11 September, Sunday – Mercy Unto Us

11 September

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Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: “I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.”’
So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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1 Timothy 1:12-17

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus. Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Luke 15:1-10

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.

‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’

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The Lord relented

Ever so often we see God in such a dictatorship kind of way. That we are being watched by Him, and there is this set of rules set out by God and the church talk about behaviours and the ‘Don’ts’ that are sinful in the eyes of God. We probably grew up thinking, we should not do this or that, otherwise, it is a great sin. Some of us might even think that we are condemned for life. In today’s readings and Gospel, the message is clear that God our Father is a merciful one and He listen to our plea.

The Church is currently celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In today’s readings, the Lord relented after Moses pleaded to God about saving His people from Egypt and despite their behaviour of worshipping a false god, that they be forgiven for their behaviour. In the Gospel, our loving God do not require great acts to gain back his trust and love, all He favour is a change of heart and us sinners be repentant for the wrong we did. It is essentially our behaviour towards others. We are called to be witnesses of Christ, because of what He has done for us. It is because we have lived in difficulty for Christ gave us the hope to live fully and be at peace. Therefore, we should be of a good example in character, to be merciful to those who have wronged us, to be able to forgive and be open to the many difficult situations in our world.

We will never know the reasons and stories behind others just by looking at them and judging their behaviours against ours. Be loving and kind to our neighbours, be patient and humble, and so we look unto others with an openness and Christ-like approach. It is actually very difficult to forgive and be merciful when I am in fit of anger, only over time, do I realise that if I am to behave just like how Jesus is, being the loving and merciful Father that He is, forgiving will make the surroundings better.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

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Thanksgiving: In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pray for those who are in conflict, that a peaceful solution will come soon to resolve their issues.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for forgiving us the wrong that we have done, and continue to grace us with the behaviour that is like your son Jesus.

10 September, Saturday – Live out your beliefs

10 September 

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1 Corinthians 10:14-22

My dear brothers, you must keep clear of idolatry. I say to you as sensible people: judge for yourselves what I am saying. The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf. Look at the other Israel, the race, where those who eat the sacrifices are in communion with the altar. Does this mean that the food sacrificed to idols has a real value, or that the idol itself is real? Not at all. It simply means that the sacrifices that they offer they sacrifice to demons who are not God. I have no desire to see you in communion with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons. Do we want to make the Lord angry; are we stronger than he is?

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Luke 6:43-49

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. For every tree can be told by its own fruit: people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.

‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord” and not do what I say?

‘Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and acts on them – I will show you what he is like. He is like the man who when he built his house dug, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on rock; when the river was in flood it bore down on that house but could not shake it, it was so well built. But the one who listens and does nothing is like the man who built his house on soil, with no foundations: as soon as the river bore down on it, it collapsed; and what a ruin that house became!’

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Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that there is no point constantly calling him “Lord”, the person we obey, if we do not actually do what he asks. And one of the things he asks of us is to scrape away the shaky, sinful layers in our lives. The very layers that built up over time when we became complacent of our salvation. When we unintentionally decided that having faith is enough. Actual action would not be required and all sin would be immediately deemed ‘null and void’ just because we believe in God. No repentance necessary.

It won’t be easy to shovel away the dirt and loose sand before we hit the hard rock to build our house on but when the storms of life come, all that cleaning would have been worth it because our faith is strong enough to weather it out.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Actions speak louder than words’, and nothing can be closer to the truth. The gospel also tells us that our actions are the fruits we produce. Not our knowledge of the Word. We can easily memorise the whole Bible (okay, maybe not THAT easily but you get the picture) but Jesus calls us to live out what we learn and believe in.

What we do is a reflection of what we believe in. It is these actions which actually demonstrate our Christian faith and belief. Do we forgive when we are wronged? Do we offer food to the beggar on the street? Do we hold the door open for the person behind us? Do we do everything the Lord has asked us to do?

Sure, people may form a first impression of us based on what we say but it is our actions that leave the lasting impression. It’s not just enough to do but we need to do with a willing heart. That is the mark of genuine belief – that everything we do is based on our belief that is so deeply anchored in our hearts, it’s second nature. Even our attitude is a testament to our faith in God.

My brothers and sisters, a good heart will produce good thoughts, that brings about good deeds, and good deeds are meant to be shared with everyone. This is how we show the world the Word of God. Like the song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the strength and willpower to scrub away our sinful nature, no matter how abrasive it is. Keep us strong dear Lord as we focus on filling our lives with good deeds while removing our harmful actions in our everyday lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times You have picked us back up and took back our repentant selves each and every time we fell into sin.

9 September, Friday – Forgive before judging

9 September – Memorial for St. Peter Claver, Priest

He was born in Catalonia and studied at the University of Barcelona. He became a Jesuit; and while he was studying philosophy in Mallorca, the door-keeper of the college, Alfonso Rodríguez, saw that his true vocation was to evangelize the New World, and encouraged him to fulfil that vocation. (Rodríguez was later canonized on the same day as Peter Claver himself).

He arrived in Cartagena, in what is now Colombia, in 1610, and after his ordination six years later he became ‘the slave of the Negroes forever’, labouring on their behalf for 33 years, attending to both their spiritual and material needs. The slave trade was repeatedly condemned by the Popes; but it was too profitable to be stopped and on the whole the local church hierarchy kept quiet about it, much as they did in North America in the 19th century.

He brought fresh food to the slave-ships as they arrived, instructed the slaves and baptized them in the faith, followed their progress and kept track of them even when they were sent to the mines and plantations, defending them as well as he could from oppressive slave-owners. He organized teams of catechists who spoke the many languages spoken by the slaves. He worked in hospitals also, looking after lepers among others, and in prisons.

Naturally he made himself unpopular by his work: as his superior said, ‘unfortunately for himself he is a Catalan, pig-headed and difficult’. Opposition came from both within the Church and outside it, but there were always exceptions. For instance, while many fashionable ladies refused to enter his city churches because they had been profaned by the presence of the blacks, a few, such as Doña Isabel de Urbina, became his strong and lifelong supporters.

At the end of his life he fell ill with a degenerative disease and for four years he was treated neglectfully and brutally by the servant whose task it was to look after him. He did not complain but accepted his sufferings as a penance for his sins.

– Universalis

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1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-27

I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands. Do you know what my reward is? It is this in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.

So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.

All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win. All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither. That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight, not beating the air. I treat my body hard and make it obey me, for, having been an announcer myself, I should not want to be disqualified.

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Luke 6:39-42

Jesus told a parable to the disciples, ‘Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit? The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,” when you cannot see the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.’

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You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Raise your hand if you have ever been quick to pass judgement on someone without knowing the full extent of the situation. How about if you’ve delayed (or denied) forgiving someone because you firmly believe they’re in the wrong? Even if you know deep in your heart that you’re not a saint either.

It’s easy isn’t it? To criticize someone when they slip-up. Yet, how many of us are willing to look at our own shortcomings and criticise those instead? Theoretically, I would gladly say, “Of course, I am willing to take a look at myself and fix what’s wrong.” In practice however, I would never do it, or would do it extremely grudgingly and maybe once in 20 blue moons. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking along these lines.

I couldn’t make it to World Youth Day this year but someone I know posted on Facebook the words of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in the days leading up to it. “If we deny our wounds, we will inflict wounds on other people,” he told the crowd gathered in front of him.

If you think about it, this holds true for everyone. How can we even attempt to ‘fix’ someone else if we are broken ourselves? Yes, we as Christians are called to evangelise and shine the light towards God. But that in no way means hand them a book of instructions that we have yet to read and apply ourselves.

Jesus calls us to walk the talk in today’s Gospel and walk the talk, we must. So, let us try to practice forgiving each other, no matter how big or small the mistake. We may sometimes forget the wrong years down the road but the other person may never forget that they were never forgiven.

Remember, our journey towards God is not meant to be easy because changing is never easy. Lots of scraping and chiselling is needed to form a statue out of a block.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the strength to forgive and forget the same way You do for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people you’ve placed in our lives and the ways they have unintentionally hurt us. We know that this is Your way of teaching us to be more understanding and forgiving. Just as You are.

8 September, Thursday – Searching For Peace

8 September – Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary announced joy and the approaching salvation of a lost world. Mary was brought into the world not like other children of Adam, infected with the contagion of sin, but pure, holy, beautiful, and glorious, adorned with all the most precious graces fitting for the one predestined to be the Mother of the Saviour. Never did she have the slightest inclination towards anything other than the absolute and immediate Will of God.

She appeared indeed in the weak condition of all mortals, but in the eyes of Heaven she already transcended the highest seraphim in purity, humility, charity, and the richest ornaments of grace. God had created her in the original grace, as in the beginning Adam and Eve had enjoyed that ineffable privilege; after original sin, it was lost for all Adam’s posterity, until the time of the Redemption dawned in Mary. (Cf. I Cor. 15:21-23)

The nations celebrate, often too noisily, the birthdays of the great ones of this earth… How then ought we, Christians, to rejoice in that of the Virgin Mary, Mother of our Salvation, and to present publicly to God the homage of our best praises and thanksgiving for the great mercies He has shown in her, imploring her mediation with her Divine Son!

Jesus of Nazareth will not reject the supplications of His most holy Mother, through whom He chose to descend from Heaven; she, the Spouse of the Canticle, is all beautiful and is the one He was pleased to obey while on earth. Her love, care, and tenderness for Him, the title and qualities which she bears, the charity and graces with which she is adorned, and the crown of glory with which she is honoured, incline Him readily to receive her recommendations and petitions.

– http://www.magnificat.ca/cal/engl/09-08.htm

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Micah 5:1-4

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the least of the clans of Judah,
out of you will be born for me
the one who is to rule over Israel;
his origin goes back to the distant past,
to the days of old.
The Lord is therefore going to abandon them
till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.
Then the remnant of his brothers will come back
to the sons of Israel.
He will stand and feed his flock
with the power of the Lord,
with the majesty of the name of his God.
They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power
to the ends of the land.
He himself will be peace.

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Matthew 1:1-16,18-23

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.

After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’

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He shall be peace 

By the time you read this, I should have already started off on my Camino from Leon. When I first decided to do this walk last October, little did I know that the preparation would lead me to the challenges that I encountered during the past month or so. And while the challenges were mainly work-related, I found myself getting drained and feeling dry from other ‘work’ matters that I had been called to do.

In fact, until about 6 weeks ago, when one of my worship leaders asked me how preparations were going, I could confidently reply that I was physically ready. Thereafter, it was the spiritual challenges that started to wear me down; especially when challenges at work came rushing to the fore. In all the years since I made an about face and started to journey back to God, I cannot recall ever feeling so ‘tested’. But in expectant faith, I know that He is with me and will be with us on our pilgrimage. At my last sacrament of reconciliation, the priest offered this nugget for me to contemplate on – think of the walk as both of you on the road to Emmaus, and pray that the Lord appears before you.

The moment I heard those words, I came to a firm realisation as to the purpose of my journey. Far from being something to ‘check off’ on a bucket list, I knew right away that my original reason – to give thanks to the Lord for all His blessings over the past 49 years of my life – was valid. And that He was in fact calling me to encounter Him powerfully. Whether or not it happens, I can only open my heart each day as I walk towards Santiago de Compostela; and not be so desperate as to search for Him in every encounter, but to just let it happen. Because I know that He will come among us in His own way, at His own time.

As it is, I am not too sure what to expect. I am quietly excited and very much looking forward to the time away from everyone and everything to contemplate and to be at peace. Is it a form of escapism? I know deep down that I am strong enough to face everything in my path. But perhaps it is just God’s way of telling me, “Enough son. Come and be with me, let me take care of you all of your worries.” I know that life back home will go on. I just wonder what it will be like when I return.

Brothers and sisters, we are all on a journey with a definite end. How many of us can truly say that at the end, when we finally meet God, that we will have found our peace? I will be praying for all in this ministry and all the lives that have been touched. Pray for me, that as I journey towards my destination, the Lord will bless me with His everlasting peace and undying love so that I can carry on His work.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant us the peace that you have ordained for each and every one of us. Help us to see that our worries are unfounded and that above all, you have the power to wipe them all away.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for all the times that you have blessed us with your peace and joy. We ask that you continue to shower us with your everlasting love.

7 September, Wednesday – Our Eternal Reward

7 September

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1 Corinthians 7:25-31

About remaining celibate, I have no directions from the Lord but give my own opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy, has stayed faithful. Well then, I believe that in these present times of stress this is right: that it is good for a man to stay as he is. If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom; if you are free of a wife, then do not look for one. But if you marry, it is no sin, and it is not a sin for a young girl to get married. They will have their troubles, though, in their married life, and I should like to spare you that.

Brothers, this is what I mean: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.

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Luke 6:20-26

Fixing his eyes on his disciples Jesus said:

‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.

‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’

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Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. 

Relocating to a new city is never easy. Aside from the usual logistics of establishing a new household, there is also the very pertinent question of money. Those of us who have set out to live on your own will remember how financially taxing it was the very first time. Everything needed to be bought, from a new pot to a can of beans. As you watch your bank balances decline, it is all too easy to despair. It is also far too easy to throw yourself further into work, hoping to earn those extra dollars.

What is difficult to do is that familiar reminder — God will provide. Whether it is material or spiritual needs, God will give us what we need. In the hustle and bustle of the city, it is often easy to forget that. However, today’s readings present us with an even more pressing and very stark reminder: the world in its present form is passing away. For those of us who are beset with bills and expenses, it may well be a relief to hear that (maybe all our bills will pass away with this ‘present’ world!).

Jokes aside, today’s readings are reminding us to focus on the kingdom of God. As Jesus said: blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Jesus is teaching us that if we focus on His Kingdom, we will find our rewards there, and all the suffering and hardships that we have to endure in our earthly life will all be worth it. While these heavenly treasures are not tangible (we cannot touch them nor see them right now), we know for sure that they are eternal.

Surely, things that are eternal are far worthier of our pining than our material desires and possessions? So (and with much great difficulty) I continue to lift up my worries to God each day, having faith (despite not knowing completely) that God will provide. No matter what the situation, God will help me find a way. All we need to do is to have faith, and to pray.

Jon Bon Jovi (perhaps unintentionally) says it best in his classic hit (and a staple of my teenhood): We’re halfway there. Livin’ on a prayer.

We’re halfway there. No longer condemned due to our faith in Christ, but not quite saints yet. When all else fails and we find ourselves with nothing left and nobody to turn to, that is when we really need to pray. To pray as if our lives depend on it; to live on every prayer that escapes our lips.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, while the lives we live are not always easy, we continue to place our faith and trust in You, praying and believing with full confidence that You will lift us up on our final days and shower us with Your love.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for all the people in our lives who have offered us a helping hand in difficult times.

6 September, Tuesday – The Myth of Sinlessness

6 September

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1 Corinthians 6:1-11

How dare one of your members take up a complaint against another in the law courts of the unjust instead of before the saints? As you know, it is the saints who are to ‘judge the world’; and if the world is to be judged by you, how can you be unfit to judge trifling cases? Since we are also to judge angels, it follows that we can judge matters of everyday life; but when you have had cases of that kind, the people you appointed to try them were not even respected in the Church. You should be ashamed: is there really not one reliable man among you to settle differences between brothers and so one brother brings a court case against another in front of unbelievers? It is bad enough for you to have lawsuits at all against one another: oughtn’t you to let yourselves be wronged, and let yourselves be cheated? But you are doing the wronging and the cheating, and to your own brothers.

You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God. These are the sort of people some of you were once, but now you have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.

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Luke 6:12-19

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.

He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.

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because power came forth from him and healed them all.

Today, like most days, I found myself struggling with my (relatively new-found) faith. It is no secret that the bible offers hard lessons for all of us. As an introvert, I have spent many parties looking (with great envy) at the way that everyone seems able to socialise so easily. For the young man that I was then, I was particularly struck by how easily other guys could win the affection and attention of young women.

As an older man, I find it easy to look at the shenanigans of today’s youth, judging them as debauchery and hedonism. Yet we have been taught over and over again that we should not judge, that we should ‘let he who is sinless cast the first stone’. Yes, none of us is free from sin. Indeed, the more that we believe in our alleged sinlessness, the more we have already sinned. Not having sinned in appearance does not guarantee any sort of interior moral purity.

That is a lesson that I have learned the hard way. As a socially awkward yet precocious youth, I have often found myself judging far too easily. Such tendencies do not go away, even after one has outgrown adolescence. As a consequence, I have found myself constantly stepping on others’ toes. Worse yet, I find myself becoming bitter. The first reading says: do not be deceived.

The deception lies in the belief that we are ‘okay’, that those idolators, adulterers and thieves found in the bible must be referring to somebody else. But it is with the less-than-friendly admonition of a friend or even the loss of one that the truth becomes painfully true — that we have sinned without realising it ourselves. But the second reading also shows Jesus going out to heal everyone. Yes, everyone.

Regardless of whether you have sinned or not, or how serious those sins are, Jesus wants to heal all of us. And as the first reading also reminds us, we are now washed clean and sanctified, despite being sinners before. But this healing cannot come to us, if we do not humble ourselves and ask for it.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we continue to pray for your forgiveness and love. For all the times we have sinned knowingly or unknowingly, we pray for your spiritual healing.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the daily reminders and signs of our own weaknesses.

5 September, Monday – Stretch Out Your Hand

5 September

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8

I have been told as an undoubted fact that one of you is living with his father’s wife. This is a case of sexual immorality among you that must be unparalleled even among pagans. How can you be so proud of yourselves? You should be in mourning. A man who does a thing like that ought to have been expelled from the community. Though I am far away in body, I am with you in spirit, and have already condemned the man who did this thing as if I were actually present. When you are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I am spiritually present with you, then with the power of our Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan so that his sensual body may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit. You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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Luke 6:6-11

On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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Stretch out your hand.

Like any given Monday, many of us find ourselves returning to work, coming back to the hustle and bustle of a new week ahead. At the same time, many of us will find ourselves bogged down with the work that we need to do in the coming week. But so often, we forget that the week does not really start on Monday. Many of us would have encountered calendars that begin the week with a Sunday.

We also know that Sunday is the sabbath day. It is the day of rest, the seventh day on which even God himself took a break. But in the readings today, we see Jesus healing the man with the withered hand on the day of Sabbath. This was what enraged the Pharisees — that Jesus worked on the Sabbath day. But Jesus did all this knowing that this would be the response He would elicit.

Indeed, Jesus is telling us that as Christians, there is no demarcation of when and where we are to do God’s work. Similarly, there should be no demarcation between our rest times, daily work, and time with God. Furthermore, Jesus’s act of healing re-emphasizes his two ‘new’ laws: (1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; (2) Love your neighbour as yourself.

Like healing the man with the withered hand, love has no rest days. No matter the circumstance, we are called to reflect God’s love to others. And we need to receive God’s love from others. So often, we think about giving but forget about receiving. When we receive love (whether a kind act, a compliment, or simply a prayer), we allow others to exercise the holiness that God has implanted in them.

Whether giving or receiving, we are called to stretch out our hands. To reach out to fellow men and women, especially those who are in need. So as we go through our day, let us remember to continue doing God’s work by loving and caring for each other, even if we are bogged down with our daily work. Let us remember that our Saviour loved despite the circumstances; and so, we must do the same.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for those who are lonely, scared or intimidated by the circumstance and situations that they have been born into, placed in, or simply find themselves in. Lead them back to your love.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for his unceasing love and unfailing help. May we never lose the eyes of faith that allow us to see Him in everything we do.

4 September, Sunday – The Choice of Faith

4 September

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Wisdom 9:13-18

What man indeed can know the intentions of God?
Who can divine the will of the Lord?
The reasonings of mortals are unsure
and our intentions unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.
It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth,
laborious to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and men been taught what pleases you,
and saved, by Wisdom.

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Philemon 1:9-10,12-17

This is Paul writing, an old man now and, what is more, still a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for a child of mine, whose father I became while wearing these chains: I mean Onesimus. I am sending him back to you, and with him – I could say – a part of my own self. I should have liked to keep him with me; he could have been a substitute for you, to help me while I am in the chains that the Good News has brought me. However, I did not want to do anything without your consent; it would have been forcing your act of kindness, which should be spontaneous. I know you have been deprived of Onesimus for a time, but it was only so that you could have him back for ever, not as a slave any more, but something much better than a slave, a dear brother; especially dear to me, but how much more to you, as a blood-brother as well as a brother in the Lord. So if all that we have in common means anything to you, welcome him as you would me.

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Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’

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Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

For the longest time, we have been taught commonsensical dictates such as ‘good things do not come easy’, ‘all good things come with hard work’, or anything along these lines but phrased in any number of ways and languages. Regardless, they all associate the ‘good’ with hard work and even some extent of hardship. But what sort of ‘good’ are we talking about?

Goodness is often associated with the ‘good life’, something which ancient Greek philosophy further associated with living the ‘virtuous’ life. Indeed, there is a famous painting by the Italian painter, Annibale Carraci, that depicts the Greek mythological figure Hercules, choosing between the harder path of Virtue and an easier path of worldly pleasures. As the story goes, Hercules chooses the harder path.

In today’s readings, Jesus is asking us to make a similar choice. Indeed, he is asking that we renounce our worldly possessions, preoccupations and allegiances and take up instead, the mantle of faith. To be His disciple, we need to take up our crosses and follow Him. To follow Him. Through the darkness and the light, through suffering and joy, always to follow Jesus, because we know that our ultimate destination is to be with the Father who created us, and that destination can only be reached through the Son.

We know that such a path is not at all easy. There will be much suffering, persecution and difficult times. In a world that is so secular and fixated on material concerns, to follow Jesus requires much courage and resilience. To follow Jesus requires that we resist all other distractions. Yes, even when such distractions come from our loved ones. This is why Jesus associates His discipleship with “hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters”.  Not that we ought to hate them in the way we understand it, but to always remember to place God above them.

Indeed, such a path is not easy at all. But once again, we know that ‘good things do not come easy’. What more the greatest good of them all — to be in the presence of our almighty God. Like Hercules, we have to make a choice. But not simply a choice between a good or bad life. Rather, a choice to believe and follow in Christ — a choice of faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for your strength and fortitude. May You send upon us Your Holy Spirit, so that we can continue to follow your Son as His disciples.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for the life you have given us, for both the good times and the bad. Thank you for your gift of life.

3 September, Saturday – Our gifts are not our own

3 September – Memorial for St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor

St. Gregory (540-590) collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants. He was elected by unanimous acclamation for pope. Incidentally, he was also the first monk to be pope. Before his papacy, he turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He became a missionary to England upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Corinthians 4:6-15

Take Apollos and myself as an example and remember the maxim: ‘Keep to what is written.’ It is not for you, so full of your own importance, to go taking sides for one man against another. In any case, brother, has anybody given you some special right? What do you have that was not given to you? And if it was given, how can you boast as though it were not? Is it that you have everything you want – that you are rich already, in possession of your kingdom, with us left outside? Indeed I wish you were really kings, and we could be kings with you! But instead, it seems to me, God has put us apostles at the end of his parade, with the men sentenced to death; it is true – we have been put on show in front of the whole universe, angels as well as men. Here we are, fools for the sake of Christ, while you are the learned men in Christ; we have no power, but you are influential; you are celebrities, we are nobodies. To this day, we go without food and drink and clothes; we are beaten and have no homes; we work for our living with our own hands. When we are cursed, we answer with a blessing; when we are hounded, we put up with it; we are insulted and we answer politely. We are treated as the offal of the world, still to this day, the scum of the earth.

I am saying all this not just to make you ashamed but to bring you, as my dearest children, to your senses. You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father and it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus by preaching the Good News.

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Luke 6:1-5

One sabbath Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples were picking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. Some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?’ Jesus answered them, ‘So you have not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry how he went into the house of God, took the loaves of offering and ate them and gave them to his followers, loaves which only the priests are allowed to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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“What do you have that was not given to you?”

When I was working in the banking sector, I came across many accounts which had a ‘Power of Attorney’ privileges accorded to representatives of the account holders. These representatives had the authority to operate these accounts similar to that of the actual owners.

These powers, however, are not permanent, and can be revoked by the account holders. Similarly, the authority would disappear upon the death of the account holder.

Peter alludes to the authority and power given by God to men. He reminds us that we are nothing without that that is given to us, and that we should not be proud and arrogant. What we have does not come from us. As such, we should not take this power and lord it over others.

Yet, many of us forget that.

I used to manage teams of employees within the banks I worked with. With the responsibilities came the ability to affect the lives of others. With the roles came the perks, business meetings where senior management meet and junior staff deferred to us. I was wined and dined and attended countless meetings where people sought to impress.

When I left banking some 2 years ago, all this disappeared overnight. Nobody from amongst my previous business contacts called, wanting to spend time over a meal and the hustle and bustle I had previously ‘enjoyed’ evaporated into thin air.

I was blessed with this experience and was reminded that whatever we have on this Earth is temporal. I was reminded that what was important was for me to learn God’s ways and to serve Him as His child.

What about you? Have you been swept up by all the gifts, talents and power that God alone has given us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father God, may we always be mindful of Your gifts for us. Help us to be good stewards of all the resources that You have given us to honour You!

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for everything You have given us. Thank You for your constant reminders in Your Holy Word to not be arrogant, but instead to do our best for You.

2 September, Friday – To become renewed in our faith

2 September

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1 Corinthians 4:1-5

People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of his trust. Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you, or indeed any human tribunal, find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgement on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts. Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God.

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Luke 5:33-39

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

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

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

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“The salvation of the just comes from the Lord”

Many movies are interesting because they feature the human condition; of how people change and grow through the circumstances they face. Some changes are good; others not so.

In the movie ‘My Fair Lady’, for example, a friendly bet results in an uncultured lady, Eliza Doolittle, being brought into the home of Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics. Despite rather difficult odds, Eliza turns into a cultured lady, even posing as a duchess in an ambassador’s party and fooling everyone there. The interesting thing is, after Eliza returns home after the completion of this experiment, she finds that she no longer fits in; she has become a stranger in her own home.

While I was baptized when I was about 19, I was never that ‘into the faith’. I did go to church, but more because I was in the choir and because I wanted to hang out with my friends.

Fast forward some 21 years, and my wife and I attended a course known as the Christian Life Program. What I experienced during the course allowed me to learn more about what it meant to be a Christian. In essence, I was converted.

My experience in the working world since has been very different. In some areas, I found it difficult to do what I was previously doing. I began questioning many of the things that I saw, and wanted to do what was right by my God. I found it really challenging to live my Christian values.

Our Lord talks, in today’s gospel, about not putting new wines into old skins, or using a cloth from a new cloak to repair an old one. In effect, we are the new skin, we are the new cloak. With the changes we experience as children of God, we are renewed!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Father, help us to be like new skins and new cloaks. Help us to be renewed in our faith and to be good examples in our journey to Your kingdom.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus for showing us where we need to be in our growth as children of our Father. We are grateful for Your reminder that we should be renewed in our daily walk with You.