Sunday, 20 September – Parents (Again!)

20 September

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Wisdom 2:12,17-20

The godless say to themselves:

‘Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
‘Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

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James 3:16-4:3

Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.

Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.

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Mark 9:30-37

After leaving the mountain Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.

They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

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He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms around him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

My wife and I had our third child earlier this year.  Honestly, I couldn’t say that we planned on having a third one and so there was a fair amount of anxiety on our part during the pregnancy.  It had been a number of years since our second one was born – so we were mentally beyond the diaper changes and midnight feeds (or so we thought).  The physical dependence that a newborn baby requires of his or her parents (especially the mother) can be quite tremendous.  In addition, neither my wife nor I are as young as when we were when we had our first two.  The possibility of a complicated pregnancy was higher (there were a few scary moments after some test results came back).  Also, the financial cost of raising kids doesn’t seem to be going down.  Finally, a new addition to the family would obviously change the current family structure (would sibling rivalry develop?)

As depicted in today’s gospel reading, Jesus embraces a young child as He teaches us about the importance of servant leadership.  He uses the child as an example of how His disciples should care for others.  In those days, children were viewed as very low in the social order rather than as precious gifts from God. William Barclay, a Scottish theologian, summarizes the role children had in the reading as follows…

“Now, a child has no influence at all. A child cannot advance a man’s career, nor enhance a man’s prestige. A child cannot give us things; it’s the other way around. A child needs things. A child must have things done for him. And so Jesus is saying, “If a man welcomes the poor, ordinary people, the people who have no influence, and no wealth, and no power, the people who need things done for them, then he’s welcoming me. And more than that, he’s welcoming God.”

In time, we realized that this was God’s plan and His blessing unto us.  Most importantly, we are to serve Him by trying to raise our children in a godly way.  So rather than continue questioning the situation, my wife and I placed our trust in Him and thanked Him for His abundant generosity.  Our daughter was born a few months ago.  She was a few weeks early and a bit on the small side but thankfully, happy and healthy.  She has brought an incredible amount of joy into our home.  My two older boys absolutely adore her.  Blessed is the Lord, for…

Every good and perfect gift is from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  (James 1:17-18)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we pray that you grant unseasoned and seasoned parents alike, the wisdom and energy to be good stewards of the children You’ve so graciously placed into our care.    

Thanksgiving – Almighty God, we give thanks to You for your great blessing of creation.  May our children grow in You and look to Jesus as their Lord and savior.

Saturday, 19 September – Bearing Fruit

19 September – St Januarius

St. Januarius was born in Italy and was bishop of Benevento during the Emperor Diocletion persecution. Bishop Januarius went to visit two deacons and two laymen in prison. He was then also imprisoned along with his deacon and lector. They were thrown to the wild beasts, but when the animals did not attack them, they were beheaded. What is believed to be Januarius’ blood is kept in Naples, as a relic. It liquifies and bubbles when exposed in the cathedral. Scientists have not been able to explain this miracle to date. St. Januarius lived and died around 305 A.D. and his feast day is September 19th.

– Patron Saints Index

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1 Timothy 6:13-16

Before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate, I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who at the due time will be revealed
by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all,
the King of kings and the Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal,
whose home is in inaccessible light,
whom no man has seen and no man is able to see:
to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

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Luke 8:4-15

With a large crowd gathering and people from every town finding their way to him, Jesus used this parable:

‘A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell on the edge of the path and was trampled on; and the birds of the air ate it up. Some seed fell on rock, and when it came up it withered away, having no moisture. Some seed fell amongst thorns and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell into rich soil and grew and produced its crop a hundredfold.’ Saying this he cried, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’

His disciples asked him what this parable might mean, and he said, ‘The mysteries of the kingdom of God are revealed to you; for the rest there are only parables, so that

they may see but not perceive,
listen but not understand.

‘This, then, is what the parable means: the seed is the word of God. Those on the edge of the path are people who have heard it, and then the devil comes and carries away the word from their hearts in case they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are people who, when they first hear it, welcome the word with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of trial they give up. As for the part that fell into thorns, this is people who have heard, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life and do not reach maturity. As for the part in the rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart who have heard the word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.’

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Yield a harvest through their perseverance.

For most of my foundation years, I went to Catholic schools. At the time, we were brought up in a largely Buddhist environment. My dad was a staunch Buddhist and I remembered him dragging my brother and myself to temples as kids. We’d go week after week. I could even recite some of the chants but really have no clue what they really meant. At school, we would pray the usual Catholic prayers; before school, during recess and after school.  Now, those prayers I could appreciate. At least they were in English!

My Catholic friends went for Catechism class once a week. The rest of us non-Catholics had that time free to do our own stuff. While my Catholic friends envied us for having this free time, I was always quite envious of them. I wanted to be in the Catechism class as well. Somehow, it seemed like a cool class to be in. One day, I mustered up enough courage to ask my parents if I too could go; and they said yes! And so we spoke to the teachers and I went! Oh how happy I was. The seed was planted then. In my young adult life, I was baptised into the Catholic faith with blessings from my parents. My brother was baptised six years ago.

Reflecting on today’s gospel, I have seen myself going through the different stages – seeds being sown on different grounds. For several years after my baptism, I felt great that I was finally part of God’s big family, but really I was the seed on rocky ground. I received the gospel with much enthusiasm, but it was simply head knowledge. The enthusiasm wore off and soon I got caught up with the ways of the world. I was too busy building up my career and planning for a bright shiny future. Yup, I continued fulfilling the Sunday obligations. But that was that – obligations. When I moved to Shanghai, I stopped going to mass. My excuse – no Church in China! But each time I came home on vacation, I would resume going to Mass. I was drawn to Mass and sitting in church, I was at peace.

Somehow, God has a way of slowly drawing us back. Yes, He never really lets us go. He is always there in the background, giving us free will to go about doing ‘our own thing’. But when the time is right, He will yank us back. I have called you by name; you are mine.

I can’t quite pinpoint exactly when the seeds were being sown on ‘fertile soil’, maybe I finally let myself be open to listen to Him and He helped me understand. My love and dependence on Jesus Christ grew. I finally encountered Him in a deep tangible way 4 years ago and it has been the most amazing journey. It wasn’t like a “wham” experience. It didn’t happen all at once, but my relationship with the Lord grew over those years and continues to grow. He continues to sow the seeds in my heart. Ever so patient, ever enduring.

The journey in faith comes with many ups and downs; there are great days and there will be days when we are tested. But I know, when I am most vulnerable, He is strongest and I cling onto Him. All He asks is that we have faith and persevere.

Jesus is constantly sowing his seed in our hearts. What is the “ground of our hearts” like? Are you sowing, watering, and nourishing the seed of God’s Word in your own life?  Jesus is the sower, but as Christians, we too are sowers of the Word as we share and proclaim the gospel to those who are lost.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: God help us to throw aside superficial faith and make a genuine commitment to you. Grant us a new heart so that we will hold fast to You and bear fruit with perseverance.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being a persistent sower. Even at times when we seem to never bear fruit, you keep ploughing the soil of our hearts. We are blessed to have seeds within us to sow. May we seek ways to sow Your eternal seeds in those around us through our perseverance and pain, clinging to the promise that one day our tears will be turned to joy when we reap the sheaves of those seeds. Amen.

Friday, 18 September – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

18 September

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1 Timothy 6:2-12

This is what you are to teach the brothers to believe and persuade them to do. Anyone who teaches anything different, and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit – with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another; and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making a profit. Religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only to those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds.

But, as a man dedicated to God, you must avoid all that. You must aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle. Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth in front of many witnesses.

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Luke 8:1-3

Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.

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We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Back in 2011, our family lost 2 family members. My aunt and my god-father. As I reflected back then on the 2 funerals we attended, literally a week apart from each other, one thing kept popping into my mind. A person comes into this world with nothing. And leaves with nothing.

My aunt passed away suddenly on 23 July 2011 in Florence while on vacation with the family, having caught some infection that quickly consumed her entire being. My godfather passed away finally on 5 August 2011 after a long period of suffering & pain. That week had been trying for us – 2 funerals in a week – 2 & 7 August.

I thought about my aunt. She had a blessed life, she lacked nothing, except maybe peace. My uncle provided for all her needs as a husband. She loved and was very proud of her two sons. She had five lovely grandchildren that she adored.  She frequently went on family holidays; travelled far and wide; a lot more than most people in her time. In her younger days, she lived in England while my uncle was in university. Yet, she was simply not happy. A few months before she died, she was even depressed, maybe the result of a phobia after a fall.

I miss her dearly. I miss her occasional text messages – even while I lived in Dubai. I miss seeing her sitting on the right hand side of the church, second pew on Sundays. I miss her cooking. Even her incessant grumbling.

My godfather, I didn’t know him too well. We were never close. Sadly and very ashamedly, we approached the funeral very nonchalantly.  From what we know, he had money and enjoyed life when he was younger. I remember he had a large car and a chauffeur back in the 70s.

Things took a turn for him in the latter years. After godma passed away, he simply lost everything. By some wicked twist of fate, the old couple was cheated of their retirement savings. He lost his home, everything he possessed and he was transferred to an old age home where he remained for 4 years. All his worldly belongings packed in a little bag. He had nothing. He lived a terrible existence in the 4 years after his wife’s death. Confined to a wheelchair, he had little exercise, was unable to eat and basically left to diminish in that horrible home. Not being able to eat his favourite food was a fate worse than death for him.  We called him a ‘cat with nine lives’.  I think he even had some sort of cancer and was not even treated! He cheated death so many times that when the doctors kept saying ‘last 24 hours’ or ‘anytime now’, I would not believe it. The last time we visited him, he was asleep. A deep sleep. It didn’t look peaceful. He looked tortured. We said a prayer for him and left. That was the last time we saw him alive. Well, kind of alive.

Two people. Two very different lives. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die.

In life – Do good, be the best person you can be. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses – it isn’t all rosy! Help others in need. Especially those who are unable to repay us. Forgive. Do not judge. Love. Do not be jealous of what others have. Accumulate what matters in Heaven. Not on this secular world. Be happy with what God has provided for us. Be at peace.

We come into this world with nothing. We leave with nothing. So all the stuff we fret about today is really unimportant. What’s important is how we’ve lived our lives as intended by God and the relationships we develop in this pilgrimage of life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, all good things come from you. Everything that we possess, our jobs, our finances, our security and our talents come from you. Help us Lord to be good stewards of these gifts, to be generous, and ready to share with those around us. Help us to accumulate the riches of Heaven.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for looking after our needs. For blessing us with so much more than we ask for. Thank you for the gift of our families, food and shelter. Thank you for jobs that enable us to provide for those we love and share with those who have little.

Thursday, 17 September – Your Role in God’s Kingdom

17 September – St Robert Bellarmine

He was born in Montepulciano, in Tuscany, and became a Jesuit. He taught theology in Rome, and was active in disputation against the Protestants, where his effectiveness was increased by his charity and moderation. He was a moderating influence in the Galileo affair, and gave Galileo much friendly advice. In due course he was nominated a cardinal and archbishop of Capua; but it is for his writings that he is chiefly known. He did not only write controversial works: he also wrote two catechisms and some devotional commentaries on the Psalms and on the Seven Last Words.

– Universalis

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1 Timothy 4:12-16

Do not let people disregard you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and your purity. Make use of the time until I arrive by reading to the people, preaching and teaching. You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the body of elders laid their hands on you; do not let it lie unused. Think hard about all this, and put it into practice, and everyone will be able to see how you are advancing. Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

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Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Speak, Master’ was the reply. ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?’ ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose’ answered Simon. Jesus said, ‘You are right.’

Then he turned to the woman. ‘Simon,’ he said ‘you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

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You have in you a spiritual gift

Today, I was having a conversation with a priest friend. He always asks me what I plan to do with my life. A big question that frankly I have no clear answer to. After a while, he concluded that for now, maybe, I am meant to be in the corporate world, earning lots of money and giving to the poor. Then again, at different stages of our conversations over the year, his thoughts would change. At one point, he suggested that I join the convent! I am quite sure he was joking. But was he? One thing, though, remains constant – be involved in lay apostolic work.

For some time now, I have been trying to figure out what my ‘talent’ is. What my gifts are. Last year, that led me on a journey with a spiritual director who, after she had journeyed with me for a couple of months, one day suggested that I go read up on a programme called ‘Called and Gifted’ – a discernment process intended to help lay Catholics discern their charisms. She is one of the few people in Singapore that has been trained to host that programme. So I went through a very quick gifts inventory list with her and we identified certain areas where we thought could be my charisms. Naturally, it doesn’t end there. Discernment is a long process. At that point in time, I wanted quick answers. And so I did not pursue it further.

Back to my priest friend. He lamented that the Catholic Church is simply too short of pastoral workers. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

As baptised Christians, we participate in Christ. And if Christ is the fulfilment of priest, prophet and king, then all of us are called to be as well. I know what you are thinking (simply because I thought the same) – “No, I am not called to religious life”; “I am simply not talented enough”; “I am not holy enough”…. However, we must be more conscious of what it means to be joined onto Christ. Our baptism unites us to the Body of Christ, making us all share in His Person. If his Person is priest, prophet, and king, then so are we. You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the body of elders laid their hands on you; do not let it lie unused.

God gives us spiritual gifts for ministry, building up His Church and unifying His Church.

So let not your gifts go to waste. Pray for God to reveal your role in His kingdom to you. Don’t be afraid to try different kinds of service. Sometimes it is necessary to try different areas before one can recognize the area that one is meant to serve in. You need not have big ambitious plans (for now). Start small and see where the Lord leads you. You can volunteer at your local shelter, you can aid with the ill and marginalised, volunteer to clean the home of an elderly person, serve in your parish; offer to bring communion to those who cannot attend mass, sing in the choir, be a minister of hospitality, distribute food to the needy, be a camp counsellor to youth…. the list is endless. Just have a think about what you are most happy doing, what you are passionate about and start from there.

God gives more gifts to those who faithfully use the ones they have. “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”

As for me, I am trying out a few things I am happy doing – singing in a choir, serving at retreats, volunteering at a shelter for abused women, talking to people who need a listening ear and now, writing……let’s see where the Lord leads me. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, we give you our will. Take complete control of our lives and all the things that we do. Holy Spirit, grant us discernment, guidance, and direction in our lives. Help us discover the gifts you have blessed us with. May we use these gifts to serve You, to fulfil the needs of others and bring the greatest glory to Your kingdom.

Thanksgiving: God of love and life, thank you for the many gifts you have given us. May we always use our talents and gifts to show love, kindness, compassion and humility. May we keep our hearts and minds open to the direction of the Holy Spirit and may we celebrate these gifts by sharing them with others.

Wednesday, 16 September – The Love of God Dwells in Us, the Church

16 September – St Cornelius and St Cyprian

Cornelius was made bishop of the church in Rome in the year 251. He fought against the Novatian schismatics, and established his authority with the aid of Cyprian. The emperor Gallus sent him into exile, and he died at Civitavecchia in June 253. He is buried in Rome.

St Cyprian was born in Carthage and spent most of his life in the practice of the law. He was converted to Christianity, and was made bishop of Carthage in 249. He steered the church through troubled times, including the persecution of the emperor Decius, when he went into hiding so as to be able to continue looking after the church. In 258 the persecution of the emperor Valerian began. Cyprian was first exiled and then, on the 14th of September, executed, after a trial notable for the calm and courtesy shown by both sides.

Cyprian’s many letters and treatises shed much light on a formative period in the Church’s history, and are valuable both for their doctrine and for the picture they paint of a group of people in constant peril of their lives but still determined to keep the faith.

– Universalis

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1 Timothy 3:14-16

At the moment of writing to you, I am hoping that I may be with you soon; but in case I should be delayed, I wanted you to know how people ought to behave in God’s family – that is, in the Church of the living God, which upholds the truth and keeps it safe. Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is very deep indeed:

He was made visible in the flesh,
attested by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed to the pagans,
believed in by the world,
taken up in glory.

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Luke 7:31-35

Jesus said to the people: ‘What description can I find for the men of this generation? What are they like? They are like children shouting to one another while they sit in the market-place:

‘“We played the pipes for you,
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t cry.”

‘For John the Baptist comes, not eating bread, not drinking wine, and you say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man comes, eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Wisdom has been proved right by all her children.’

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How people ought to behave in the God’s family.

The Catholic Church in Singapore has been trying to teach us what would be deemed appropriate dressing for Mass. Sadly, Singaporeans as a whole (not just us Catholics) are famous for being ‘sloppy dressers’. My parish resorted to showing powerpoint slides of what is respectable and what is not. Other churches have developed posters for the same purpose. Why is it that we are unable to dress like our Protestant brethren when it comes to Sunday Mass? Having been a Protestant once upon a time, it was ingrained in us to be dressed in our Sunday best!

I have been following a group called ‘Mass.Communication’ – what they do in summary is communicate to the Masses about the Mass. Recently, they put up a post on ‘Personal Preparation for Mass’.

The Mass is the greatest celebration in the Catholic Church, akin to a wedding or a great feast with a king. So dress for the grandeur of the occasion! Just like how we would honour a friend’s wedding in our best dress, we should too adore the Lord our God in holy attire as we participate in the Mass. “When it comes to the celebration of the Eucharist, bodily demeanour ought to convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.”

More importantly, how should we behave in God’s family? Week after week, we come to Mass. We see a few familiar faces, at best we nod at each other in some vague form of recognition. But mostly, we just walk by each other, hardly taking notice of the person next to us. We sit through the homilies and rush off immediately after, back to our usual routines. Are we in danger of becoming an institutional religion? Do we come and perform our tasks and duties but don’t live in communion with the living God. Do we go through Sunday mass and not even meet God?

We are just not a group of individuals who happen to meet at the same place each week. We are God’s family, which means having a relationship with one another. Yes, it’s impossible to know everyone. But we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we dwell in a House that is caring, loving and nurturing. As the household of God, the church is to reflect the person of Jesus Christ, who dwells in our midst.

That is what I love about our faith. That no matter where I go in the world, as soon as I enter a church, I feel so at home. A deep sense of comfort and safety fills me. It really is home…. truly. It does not matter if the Mass is celebrated in Vietnamese, Tagalog or Italian; and it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand a word. I always feel a deep sense of belonging. We are unified by the celebration of a great Feast, the Sacraments and the Lord’s comforting and reassuring presence in our lives. St. Paul does not refer to ‘the Church’ as such, but the Church of the living God. We are the Church where the Lord dwells in and works in us.

Recently, I encountered this young teen, who is about 13 or 14 years old. He would come into the adoration room, in school uniform, with a full backpack, books and a water bottle. He would come in, slide on the floor and simply gaze at Jesus, deep in thought. He seems to have a lot on his mind. I wonder about 2 things: What kind of weights rest on his shoulders? But more interestingly (and in a good way), what brings him to the Adoration Room? For when I was his age, the last thing on my mind would be spending my downtime in silence with God. I would be out in the park, playing with my friends.

What’s the point of my story? Well, we are God’s family. So rather than just having these enquiring thoughts in my head, the next time if I do see the boy, I will ask him my questions. You’ll never know how God works in us. Maybe he’s got a few things to teach me!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, by the truth of your Word, the power of your Spirit, and the ministry of your Body, build in us a family of Christ who are ablaze for God, filled with the Holy Spirit, knowing the depths and height of God’s love, who are bold in proclaiming your Word, who live lives that are worthy of being called Children of God, who are tender in touching hurting people, who are passionate about reaching the peoples who have no church. Teach us Lord, to live in you, as you dwell in us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for our homes, our families and those you bring into our lives. Thank you Lord for our Church and your priest sons. Thank you for the brothers and sisters that you have placed in our journeys. Especially those who are hard to love, as through them, you teach us what it means to give of ourselves and love as you do. Thank you for the Living God who dwells in each and every one of us.

 

Tuesday, 15 September – Struggle is Necessary in Faith

15 September – Memorial for Our Lady of Sorrows

Different sorrows of Mary have been honoured in the Church’s history, but since the 14th century these seven have come to be regarded as the seven ‘dolors’ (sorrows) of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon
  2. The Flight into Egypt
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days
  4. Meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
  6. Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
  7. Jesus Laid in the Tomb

By commemorating Our Lady of Sorrows, we call to mind the sufferings that Mary endured as part of  her vocation as the Mother of the Redeemer. No one is closer to Christ than Mary, consequently no one has participated more intimately in the redemptive suffering of Christ than His Mother Mary.

http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Faith/1998-03-04/sorrows.html

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1 Timothy 3:1-13

Here is a saying that you can rely on: To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble work. That is why the president must have an impeccable character. He must not have been married more than once, and he must be temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher; not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable. He must not be a lover of money. He must be a man who manages his own family well and brings his children up to obey him and be well-behaved: how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God? He should not be a new convert, in case pride might turn his head and then he might be condemned as the devil was condemned. It is also necessary that people outside the Church should speak well of him, so that he never gets a bad reputation and falls into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons must be respectable men whose word can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first, and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, the women must be respectable, not gossips but sober and quite reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once, and must be men who manage their children and families well. Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and be rewarded with great assurance in their work for the faith in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 2:33-35

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

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I will persevere in the way of integrity

Recently, I feel as though I am walking through my own ‘wilderness’. A roller-coaster of emotions overshadow me – arid, empty, angry, sad, desolate, helpless, and detached. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a deep painful sense of loneliness overwhelms me.

I had shared with my cell group sisters that I was struggling with my faith journey. I questioned if God was really there listening to my prayers. No matter how hard I try, how hard I pray, or not pray or tried to listen – there was simply nothing. Zero.

Recently, I told someone that he had lost his joy in his ministry. Little did I know that some weeks later, I would feel exactly the same! I have lost my joy in my ministry, the retreats I serve, my music, the work I do. I simply needed to get away from everything, yet I find myself faithfully going about doing, performing my duties. It dawned on me that I was no longer doing it for the love of serving. It was a ‘job’.

Just this evening, as I sat in the adoration room, I simply gave in. I had no more words to express myself. I was completely spent. Tired. So, I just sat there and the tears simply flowed. All the way as I drove home, I cried in frustration. My spiritual director describes this as ‘holy tears’. Tears to cleanse the gunk that has accumulated in me. I felt somewhat better thereafter.

We know from Gospel that Jesus would sometimes pray with ‘loud cries and tears’. Only, these were not the cries and tears of someone who was angry with God. And they were not the cries and tears of someone who felt hopeless. Jesus prayed like this because he became completely human. He suffered as we suffer. He felt the pain, strain and weaknesses that we feel. He prayed so fervently because He trusted God. He knew that the Father was able to save him, even from death. Yet, in obedience, He submitted to the Father’s will.

My priest friend texted me this evening “Struggle is necessary in Faith.”

In today’s gospel reading, Joseph & Mary must have struggled to bear what Simeon was telling them of their son…. “Many Jews will fall and many will rise because of this boy. He will be a sign (proof) from God that some people will not accept. The things that people think in secret will be made known. And the things that will happen will make your heart very sad.”

Jesus would come into this world to bring salvation, goodness and light. However, He came into a world infected by sin. His life would not be about ease and escape but about decision, confrontation, and truth. Jesus came to force us to decide. He came as Lord, not as a sweet, do-gooder. Only when we surrender our hearts to him as Lord does he become our friend and brother. He is Saviour, Lord, and King. Our joy was Mary’s pain. Our victory was Jesus’ agony. Our hope was God’s sacrifice.

So, my brothers and sisters, even as we go through our own struggles today, let us remember the suffering that Mary & Jesus endured to bring us liberation and joy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, weighed down by our burdens, sorrows and suffering, we place ourselves at Your feet. May You be our strength and courage, our hope and refuge as we rest in Your presence.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for all that you endure for us, for all that You have done in our lives and all You are going to do. Thank you for the loving relationship we have with You. Many times we complain and grumble about life and its circumstances, about suffering, going through what seem endless trials and tribulations. Yet, God, You are always there be by our side, even when it seems like we are forever in the wilderness, running further and further from You. You, our God are there guiding us back to Your loving arms. Thank you Lord for everything that You allow to cross our paths, for the decisions that You allow us to make and the lessons that come from these decisions.

Monday, 14 September – Trust and Obey

14 September – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The feast was celebrated in Rome before the end of the 7th century. Its purpose is to commemorate the recovering of that portion of the Holy Cross which was preserved at Jerusalem, and which had fallen into the hands of the Persians. Emperor Heraclius recovered this precious relic and brought it back to Jerusalem on 3 May 629.

– Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 21:4-9

On the way through the wilderness the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

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Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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John 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.’

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…he was humbler yet, even to accepting death

Growing up, I wasn’t really an obedient child. I was obedient to a certain degree, but would test the boundaries each time. I remember in primary school, my Mom would set a bed time for me at 9pm. “When the news starts, you go to bed!” she used to say. I would oblige and go but slowly, I would find ways and means of staying up just a few minutes more….. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, until News ended. I always found my way with Dad. Dads have a soft spot for their daughters. Needless to say, I struggled to get up for school the next day.

As I grew up, I tested my parents in all ways. Staying up late past my curfew. In college, I remember staying up to 3am, partying with my friends. This time, Dad was the disciplinarian. One time, he waited up for me at the door and gave me an earful and one tight slap for being disobedient. These were my rebellious teen years. I was extremely angry with Dad, indignant that he disciplined me, at the grand old age of 17. Wasn’t I old enough to decide for myself? Surely I knew myself better! No I didn’t….I did very badly in my first year examinations.

In today’s first reading, we see the Israelites grumble at Moses and Aaron for leading them out of Egypt. “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exo 16:3). But God had a plan. God had promised to lead His people through the wilderness into a wonderful land. God said the land was good and spacious, and it would be flowing with milk and honey (Exo 3:8).

As a generation of Singaporeans, we have been labelled a group of complainers. We have a sense of entitlement. Everything is up to ‘the government’ to sort out.  Do you ever find yourself complaining? Do you let others know that you are displeased or dissatisfied with what you have got in life?We are quick to complain when things don’t go as we think they should. However, we fail to see the bigger picture.

The people of Israel had seen God do some amazing things to bring them out of bondage. Surely they could be obedient and follow God without complaining, knowing that He would take care of them.

I too am prone to complaining. Recently, at a retreat I was serving, I was assigned some roles and I did not particularly enjoy one of them. During the retreat, I was asked to carry out extra tasks, while some of my fellow brothers and sisters were assigned just one role. Adding on to this, I had a good friend who was a participant at the retreat. She was feeling unwell one morning, so I took it upon myself to look after her. So juggling my duties and looking after my friend, left me quite tired. As the retreat went on, I became more and more upset. I complained each night on my way home to my partner. He said, choosing his words quite carefully, “Maybe the Lord is preparing you for larger things.” I quickly dismissed it, not wanting anymore extra duties. I was being disobedient to what the Lord was working in me.

Moses had led God’s people for many years. Because the Israelites did not obey God while they were in the wilderness, God did not lead them straight into the land He had promised them. The trip from Egypt to their new home should have taken the Israelites only days, but instead, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. All of that time, God PROVIDED everything the Israelites needed (Deu 29:5-6).

Today’s Gospel features one of the most well-known verses in the bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” -John 3:16-17. Jesus knew what he was ‘up for’ when He became a regular man, and obediently submitted to His Father’s plan. This is what obedience is. His passion, death and resurrection is our salvation. He gave us eternal life. This is what true love is.

As I look back on my life, I see now that everything happens for a reason. I may complain and moan then, but things always work out better than I anticipated. Better and far greater than what my simple human mind could possibly comprehend.

There is nothing to fear when we trust and obey God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Father, help us whenever we are tempted to grumble, to get our eyes off what we think we don’t have and help us to see all that we do have. Teach us to be obedient to your will. We pray that Your strength and wisdom would be with us as we make decisions that follow Your path. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for never giving up on us. For the times when we strayed off path, thinking that we know ourselves better. Give us thankful hearts for all You have done and all that You are going to do for us. We love You and never want to forgot how wonderful You are to us.

Sunday, 13 September – Let Go, Let God

13 September 

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Isaiah 50:5-9

The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.
My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.
The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

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James 2:14-18

Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.

This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds – now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.’

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Mark 8:27-35

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’

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If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” We know what the disciples’ answers are. Have you asked yourself “Who is Jesus to me?”

Some would say, “He is The Living God”. Others may say “He is the Saviour.” But those aren’t really answers to this question though. Those are answers to “Who is Jesus?”

For me, Jesus is my Love, my Light, and my Guide.

But in my faith journey, how many times have I really put Jesus in the centre of my life as my Love? In the crossroads of life, or when a crisis hits, have I trusted Him as my lighthouse to navigate me through the choppy waters? Have I trusted Him to be my Guide, to lead me to where He wants me to go?

Truthfully, being a control freak, I plan my own desired outcome and when things don’t work out the way I planned, I start to bolt and panic. The ‘what if’ questions start to form in my little head. I see things with my own myopic vision and think with my own rational head.

You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

Trusting in God and His Divine plan for us is not easy. Especially when we pray so hard and when God seems so distant. When we keep trying to listen out for Him, but He is silent. We have to pray for that grace, to be able to die to ourselves each day and let the Holy Spirit fill us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

His plans may not always come packaged in a little blue box with white ribbons. But we have to trust that He will lead us there, if we allow Him to. Sometimes God ‘tethers’ us instead of giving us what we want. If we only saw what God sees, we would understand the consequences of what we ask for. If only we understood, we would submit to His plans. 

Recently, I have been listening to this song. The words go like this….

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise’

So my brothers and sisters, you may be going through some challenges in life now. Jesus may seem silent to your prayers. But what seems to be empty, dry and desolate now, may just be God holding us back, because His perfect plan takes time. And His timing is always perfect. Let us take up our crosses and follow Him.

Have faith. For the trials we face now, are blessings in disguise.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, teach us to deny ourselves, to let go. You take over, Lord. Take our intellect, our hopes, our dreams, our liberty. We give it all to you. Give us the grace to trust You, knowing that Your plans are perfect. Let Your life be grown in us, and us in You.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the crosses we carry, they bring us closer to You. In You we remain strong. Thank you for your cross, thank you for the pain and shame You endured for us. Thank you for Your love.

Saturday, 12 September – What Comes Out from the Fullness of Your Heart?

12 September

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1 Timothy 1:15-17

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 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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For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart

Having encountered all kinds of people in my life, I always make sure I am nice to whoever I meet, no matter who they are and how they act towards me. I reckon that over time, these people will usually reveal their true colours. It is impossible to put on a mask for a long time. That probably explains why some people are very nice and kind in the beginning and then out of the blue, turn hostile towards you and vice versa. While we Catholics know never to judge others, we also know that the fruits which others produce generally are telltale signs of one’s character. But as always, we must exercise caution before coming to a conclusion about someone else’s character, because we do not know their background – where they have come from.

Jesus called us to build the firm foundations of our faith so that it will not be shaken when it eventually gets tested. We all need to rely on the graces and the power of God in order to stand firm, so that others will witness our faith when they themselves have lost their battles, and eventually become converts. We have to be very selective in whom we listen to. For our convictions come from what we have heard and read. That is when our sense of judgment comes in handy. We should turn to the person who can lead us to God and avoid the person who does not lead us to God.

What how about you? What fruit have you produced so far? Will God be pleased when you present your fruits to Him on the last day? Take a moment and reflect on what comes out from the fullness of your heart.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Michael Goo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sense of judgment. Help us to not jump to conclusions so that we will not judge others harshly, for we do not want to receive judgment from You too. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for the graces and people who have strengthened our faith. Bless them all, we pray. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, 11 September – Nothing is Impossible with God

11 September

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1 Timothy 1:1-2,12-14

From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus appointed by the command of God our saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, true child of mine in the faith; wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

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.

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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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…who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service

Almost everyone would consider him/herself unworthy to serve the ministry because of the consciousness of sin. This is probably a good way to approach ministry as it would humble those concerned and perhaps even lessen the occurrence of sin within the ministry. The Lord has never let our sins weigh us down in His eyes. Instead, He looks lovingly at our potential so as to use us to serve in His ministries. In the Bible, Noah got drunk, Jacob lied, Moses murdered, Rahab was a prostitute, and David had an affair. Yet God still used them in the great significant events.

Although considering oneself unworthy is good, it may not always be the correct way because when the ministry needs help, especially if there are few talented people within the group, then things will get tough. It is common for people to have low self-esteem, but let us not forget that we can avail ourselves of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, where God comes to live within us and we within Him.

Let us look at the example of Saint Paul in the first reading. Just as he recognized that he was unworthy because he had persecuted the Christians, he also recognized that God chose him to become an important apostle. Instead of considering himself unworthy and staying away from God’s ministry, he chose to move forward and do God’s works as he believed in the power of graces, faith and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If God can use Noah, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, King David and Saint Paul, He can use you too. What is your excuse? Can a blind person guide a blind person? Jesus Christ assured us in the Gospel that we will be matured Christians when we have received sufficient training. Nothing is impossible with God!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Michael Goo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, remove our fears and increase our love and graces. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank You for choosing us to minister to You through Your gifts. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.