mentioned in the gospels in connection with Philip, and it was Philip who brought Bartholomew to Jesus. He may have written a gospel, now lost, as it is mentioned in other writings of the time.

Someone preached in Asia Minor, Ethiopia, India, and Armenia and left behind assorted writings. Local tradition says it was Bartholomew.

– Patron Saint Index

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Apocalypse 21:9-14

The angel came to speak to me, and said, ‘Come here and I will show you the bride that the Lamb has married.’ In the spirit, he took me to the top of an enormous high mountain and showed me Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down from God out of heaven. It had all the radiant glory of God and glittered like some precious jewel of crystal-clear diamond. The walls of it were of a great height, and had twelve gates; at each of the twelve gates there was an angel, and over the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; on the east there were three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. The city walls stood on twelve foundation stones, each one of which bore the name of one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

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John 1:45-51

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ ‘From Nazareth?’ said Nathanael ‘Can anything good come from that place?’ ‘Come and see’ replied Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ said Nathanael ‘Before Philip came to call you,’ said Jesus ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

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You will see greater things than that

Passion. A powerful word that aptly describes the fervour all the Saints had for serving Christ. With passion comes dedication, motivation and purpose; what most would consider as a recipe for success in any chosen endeavor. I suspect that most of us have never truly experienced passion. We may claim to enjoy certain pursuits, but never let them consume all of our being to the point of defining our existence.

About four months ago, I decided to give tennis a try and am utterly smitten. Physical limitations notwithstanding, I have been training and playing as often as I can. As tiring, challenging and frustrating as the game can be, I never find myself wanting to give up. I enjoy the relentless competition, the pain that leaves every sinew in my body sore, and the humiliation of regular defeats. I revel in the satisfaction of a hard won point, the days when every stroke just flows effortlessly, and the friendships forged under the scorching sun. If this is what passion is, then I want more of it in my life and wonder why I have never felt it before.

Is passion a fortunate (or occasionally misguided) coincidence? Can passion for God be developed? Or is it something that only a select few ever get to experience? I surmise that there is a formula for passion and would love to hear your thoughts on this (please leave your comments on our Facebook page or email us at oxygen@thecatholicwriter.com).

I believe that we become passionate about things when 1) we are open to, and actively work at discovering things that are inherently good and worthwhile; 2) the object of passion is aligned with our personality and wholeness as persons; 3) we find it more meaningful to devote our time and energy toward our passion as compared to our previous routines; and 4) the object of passion helps us to grow.

It seems like the Saints were onto something good when they were filled with passion for Jesus. Their efforts seem so phenomenal and barely understandable to those who are unable to understand their motivations. Brothers and sisters, is it time for us to be active in our search for passion? Our relationship with Christ should not and cannot be left to chance.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Anonymous)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, your passion on the cross saved us all. Bless us with the gift of passion for you, and the service of mankind.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for our capacity to feel and love so deeply. May we never forget how you’ve always cherished your children.

23 August, Wednesday – Seeking God

Aug 23 – Memorial for St. Rose of Lima, virgin

A beautiful girl and devoted daughter, Rose (1586-1617) was so devoted to her vow of chastity, she used pepper and lye to ruin her complexion so she would not be attractive. She lived and meditated in a garden, raising vegetables and making embroidered items to sell to support her family and help the other poor. She was the founder of social work in Peru.

“Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: ‘Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.’”

from the writings of St. Rose of Lima

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Judges 9:6-15

All the leading men of Shechem and all Beth-millo gathered, and proclaimed Abimelech king by the terebinth of the pillar at Shechem.

News of this was brought to Jotham. He came and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted aloud for them to hear:

‘Hear me, leaders of Shechem, that God may also hear you!

‘One day the trees went out to anoint a king to rule over them. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king!”

‘The olive tree answered them, “Must I forego my oil which gives honour to gods and men, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then the trees said to the fig tree, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘The fig tree answered them, “Must I forego my sweetness, forego my excellent fruit, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then the trees said to the vine, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘The vine answered them, “Must I forego my wine which cheers the heart of gods and men, to stand swaying above the trees?”

‘Then all the trees said to the thorn bush, “Come now, you be our king!”

‘And the thorn bush answered the trees, “If in all good faith you anoint me king to reign over you, then come and shelter in my shade. If not, fire will come from the thorn bush and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”’

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

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Are you envious because I am generous?

The parable of the workers is a sobering reminder that God’s grace bestowed to each and every one of us does not conform to social norms.

We have been brought up to believe that effort equates rewards. From the time when our parents drilled into our heads that if we didn’t study and make the grade, we would not secure good jobs, to our adult lives where our pay scale or bonus is in line with how much effort we put into our jobs. We impress this upon ourselves, our children, our peers; it has become such a ‘way of life’ that we try to impress it upon God and how we think that God should reward us. But God does not work that way.

It is by the grace of God that we are saved. It is by the grace of God that we have our gifts and blessings. What is grace indeed? Grace is defined as ‘unmerited favour’ — we do not deserve it, yet we receive it. Why is that? Because God is compassionate and loving.

We are all called to do God’s work at some point in our lives, based on His timing. Some of us may have had that calling from very early on, some of us much later in life. Some of us accept God at birth by baptism, some of us embrace God in our adult lives. Yet ALL of us are dealt equally with by God in that we are all given the grace of salvation through Christ Jesus, no matter our standing in human life. We all have the opportunity to reap our reward in heaven as God promised, no matter when we were called to discipleship, or how long or hard we have been serving God. If God deems our hearts as worthy and sincere as the first disciples, then as the parable shows, it is up to Him to determine if we deserve the same reward.

The parable also notes that the first workers had agreed a wage with the landowner, but the last group just agreed to work with no mention of wages. There is an element of trust there that the last group of workers have placed on the landowner, in that they would be paid accordingly, as the landowner saw fit. It is perhaps this element of trust that caused the landowner to say “pay the last group of workers first”.

It is not our place to negotiate a deal with God for the work that we do for Him here on earth — that price has already been paid through the blood of Christ. We cannot enforce our human belief of equality on God. At the end of the day, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak – we all have the same chance of redeeming ourselves for heaven. And we trust that God will reward us accordingly for our efforts and for our sincerity.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray let the work of our hands be for You and for Heaven alone, that we may trust in You to bring us home.

Thanksgiving: God, we thank you for the blessings and graces that you have bestowed upon us, though we are sinners.

22 August, Tuesday – Our Unconditional ‘Yes’

Aug 22 – Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth – and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul – let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace; let him respect and preserve peace, which is not wickedness unpunished nor freedom without restraint, but a well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God; to its safeguarding and growth the gentle urgings and commands of the Virgin Mary impel us. – Pope Pius XII

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Judges 6:11-24

The angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah which belonged to Joash of Abiezer. Gideon his son was threshing wheat inside the winepress to keep it hidden from Midian, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘The Lord is with you, valiant warrior!’ Gideon answered him, ‘Forgive me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, then why is it that all this is happening to us now? And where are all the wonders our ancestors tell us of when they say, “Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt?” But now the Lord has deserted us; he has abandoned us to Midian.’

At this the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength now upholding you, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Do I not send you myself?’ Gideon answered him, ‘Forgive me, my lord, but how can I deliver Israel? My clan, you must know, is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least important in my family.’ the Lord answered him, ‘I will be with you and you shall crush Midian as though it were a single man.’ Gideon said to him, ‘If I have found favour in your sight, give me a sign that it is you who speak to me. I beg you, do not go away until I come back. I will bring you my offering and set it down before you.’ And he answered, ‘I will stay until you return.’

Gideon went away and prepared a young goat and made unleavened cakes with an ephah of flour. He put the meat into a basket and the broth into a pot, then brought it all to him under the terebinth. As he came near, the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Take the meat and unleavened cakes, put them on this rock and pour the broth over them.’ Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff in his hand and touched the meat and unleavened cakes. Fire sprang from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes, and the angel of the Lord vanished before his eyes. Then Gideon knew this was the angel of the Lord, and he said, ‘Alas, my Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!’ the Lord answered him, ‘Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.’ Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it The-Lord-is-Peace.

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Matthew 19:23-30

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you solemnly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ When the disciples heard this they were astonished. ‘Who can be saved, then?’ they said. Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he told them ‘this is impossible; for God everything is possible.’

Then Peter spoke. ‘What about us?’ he said to him ‘We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, when all is made new and the Son of Man sits on his throne of glory, you will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.

‘Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.’

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…for God everything is possible

Over at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC), we are preparing to welcome the International Centennial Pilgrim Image of our Lady of Fatima in September. As part of the preparation, we have begun a devotion – 33 Days to Morning Glory – which will culminate in a celebration on 15 September. Last Friday, Fr Erbin, our Spiritual Director, prayed the Rosary with us as we reflected on the life of St Maximilian Kolbe, one of the saints who is known for his devotion to our Mother.

As Fr Erbin led us through the joyful mysteries, he exhorted for us to surrender our lives to Mother Mary and encouraged us to lift up all our worries, fers and anxieties to her. Never had I experienced (nor heard) such a fervent call during the Rosary, I fell to my knees as he asked those of us in the congregation who were willing to give up their lives in service to kneel. It was truly an anointed moment as we fervently sang ‘Ave Maria Gratia Plena’ in one voice.

Brothers and sisters, it is not easy at all to surrender in humility to the Lord, especially when he calls us. That is why Jesus told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Simply because our pride, whatever degree of it we harbour, prevents us from submitting fully to Him. Unlike Mary, our mother, who gave herself totally and unconditionally when the angel Gabriel visited her and proclaimed her vocation – that she would bear Jesus.

Unlike Gideon, who asked for a sign from the angel, Mary simply said ‘Yes’ and endured everything that was ordained; right up to the Passion and remaining at the foot of the Cross. Such devotion and trust in the Lord’s plan is unfathomable these days, for how many times have we wavered and faltered when called up on to serve the Lord, whether at work, at home or in ministry? How many times do we grumble and gripe when we are asked to attend meetings, practices or to a ‘problem’?

Do we give our ‘Yes’ to the Lord with certain conditions attached? Or do we gladly give Him an unconditional ‘Yes’, fully prepared to sacrifice all our pride, ego and self-importance?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

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

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for calling us by name and choosing us to serve.