Friday, 24 Apr – Communion

24 Apr – Memorial of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Priest, Martyr

Lawyer and philosophy teacher. Disgusted by the greed, corruption, and lack of interest in justice by his fellow lawyers, Mark Rey abandoned the law, became a priest, became a Franciscan friar with his brother George, changed his name to Fidelis, and gave away his worldly wealth to poor people in general and poor seminarians in particular. He was served his friary as guardian, and worked in epidemics, especially healing soldiers. He led a group of Capuchins to preach to Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. The success of this work, and lack of violence suffered by mission was attributed to Fidelis spending his nights in prayer. He was, however, eventually martyred for his preaching.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood

I don’t know of any other religion whereby its followers get to be in intimate communion with their founder through a ritual that involves them eating a piece of bread and drinking from a cup of his blood. When Jesus Christ told His apostles to eat his body and drink his blood, He was truly giving himself to them and, to all those who followed. So what used to be a ritual that we performed at every mass took on a very different significance once I began to understand why Communion was the climax of the mass.

In giving himself to us, Jesus Christ wasn’t just feeding us; He gave himself to us so that He could live in us and we could live in Him. For me, that communion with Christ is something truly special and wondrous. And the fact that He makes himself so accessible to us on a daily basis truly boggles the mind. Only a God who loves us deeply could have conceived such a plan for those who believe in Him.

So as we receive Christ in us each day or each week at mass, ask yourself this question, “Have I truly lived my life as a son or daughter of God to deserve His coming into my very being?” We say that we are not worthy that He should enter under our roof but that all He needs to do is to say the word and we shall be healed. Brothers and sisters, the real question is this – Are we truly open and prepared to receive Him in our hearts? For Jesus can indeed say the word and heal us, but only if deep down in our hearts, we are open and receptive to hearing the words He speaks to us.

The healing will come only if we clear all the obstacles from within that hinder us from receiving His love. All our pride, our attachments to sin, our fears and anxieties, our addictions and all our deep-seated wounds. Christ can only come into our lives if we are willing to look deep within ourselves and lay bare our souls. Because in receiving Christ, we are acknowledging that He is the ruler of our souls and that His way is the only way forward for us. We cannot profess to be His sons and daughters if we continue to cling on to everything that ultimately we will have to leave here on earth when we die.

I ask that we all take courage and come to terms with our sins and to confess them at the next opportunity so that when we receive Christ in communion, we are not just eating a piece of bread, but actually welcoming Him into our hearts and allowing Him to work within us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: Lord, give us the courage and strength to overcome all temptation and to rid ourselves of sin so that we may receive you in your fullness, knowing that you will work your miracles within all of us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, 23 Apr – Our Divine Teacher

23 Apr – Memorial of Saint George, Martyr, or Saint Adalbert of Prague, Bishop, Martyr

Saint George, Martyr

Several stories have been attached to Saint George, the best known of which is the Golden Legend. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this fierce creature, and had gone down in painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day; when mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in local villages, and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came Saint George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon, and converted the locals. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away.

Due to his chivalrous behavior (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to Saint George became popular in the Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated Knights of the Garter are actually Knights of the Order of Saint George. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries. One of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Saint Adalbert of Prague, Bishop, Martyr

Born to the Bohemian nobility. He took the name of Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg, the archbishop who healed, educated and converted him. Bishop of Prague (in the modern Czech Republic on 10 February 982. Friend of Emperor Otto III. Adalbert encouraged the evangelization of the Magyars, and worked on it with Saint Astricus. Opposed by the nobility in Prague and unpopular in the area, he withdrew to Rome, Italy and became a Benedictine monk, making his vows on 17 April 990; Pope John XV sent him back to Prague. anyway. Founded the monastery of Brevnov. Met more opposition from the nobility, and returned to Rome. There being no hope of his working in Prague, he was allowed to (unsuccessfully) evangelize in Pomerania, Poland, Prussia, Hungary, and Russia. He and his fellow missionaries were martyred by Prussians near Koenigsberg or Danzig at the instigation of a pagan priest. Not long before his death, Adalbert met and was a great inspiration to Saint Boniface of Querfurt.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 8:26-40

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:

Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!

The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.

Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.

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John 6:44-51

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

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They shall all be taught by God

Working in a university comes with its fair share of challenges. Today, I spent an hour with a consultant who has been hired to help us with ‘culture-building’. He asked many searching questions which I answered with candour and openness of heart. I guess after five years in the job, I felt entitled to speak from a position of ‘authority’ having seen many others come and go.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to sit in on various meetings where my bosses have shared their thoughts on education as well as a variety of related topics. What I have learnt is that no one person has absolute knowledge on any given subject, myself included. People may be experts in their fields but in our culture, everyone at the table is entitled to his/her opinion and the final decision-maker has to hear from all present. This culture didn’t develop overnight and only evolved as we hired more and more faculty. This has added to a rich learning experience for staff, especially those whose job functions cut across various divisions.

On the spiritual front, I have been blessed to have been able to devote time to serving at CSC and, in the process, attend many Friday growth talks and listen to homilies given by the many priests and spiritual directors over the past four years. The education I have received at the centre has certainly enriched my understanding of the faith and contributed to my spiritual growth. But the knowledge I have received is different from the knowledge I receive at work. What I receive at work and impart to my team of young staff serves us well only at work. It does nothing for us outside of the office.

The knowledge I have gained at CSC resides within my heart and soul. I have found myself evangelizing to colleagues and friends, testifying to God’s love for me and how He has worked miracles within me over the years. It is a knowledge that sometimes springs forth without warning and is not confined to any particular location or building. In the office, at church, or even during a meal, when the opportunity arises to testify to His love for me, I find myself jumping at the chance. Whereas I now spend a lot less time telling others about what I do for a living, or what I do at work.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord wants us to get to know Him and to learn from Him. For it is only through Him that we shall learn about the true meaning of life. And it is only by His grace that we shall be empowered to spread His word and to testify to His amazing love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray O Lord that you continue to nourish and sustain us in your teachings so that we can truly be your disciples and living examples of your love.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for being our ultimate teacher, guide and spiritual director.

Wednesday, 22 Apr – Being Recognised

22 Apr

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Acts 8:1-8

That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria.

There were some devout people, however, who buried Stephen and made great mourning for him.
Saul then worked for the total destruction of the Church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison.

Those who had escaped went from place to place preaching the Good News. One of them was Philip who went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.

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John 6:35-40

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.
But, as I have told you,
you can see me and still you do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away;
because I have come from heaven, not to do my own will,
but to do the will of the one who sent me.
Now the will of him who sent me
is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me,
and that I should raise it up on the last day.
Yes, it is my Father’s will
that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,
and that I shall raise him up on the last day.’

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I shall raise him on the last day

At work, it is quite rare that a colleague from another division (another director) would actively seek to extol the work done by my team in our efforts to garner applications into the university. More often than not, we get a ‘Thank you for your efforts’ via an email or a chance encounter in the lift. But I recently received a pleasant surprise when a colleague (the head of another division) asked for a summary of the work my team had done for his divison since the end of last year. He wanted to present it at an upcoming meeting to ensure that ‘credit was given where credit is due’.

Of course I immediately messaged my manager and told him to get the necessary slides prepared and, at the same time, congratulated him for his efforts. He had indeed put in lots of time and effort to ensure that the work produced was a true reflection of our division’s capabilities and standards. I messaged him later in the evening to congratulate him again and to convince him that he truly had what it took to become a key member of my team, in spite of his young age. I told him to stop agonizing about how others were treating him (he had been unfairly skipped over for promotion) and to just channel all his energies into doing the best he could in supporting the academics and senior management. I said that at the end of the day, the quality of his work would speak for itself and that the recognition would come.

Young adults today crave instant gratification. This is especially so when they have invested a great deal of time and effort in a project. I wonder how the apostles were feeling as they witnessed Christ’s suffering at the hands of the Romans and Jews, as He walked towards his inglorious death. Not all were present in the end and I have asked myself if I too would have run off when all seemed hopeless. After all, the supposed ‘King of the Jews’ was even worse than a criminal. How could those closest to Him see any way out from the humiliation of the crucifixion? It would take a strong heart and stout will to truly stay the course.

Eventually, God makes everything right and vindicates all who believed in Jesus Christ by raising him up from the dead. When Christ conquers death and appears to those who love Him, the ultimate reward is the opening up of all the faculties, the heart and the soul of those who encounter the risen Lord. One could say that all the anguish and turmoil they endured during Christ’s horrendous suffering was immediately supplanted by wonder, amazement, gratitude and a deep-seated love that could only have come after struggling with doubt and even questioning oneself.

Brothers and sisters, each day is a constant struggle at home, at work and even at rest. We battle against fear, insecurity, jealousy, pride, envy, anger and many other sins. But take heart for the Lord knows our innermost feelings and our struggles. As long as we are focused on Him, all of us will be raised up on the last day.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray O Heavenly Father, that knowing our deepest desires and fears, you will recognize us as your beloved sons and daughters on the Day of Judgment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for your steadfast love for all of us.

Tuesday, 21 Apr – Breaking The Law

21 Apr – Memorial of Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Born to the Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, at age 15 Anselm wanted to enter religious life, but his father Gondulf prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon the death of his mother, Ermenberge, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France in 1056, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy in 1060. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as prior of the house in 1063. Abbot of the house in 1078.

Because of the physical closeness and political connections, there was frequent travel and communication between Normandy and England, and Anselm was in repeated contact with Church officials in England. He was chosen as reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, England in 1092; officials had to wait until he too sick to argue in order to get him to agree.

As bishop he fought King William Rufus’s encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independence of the Church, refused to pay bribes to take over as bishop, and was exiled for his efforts. He travelled to Rome, Italy and spent part of his exile as an advisor to Pope Blessed Urban II, obtaining the pope‘s support for returning to England and conducting Church business without the king‘s interference. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at Council of Bari in 1098.

In 1100 King Henry II invited Anselm to return to England, but they disputed over lay investiture, and Anselm was exiled again only to return in 1106 when Henry agreed not to interfere with the selection of Church officials. Anselm opposed slavery, and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He strongly supported celibate clergy, and approved the addition of several saints to the liturgical calendar of England.

Anselm was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the middle ages, and a noted theological writer. He was far more at home in the monastery than in political circles, but still managed to improve the position of the Church in England. Counsellor to Pope Gregory VII. Chosen a Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.

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Acts 7:51-8:1

Stephen said to the people, the elders and the scribes: ‘You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? In the past they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. You who had the Law brought to you by angels are the very ones who have not kept it.’

They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.

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John 6:30-35

They people said to Jesus, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,
it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,
the true bread;
for the bread of God
is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.’

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You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it

Here in Singapore, we are probably about as law-abiding as they come in terms of a citizenry. And since the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, there have been many articles about how his method of running the country was necessary in the face of various challenges, both externally and within the country. His was an iron fist that tolerated no corruption nor dissension and Singapore is where it is today on the world stage because of the efforts of his team.

Each time we renew our baptismal vows and exhort ‘I do’ in answer to whether we renounce the devil and his works, I wonder to myself, “But hang on. You just committed a sin yesterday. And yet here you are saying ‘I do’.” Brothers and sisters, this is the dilemma that we, as sinners, find ourselves in on an almost daily basis. Yet in my heart, I know that my heavenly Father – the God who so loved me that He gave His only son to die for me – is not keeping score each time I sin.

For He knows that we are fallen creatures, born with original sin in us and that each time we visit Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are renewed. As long as we are sincere and contrite. I do not for one second believe that we are like the high priests that St Stephen was preaching to, ‘stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.’ (Acts 7:51a). All of us are searching for love and truth. As humans, our lives are but a daily quest for purpose and meaning. And at the end of every day, we are given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and to wake up the next day refreshed and renewed in spirit, knowing that God understands our frailties and forgives us our sins.

I was touched by what Fr Jude said at the end of his homily at Good Friday mass, when he reached out to those Catholics who, for one reason or another, had stayed away from church and were making their ‘annual pilgrimage’ on this holy day. With open arms, he welcomed them and encouraged them to come back into the community because no son or daughter of God deserves to be alone in their suffering. We all have sinned and ‘broken the law’ more than a few times in our lives. Yet God, in His generosity and love, continues to love us and to knock on the door of our hearts. Because all He wants is to embrace us and to welcome us into His kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, what more can we ask from our heavenly Father?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: We pray Lord, that in your mercy, you teach us to forgive and forget just as you do each time we confess our transgressions to you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your everlasting mercy and compassion.

Monday, 20 Apr – Branding

20 Apr 

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Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.

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John 6:22-29

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’

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For on him the Father, God, has set his seal

I felt compelled to write this after I had attended Easter Vigil at a church in the east side of Singapore. We went there, not knowing anyone but only because my partner’s brother had been baptized there in 2009. So imagine our surprise when we bumped into friends from our centre and also friends who were there to support the candidates. It was my second time attending mass in that particular church and the entire celebration was perfect from start to the end. It was as if God had staged this just for me, after a rather emotionally draining two weeks at work. The true meaning of Easter hit home for me when I saw the tears of joy in the eyes of some of the newly-baptised Catholics as they turned to face the congregation.

With their baptism, God indeed set his seal on the 37 adults and children that night. And in His generosity, He didn’t leave out anyone present. For I witnessed the celebrant, Father Bruno, gleefully sprinkling everyone with holy water as he bounded up the stairs to the choir loft and, after anointing the choir, looking over the balcony and sprinkling the congregation below once again. Truly, this was a child of God who was overflowing with joy as he celebrated the long mass with us. And he was not afraid to show all of us how happy he was to be doing the Lord’s work.

Since February, I have been privileged to embark on a spiritual recovery journey with 12 other brothers. At each meeting, no matter how low or how elated we are, we have made it a point to be truly open and honest with each other within the group, without any fear. Truly, the Lord has blessed each and every one of us and set his seal upon the group as our sharings get deeper and deeper each time we meet. I, for one, am not sure where the group will end up spiritually after a year; but I know that He is working within each one of us. Each of us is beginning to live life according to how God ‘branded’ us on our baptism and, as we pray for and support one another, I am confident that the group will continue to progress and grow in our spirituality.

Brothers and sisters, our God wants us to live the life that He has destined each of us for so that we can give glory to Him wholeheartedly. His seal is on our hearts and in our soul. Each time we make the sign of the Cross, we are ‘branding’ ourselves as a child of God. And though we each have our own unique identity, all we need do is to spend some quiet time with the Lord and look deep down within our hearts. You may not find it so easily at the outset but it is certainly there – the imprint of Jesus Christ in our very being. It is who we truly are – a son, a daughter of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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Prayer: Lord, grace us with fortitude and patience so that we may live as your true sons and daughters, steadfast in faith and sure in your infinite love for each and every one of us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you, loving Father, for keeping watch over us every single moment of our life.

Sunday, 19 Apr – Being True Witnesses

19 Apr – Third Sunday of Easter

Our Advocate With The Father

We celebrate with the living Christ, our advocate with the Father, in whose name repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to all the world. 

– Sunday Missal

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Acts 3:13-15,17-19

Peter said to the people: ‘You are Israelites, and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus, the same Jesus you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after Pilate had decided to release him. It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are the witnesses.

‘Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.’

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1 John 2:1-5

I am writing this, my children,
to stop you sinning;
but if anyone should sin,
we have our advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, who is just;
he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away,
and not only ours,
but the whole world’s.

We can be sure that we know God
only by keeping his commandments.
Anyone who says, ‘I know him’,
and does not keep his commandments,
is a liar,
refusing to admit the truth.
But when anyone does obey what he has said,
God’s love comes to perfection in him.

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Luke 24:35-48

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’

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You are witnesses of these things

This Holy Week began after a tumultuous week at work. The passing of Singapore’s founding father meant that the week leading up to his funeral service was filled with daily briefings and debriefings, a memorial service I had to put together for staff and students just one day after his passing, as well as a tribute room which was set up at our main campus. By the time the funeral service came along, I was running on fumes emotionally, having had to rein it all in as ‘work mode’ took over.

I believe that the Lord called me to witness many things during that historic week. A core team of colleagues bonded together to get everything done and to ensure that we would honour Mr Lee fittingly. All the preparation had been done the week before, meaning that I had to leave CER#45 abruptly on the first day (Wednesday) at dinner break, to report back to work as my team needed me. The initial disappointment (that I had let my worship leaders down) turned into a resolve to do the best I could so that a great man could be sent off to his rest. As I worked on speech drafts and email drafts late into the night, I could hear the Lord saying to me, “This is what I need you to do now.”

When the day of the funeral (Sunday) came along and everything was done, I gave thanks to the Lord for allowing me, in a very miniscule way, to capture a part of Singapore history unfolding as I watched the cortege pass by on its way to the crematorium. I surrendered my tiredness to the Lord that night and let Him take over for Holy Week. Everything went by in a blur as I caught up on some sleep and got back to ‘regular’ work. Yet again, He called me to witness another miracle as two of my ministry members opened up in humility and mended fences over a long-standing misunderstanding.

By pulling out of CER#45, the Lord led me to ‘Nox Gaudi’ on the Friday evening. There, He allowed me to witness the evangelical zeal of young Catholics who were from the universities. It was an amazing night of praise and worship, testimony and adoration and I even met the daughter of a parishoner who is now interning with me as she waits to enter university to study… communications.

Brothers and sisters, as Christians, we are called to witness the Lord’s work on a daily basis. There is no running away from it. Everything we do, see and hear is an invitation from the Lord to be a witness to, and to testify to his amazing love. What we sometimes think are hurdles, disappointments and inconveniences are merely doors which our heavenly Father wants us to step through so that we can be true witnesses to His miracles. All He asks is for us to open the doors of our hearts so that He can take us by the hand and lead us along the path that He has already laid down for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)
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Prayer: Lord, give us the faith to surrender to your will wholeheartedly, and to come to the cross on a daily basis to offer up all our fears, worries, anxieties and everything else that troubles us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to you O Lord for being the resurrection for us each and every day of our lives.

Saturday, 18 Apr – Leading so as to Serve

18 Apr

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Acts 6:1-7

About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked. So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

  The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.

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John 6:16-21

In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.

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the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews

Arguments within the early brotherhood of Christ’s followers were already present. As shown in the first reading, the Hellenists (Greeks) and the Hebrews (Jews) that comprised the early Christians, had their differences and divisions. This happened as ‘the number of disciples was increasing’. So we should not be surprised that it still happens to this day.

I believe one of the arguments of the early Christians would probably be about ‘primacy’  and ‘eligibility’ of fellowship — that is, who came first and who is worthy of being counted. We can infer this because of the specific mention of ‘Hellenists’ and ‘Hebrews’ as well as ‘widows’. The primacy of the Jews as God’s chosen people as mentioned in Old Testament scriptures could not be avoided by the Greeks who understandably may have felt second-class. Not to mention within themselves, emerged their widows, who were losing out in the ration of grain. Imagine the kind of discontent the first apostles would have to deal with and smoothen out.

Yet, they did not avoid the situation. Instead they convened a council to announce a better way forward. They acknowledged the reality of the situation, but also humbly admitted that they may not be the best persons to administer a solution. Within the Church, this was the start of ordaining bishops, deacons, and various apostolates. From this too, we see the institution of the first ‘public administration’ or ‘civil service’, in today’s speak.

What does this mean for us Christians? It is the notion of leadership, formation, and succession. The Twelve Apostles prefigure for us a leadership that is confident and secure in their own ministry, yet also humble enough to realise they could not do everything. They had a calling, but they also had real limitations.

They had a common higher purpose: ‘continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word’. They had self-knowledge: ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food.’ They cared about formation and renewal: ‘select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them’. They were aware of the importance of succession: ‘They presented these to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.’

As Christians who may also be leaders in various offices, let us reflect on our roles and duties, and ponder how we can reflect true leadership for our members and teams. One of the lessons that emerged from the fairly recent passing of ex-Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the realisation that he had contributed to building a public system that could renew itself and relied not on one particularly person. At the same time, each and every person within the organisation or team has a valuable role and contribution. May we not shy away from leadership, nor fellowship.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, we offer up this humble ministry of Oxygen in service to you. We pray that you will continue to sustain our mission and renew our team.

Thanksgiving: We give you thanks for the many people you have sent our way. Writers and readers alike, who contribute to giving our work purpose and continuity.

Friday, 17 Apr – Unlikely Heroes

17 Apr

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Acts 5:34-42

One member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a doctor of the Law and respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the apostles taken outside for a time. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin, ‘Men of Israel, be careful how you deal with these people. There was Theudas who became notorious not so long ago. He claimed to be someone important, and he even collected about four hundred followers; but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them. And then there was Judas the Galilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters; but he got killed too, and all his followers dispersed. What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go. If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.’

  His advice was accepted; and they had the apostles called in, gave orders for them to be flogged, warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. And so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name.

  They preached every day both in the Temple and in private houses, and their proclamation of the Good News of Christ Jesus was never interrupted.

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 John 6:1-15

Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – or of Tiberias – and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick. Jesus climbed the hillside, and sat down there with his disciples. It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.

  Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, ‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.

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There is a small boy here… but what is that between so many? 

‘Five loaves and two fish’ has become a kind of common speech for ‘offering up whatever little we have for God’s glory’. But before this scene of the little boy and his lunchbox contents slips away into a kind of taken-for-granted expectation of being Christian, may we pause to find the unlikely mirror-image for this boy’s offering in the first reading of Acts about Gamaliel.

Gamaliel is our unlikely hero amongst the Pharisees. In fact, to call someone a ‘Pharisee’ these days would be to label them a self-righteous hypocrite, steeped in the Law but empty in the heart and actions. Out of our convenient assumptions, Gamaliel comes forward to halt the Sanhedrin (or council assembly) from passing a hasty death penalty on Jesus’ first apostles. He notes that many so-called messiahs have come before Jesus, Theudas and Judas the Galilean, and gathered up a force of followers; but once they were killed, their supporters dispersed. Gamaliel then advises the Sanhedrin to be cautious against making the mistake of going against God.

What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go […] if it does in fact come from God you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourselves fighting against God.’ (Acts 4:38-39)

Gamaliel was not only a wise man, but indeed a man of God. His ability to read the situation of those times is an indication firstly, that his deep knowledge of the Law translated to a keen discernment of God’s promptings to do the right thing. He was not acting on heady emotions and vengeance, but sought first the Kingdom of God. In the Ignatian tradition of discernment, he would have been aware of the spirit of consolation arising from his decision to ask for the release of the apostles. Secondly, he was unafraid to highlight the shortsightedness of the Sanhedrin. Though he was widely respected, who knew what a mob his fellowmen could turn into? Yet he stood for his beliefs bravely. Lastly, the person of Gamaliel cautions us against jumping to conclusions about a person by virtue of his/her social class, race, religion, or any affiliations. We are often surprised that God would use someone who appears vastly different from us to do His work, or save his people. Unlike us, God is not bias.

Back to the little bread boy. Gamaliel and the boy have something in common — they were close to God. The little boy being a child, was naturally trustful and sensitive to the unconditional reception he would receive by offering his lunchbox, and essentially himself. I am sure he would have shuddered somewhat thinking of the ridicule he might receive. What?! Five barley loaves and two fish, seriously?? Yet, he came forth. Likewise, the apostle Andrew must have fought the feeling of foolishness. We are told that Jesus was trying to teach the overly-rational Philip a lesson: He only said this to test Philip; […] Philip answered, ‘Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’

How do we become like Gamaliel and the little bread boy? Through prayer. It is necessary that we return to our childlike selves to sit with God in silence and listen attentively to our Father’s love and words — to meditate and contemplate. Perhaps the swirling and confusing decisions we have to make in our daily lives will disperse to bring us greater clarity about the most life-giving course of action to take. Even a Pharisee like Gamaliel responded to his inner child, how about us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Lord, I want to come to you in silence, more than I have ever ventured. I pray for the grace of this discipline to trust you in stillness and surrender, instead of the constant bustling I tend to do.

Thanksgiving: We give You thanks Lord, for the inspirations of every moment, when the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to the right decisions, through our practice of sensitive listening.

Thursday, 16 Apr – Christ’s True Presence

16 Apr

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Acts 5:27-33

When the officials had brought the apostles in to face the Sanhedrin, the high priest demanded an explanation. ‘We gave you a formal warning’ he said ‘not to preach in this name, and what have you done? You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and seem determined to fix the guilt of this man’s death on us.’ In reply Peter and the apostles said, ‘Obedience to God comes before obedience to men; it was the God of our ancestors who raised up Jesus, but it was you who had him executed by hanging on a tree. By his own right hand God has now raised him up to be leader and saviour, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins through him to Israel. We are witnesses to all this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’

This so infuriated them that they wanted to put them to death.

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John 3:31-36

John the Baptist said to his disciples:

‘He who comes from above is above all others;
he who is born of the earth is earthly himself
and speaks in an earthly way.
He who comes from heaven
bears witness to the things he has seen and heard,
even if his testimony is not accepted;
though all who do accept his testimony
are attesting the truthfulness of God,
since he whom God has sent
speaks God’s own words:
God gives him the Spirit without reserve.
The Father loves the Son
and has entrusted everything to him.
Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life,
but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life:
the anger of God stays on him.

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God gives him the Spirit without reserve.

How many of us have ever given someone something precious of our own, wholeheartedly without any reserve? Several friends of mine have young children, and I recall watching on as their children were encouraged to share their toys. There is often a lot of cajoling and persuasion involved. But one thing is for certain, the little ones usually give up their grip on the toy when they actually feel assured of their parents’ love. The tenderness and security in mummy’s and daddy’s cuddles and tone of words is the balm comforting them that letting go of the toy in possession will be replaced by something far better — love from mummy and daddy.

A child usually learns to give and share from a young age, but not all children learn so in the same way. As we grow up, many of us have given up many precious things of ours to people who did not reciprocate our love and sacrifice. These could be gifts, trust, promises, one’s feelings, body, affections, etc… Over time, we grow disillusioned about the value of giving wholeheartedly, since it usually ends in heartbreak. So we turn to taking. Taking seems to be the more powerful act. We start to calculate the risks and benefits, we evaluate people and relationships by how much they are willing to give in to us. We are afraid to lose, afraid to be hurt, and naturally choose self-protection for survival. Hearts become hardened over time, and actually everyone loses without even realising it.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist shares with his disciples the unconditional love of the Father: ‘since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words: God gives him the Spirit without reserve. The Father loves the Son and has entrusted everything to him.’ I am humbled again to think of how our Heavenly Father suffers repeated blows when we wilfully deny His love for us in the person and sacrifice of Christ. And yet, this love is still continuously offered up for us in the Eucharist at every celebration of Mass.

God does not withhold His mercy and love for us, it is we who choose to remain in our far country when we reject His healing grace. ‘Anyone who believes in the Son has eternal life, but anyone who refuses to believe in the Son will never see life: the anger of God stays on him.’ This may read like God pronounces anger on being rejected. Yet on closer reflection, this Holy anger is one that we have provoked by our sins and transgressions against Him.

Those of us who have received the gift of Baptism, are enveloped within this Faith family. We need to do all we can to reject Satan’s lies and the sins he tempts us to. I know of some people who feel and act as if it is a privilege for God that they attend Mass each week. It is a tiresome chore and there is no true thanksgiving in their hearts. Indeed, this mindset is often the first of many falls from grace. The Host is not a mere symbol. The Eucharist is Christ’s flesh and real Presence manifest in transubstantiation at the priest’s Consecration. At every Mass, God is giving unto us His Son and Christ is offering up His body and blood for us, freely and with no reservation — only that we profess true and contrite belief.

Like the little child who learns to share and give, when we give up our unbelief, intellectual pride, and selfishness and entitlement to God’s unreserved and Holy sacrifice, we receive far more than just His pure love. We receive eternal life and our soul’s salvation. Our Heavenly Father and Holy Mother are the loving parents whispering and cajoling us into realising what greater treasures are in store if and when we surrender our wills and live within His covenantal love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: We pray for those in our Catholic brethren who do not yet fully believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist even as they receive this Eucharistic sacrifice, that they may come to the realisation and turn to true adoration and faith.

Thanksgiving: Jesus, I trust in You! Jesus, I trust in You! Jesus, I trust in You!

Wednesday, 15 Apr – Light Conquers Dark

15 Apr 

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Acts 5:17-26

The high priest intervened with all his supporters from the party of the Sadducees. Prompted by jealousy, they arrested the apostles and had them put in the common gaol.

But at night the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and said as he led them out, ‘Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new Life.’ They did as they were told; they went into the Temple at dawn and began to preach.

When the high priest arrived, he and his supporters convened the Sanhedrin – this was the full Senate of Israel – and sent to the gaol for them to be brought. But when the officials arrived at the prison they found they were not inside, so they went back and reported, ‘We found the gaol securely locked and the warders on duty at the gates, but when we unlocked the door we found no one inside.’ When the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard this news they wondered what this could mean. Then a man arrived with fresh news. ‘At this very moment’ he said, ‘the men you imprisoned are in the Temple. They are standing there preaching to the people.’ The captain went with his men and fetched them. They were afraid to use force in case the people stoned them.

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John 3:16-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘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.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

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men have shown they prefer darkness to the light

The news in the world today has been increasingly troubling. I am referring to the devastating deluge of news on the ISIS killings in the Middle East, aeroplane disasters and climatic disasters. The world feels like it is going through a collective mourning and grieving in proportions never seen before. For the season of Lent, I chose to abstain from social media because I was overwhelmed by the ceaseless outpouring of sorrowful and cruel events. It was not because I preferred ignorance. I did it for several reasons: despair, distraction and judgmentalism.

I was growing depressed about the state of the world, the complaints and viral vitriol perpetuated. It made me wonder if the people around me (for example, those I rode the train or bus with) could actually be a part of this faceless mob? I was distracted — caught in a paradox of hating the news content, but also hooked onto finding out what murkier dirt could be unearthed or reported every day. This subconscious addiction got so bad that Facebook was the first and last contact I made with the world between sleeps.

Lastly, I made that resolution to pull the plug on social media because it dawned on me that I was growing judgemental about many things. Though I was not exactly contributing to the online spats — because thankfully I simply do not have it in me to be a ‘keyboard warrior’ — I was secretly judging the persons behind the online avatars who made comments that I disagreed with. After some time, I noticed that I had grown sour, discontented, and easily annoyed in my real life!

Not surprisingly, all of this took place at a time when my prayer and interior life had taken a back seat to my daily bustle. I knew something was stirring in an unhealthy fashion, but I knew not what. So in preparation for Lent, I went on a silent retreat to still my heart and spirit. In this stillness, I recognised that each of us has been given a Light within us. This is the God-image that our Heavenly Father had first breathed into Adam and Eve, and Jesus had breathed over the first twelve Apostles. This divine breath and light is the Holy Spirit.

‘…the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’ (John 3:21)

Each of us has been given a conscience, the seed of God’s divinity, and an inner light by which we can call upon to navigate in our world — and to conduct ourselves with justice and righteousness. In the Gospel text today, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that it is not surprising that ‘men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.’ And it is a choice that we each make at every given moment, to choose light over dark, being seen by God or hiding away from Him our secret deeds.

In my retreat, by the wisdom and promptings of the Holy Spirit, I chose to walk into the light of Christ and allow my soul to busk in Christ’s sunshine. Because of this precious time-out with God, I was able to recognise the areas I needed to die to, to surrender, and to sacrifice. I also recognised that not contributing to the bad stuff in the world was not the same as contributing to bring about good. I had an active part to play in bringing joy and love to my interactions in order to truly live out my Christian purpose.

My dear brothers and sister in Christ, as we continue in this season of Eastertide, let us not forget our Lenten reflections which helped us cleave closer to the sufferings of Jesus. For those of us who may have got distracted during Lent, fret not but resolve to continue pursuing our daily relationship with Him. As we prepare for the gift of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, we can seek the help of our Paraclete, our Advocate to take us deeper into union and trust in the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, shine your light and wisdom into all areas of my life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for always wooing us back into union with you, and showing to us the mercy for all our transgressions.