Tag Archives: advent

23 December, Friday – A New Tribe is Here

Dec 23 – Memorial for St. John of Kanty, presbyter

John (1390-1473) was a Polish country lad. A brilliant student at the University of Krakow, Poland, he became a priest and professor of theology at the University of Krakow, where he was falsely accused and ousted by university rivals.

At the age of 41, he was assigned as parish priest at Olkusz, Bohemia. He took his position seriously, and was terrified of responsibility, but did his best. For a long time that wasn’t enough for his parishioners, but in the end he won their hearts. After several years in his parish, he returned to Krakow and taught Scripture for the rest of his life.

John was a serious, humble man, generous to a fault with the poor, sleeping little, eating no meat and little of anything else. He was a pilgrim to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When warned to look after his health, he pointed out that the early desert fathers lived long lives in conditions that had nothing to recommend them but the presence of God.

At the time of his death, John was so well loved that his veneration began immediately. For years his doctoral gown was worn by graduates receiving advanced degrees at the University of Krakow. He was declared patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737 by Pope Clement XII, 30 years before his final canonization.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Malachi 3:1-4,23-24

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.

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Luke 1:57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

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‘But no one in your family has that name.’

In this day and age when we may stumble upon the most innovative and brow-raising kids’ names, the magnitude of choosing a name for one’s child might be lost on some parents. Some name their children to help them stand out with un-pronounceable monikers; some choose names after their favourite soccer players or movie stars; some use names of beloved family members who have passed as a way of remembrance, while others may seek out a name whose virtues they hope their children will grow into. For whatever reasons, we know plainly that names do matter.

The angel Gabriel foretold two pregnancies – Mary’s and Elizabeth’s. To Mary he proclaimed: “For nothing will be impossible with God” when he shared that Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age. At the same time, it was the angel of the Lord who declared the names of these two special children to their fathers. The name John was revealed to Zechariah the priest; the name Jesus was revealed to Joseph the carpenter. What struck me in the readings today was the line ‘But no one in your family has that name.’

Tribes were the way ancient peoples sought protection, community, and identity. Although Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbours shared in her joy, they hesitated when she (as a mother) chose the name ‘John’ that came from neither hers nor Zechariah’s heritage – such that they had to summon Zechariah to verify. Only after Zechariah confirmed this as correct did he regain his speech. This account teaches us a few lessons.

The first — God can start a new tribe in you, right this very moment, at this very place. So trust in His promise and seek His will in your life. I recently had a conversation with some friends on our conversion and ‘reversion’ stories. Each of us were baptized either at birth, as a teen, or in adulthood. Although we had different cultural and faith backgrounds, we shared one important moment in common – the desire to receive God into our lives and the conscious decision to follow Him. As the Heavenly Father of all, God not only chose Jesus’ name, but also John’s, because he was anointed to pave the way for a new eternal tribe for Jesus. This is echoed in our first reading of Malachi.

Secondly — Do we believe that God can do the impossible for us, in us, and through us? Much of today’s self-help literature tells us “do not sell yourself short” when we put limitations on our abilities or potential to succeed. Perhaps. And yet that is still quite a self-centred view. As Christians, we might be guilty of ultimately selling God short. Do we draw Venn diagrams around the areas of our lives where we designate where God may work His wonders? As a priest, Zechariah should have known better than to question whether God could grant him and Elizabeth their longed-for child. Mary had her questions too, but her disposition of spirit was in complete surrender that she could say, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’

Last, but not least — our souls were created to glorify God. We look to Mary who praises ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior… Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.’ (Luke 1:46-47) May we never shy of allowing our souls to be like a clear piece of magnifying glass, that through our earnest seeking and listening, we reveal God’s glory to those among us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Grant us O Lord, a heart humble and trusting, brave and willing, to seek and do Your will.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Jesus, for calling me by name and for never letting me wander too far.

Saturday, 20 Dec – Preparing the Nativity of our Hearts

20 Dec

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Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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I am the handmaid of the Lord.

It is so hard to recover the lost art of being a handmaiden in our day and age. These days, we have a thousand and one ‘hacks’ and ‘tips’ and ‘lists’ and ‘secrets revealed’ online about just any problematic topic. These lists are concise and quick reads, telling us in just 10 or 20 points how to resolve or overcome difficult marriages/relationships; run a household/company; understand ourselves/others better… and the list goes on! While some could be useful, I have found my recent fixation with these quick-fixes detrimental to my spiritual life.

I am tempted to think I can solve every problem I, or my loved ones, face; that a solution is just out there waiting to pop up on my daily newsfeed; that I can be the harbinger of answers to the people around me. The folly!

Likewise, elsewhere in Scripture, we hear of another Mary, and her sister Martha who received Jesus into their home. In the passage where Jesus visits the sisters, we see two ways of being – the ‘Mary’ way, and the ‘Martha’ way.

‘Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”.’ (Matthew 10:38-42)

Mary understood what it was to be the handmaid of the Lord. She was not over-zealous to prove her worthiness in the doing-of-things like Martha was. She was aware of the transcendental presence of the Christ in their home. If Christ was the Lord that Martha called Him to be, then certainly He didn’t need the 1001 things to be done for Him. Jesus is the Lord of the Heavens and Earth, not the Lord of the world. There is nothing we can give to Him or add unto Him to illuminate His Holiness further.

The only desire He had in the house of Mary and Martha, was that they be present to Him. Their posture of a handmaid, waiting in watchful silence, ever-alert, ever-listening, surrendering our preoccupations with things to submit to His will. That was Mary’s way. Just as we would find it hard to find an appropriate gift for a very important person if we were invited to the house of say, the President of our country – he would have everything already. The most treasured and one-of-a-kind gift we could offer, would be the dedicated attention of our individual presence in his company. It is most simple, and yet our agendas can often be so obtuse!

Mary, Mother of our God, fashions for us the precise qualities of what it means to be a ‘Handmaid of the Lord’. It is her watchfulness, her humility, her openness and surrendered spiritual posture, that receives the Holy Spirit. It is this diminishment of her Self, and the desire to magnify the Lord, that allows the Holy Spirit to permeate and impregnate this graced moment, and bring us our Christ Jesus, Saviour of the world.

It is no easy feat for me. And I realise I constantly need this reminder to model my spiritual life after Mary our Mother. Being the Type A ‘fixer’ personality that I am, the tendency I have to solving problems (my way), stubbornness, impatience, and pride, has brought much friction to the relationships around me – demanding of others, ‘haven’t you seen what I have been doing?’ It is hard to truly be still and deeply ponder as Mother Mary does.

Indeed, as Jesus reminds me today: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”. It is of far more eternal value to our Father, that we be-with-Him, than to be buzzing around Him. After all, isn’t He called Emmanuel, God-is-with-us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for giving us Mary our Mother who is our model of faith, humility, and surrender to Your Holy Will. Teach us to love and honour her the way You have specially chosen her for us.

Prayer: We pray for each other: That in this Christmas season, we lose our obsession to plan and over-plan around the festivities and parties, where the misguided focus is on ourselves to be charitable and hospitable to others in our homes and churches – but instead we neglect to prepare our own souls to be hospitable to the Infant Jesus who is waiting to enter into the Nativity of our hearts. May we be more self-aware and humble like Mother Mary.

Friday, 19 Dec – Prayer, a Mirror into our Souls

19 Dec

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Judges 13:2-7,24-25

There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman and said to her, ‘You are barren and have had no child. But from now on take great care. Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb. It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went and told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me; his presence was like the presence of the angel of God, he was so majestic. I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not reveal his name to me. But he said to me, “You will conceive and bear a son. From now on, take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day.”’

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.

Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them, and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

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‘…it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

We read two stories of women who endured a long season of barrenness. In the Bible as is the case of many agrarian civilisations, fertility is regarded as anointing from God. It is a blessing from the Heavens if a woman bears many children and her husband is also deemed a righteous man for fathering many. Likewise, if a woman remains barren, it is seen as a curse from God and she is frowned upon by her kinfolk. If her husband is a good man, he would still love and protect her. If he was a strong man of faith, he would still honour and cherish her as God did Israel, he would defend her from their tribespeople. A woman was therefore largely dependent on the spiritual, mental, and emotional strength and resilience of her husband – to withstand these humiliations himself, and therefore protect her and uphold her dignity.

These two women – the mother of Samson, and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist – were women of great faith. They were also blessed by good and righteous men of God who stayed with them and honoured them. However, were their husbands impervious or immune to the humiliations their wives faced because they were childless? I doubt it. Were the husbands themselves troubled, humiliated, discouraged? I am sure. As Elizabeth said, ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’ She suffered when her husband suffered, but she had to remain strong for the both of them.

Zechariah was a priest, and as Scripture tells us, he and Elizabeth scrupulously observed the commandments and were worthy in God’s sight. For this fact alone, I am sure many of their prayers in the dark of the night consisted of lamentations that their faithfulness had not resulted in fruitfulness – they were only human. Even I can feel their yearnings on my lips! Zechariah must have been worn down by years of unanswered prayers and the ridicule of his fellow priests that his first response to the angel of God (unlike Elizabeth’s) was ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ Hence he was struck dumb – it was a lesson from God.

None of us are immune to seasons of doubt. And especially for husbands and wives who may pray specifically for answers to ‘why isn’t my husband a more loving and gentle man?’ to ‘why isn’t my wife more understanding to my needs?’ to ‘why are our children so rebellious?’ it can get very exhausting and despairing. Prayers for our loved ones are always riddled with seasons of barrenness as what we pray for about them, are actually things that God is teaching us about ourselves. That is, prayers for a more understanding and pliant wife, could be God’s invitation to the man to grow more noble and generous in himself. While prayers for a more loving and tender husband, could be God’s invitation to the woman to soften in patience and gentleness. Many of these prayers we make, are often mirrors for ourselves illuminating blind-spots that we need to grow more aware of in ourselves, to experience a conversion of our mentality and approach.

When the things we pray for do not get answered immediately, or things do not work out the way we envision or prescribe to God, we need to re-examine our prayer life and our own relationship with our Lord Jesus. Have we tried to conform God’s love and mercy into our own mould and image? Have we tried to specify to God how we want Him to help and bless us?

In the light of our Scriptures today too, it is an invitation for husbands to reflect if they have continued to protect their wives needs, to cherish and honour them, as the Bride whom they took at the altar. It is an invitation for wives to reflect if they have been loving, respectful, and tender to their husbands needs, to build them up and encourage them to grow in imitation of Christ.

It is so tough – and it is tougher when we are called to love as God first loved us, in moments when it seems the other party is wringing us dry… And so we look to our Lamb of God, and we draw on His strength and mercy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for the love of our family members who, by their patience and endurance in loving us in our difficult moments – help to change us from within.

Prayer: We ask you Jesus, for the strength to keep on loving even when it hurts, when it gets tiring, when it becomes senseless to do so. Teach us Your ways O Lord.

Thursday, 18 Dec – Where are you, God?

18 Dec

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –
when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David,
who will reign as true king and be wise,
practising honesty and integrity in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel dwell in confidence.
And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.

So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.”

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Matthew 1:18-24

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

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

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

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God-is-with-us

Whenever we hear of the terrible and tragic news around the world, such as the hostage situation and deaths striking the Lindt Cafe in Sydney; the massacre of students in the Peshawar military-run school by the Pakistani Taliban; the Sewol ferry tragedy in Seoul; the victims of Super Typhoon Hagupit in Philippines, it is hard to believe that God truly is with us. Recently, a very dear friend of mine lost her beloved husband to an unexpected sudden death, and I could not help but share in her grief and tears, myself asking – God, are you there? In times like these, I ask God: did you show your glorious face to them in their final moments? Do they know You are real, did they know You as Love as they passed through this life?

On this side of life, we struggle to understand, give, receive, experience love. What is love to those of us who have experienced heartbreaks, growing pains, mental-, emotional-, sexual-abuse, loss and grief? How can we make sense of this constant falling short of true joy and fulfilment in life… this almost-but-not-there-yet-ness of many endeavours we put ourselves through? God seems so far from us in these desperate moments. It is cold, dark, lonely, and terrifying to find ourselves trapped in this valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) – living in this moment of the absence of God. But God is with us even in this very valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Psalm 23)

How do we see God in this pitch-black night of sorrow and fear? The reality of our understanding of darkness is testament to our existent experience and knowledge of light. As darkness is not a level of brightness, but the absence of light, we need to trust that we have once seen and experienced Pure Light. This is the prior knowing of our soul. We have been kissed and visited by the Light of God when God had knitted us in our mother’s womb – and this imprint of Love and Light is carried deep inside of our soul throughout this life. Our constant realisation of the falling-short-of joy and fulfilment in this life, the frustrating incompleteness of life’s endeavours, serves to point us to the light of Eternal Truth, Way and Life.

The secret is to ‘walk through’ this valley of the shadow of death as Psalm 23 tells us. It is not enough to stand at the mouth of the valley staring into darkness and fearing the worst. As consuming as whatever darkness we experience can be, there is always an imperceptible glimmer of brightness by which our eyes eventually acclimatise to see. We can still discern the edges of this shadowed valley and fumble through. And God-is-with-us in each present moment.

The Word proclaims His promises of rescue and shelter for us. His Promises are the rod and staff by which we steady our gait. This is what we need to cling onto in times we feel shattered by fear and grief, hatred and injustice.

Baby Jesus was himself pushed through the darkness of Mary’s birth canal. Our Lord was born unto us after much human struggle. His first sounds were cries of fear and confusion, turned to relief and comfort of Mary’s breast. The God Almighty allowed Himself to experience the necessary human passage through time and shadow in order to be one with us and share in our human passions and sufferings and ultimately, death.

May we realise that this, is how God-is-with-us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: Jesus, you have gone through everything we will ever go through in our lives. Your first infant cries; your playground scuffles; the frustration of learning the ropes of carpentry; the betrayal of friendships; the humiliation of slander; injustice for innocence; and cruel death on Calvary. For Your companionship in all that I fear and suffer in, I thank You Lord.

Prayer: We pray for the innocent departed souls of all we hear in the news and of our loved ones. May our Lord shine His Divine Mercy and Love upon them and grant to them Eternal Peace and Rest.

Wednesday, 17 Dec – Hungry Hearts This Christmas

17 Dec

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Genesis 49:2,8-10

Jacob called his sons and said:

‘Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you:
you grip your enemies by the neck,
your father’s sons shall do you homage,
Judah is a lion cub,
you climb back, my son, from your kill;
like a lion he crouches and lies down,
or a lioness: who dare rouse him?
The sceptre shall not pass from Judah,
nor the mace from between his feet,
until he come to whom it belongs,
to whom the peoples shall render obedience.’

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Matthew 1:1-17 

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.
The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.

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A genealogy of Jesus Christ

Family traditions and customs are an important part of our lives. Especially in these post-modern times where our societies are growing amorphous with rising secularism and relativism. Younger generations pooh-pooh many practices of old, many which they deem old-fashioned rituals. Of course, there are superstitions and folklore, but I am referring here to a question of how disciplined and diligent we are in passing on our Church’s Faith and Traditions.

Both readings today tell of a certain generational knowledge and wisdom. God has promised salvation and redemption to a people, and this will never be lost through the generations, so long as we ‘Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen; listen to Israel your father.’ (Genesis 49:2). That is, we need to listen long and hard, and follow through, from father to son. It is this covenantal love that we proclaim as Christians. And it is this covenantal love that God has made with us, and desires to enter deeply into with us.

As we approach Christmas, in celebration of the birth of our Christ Jesus, I do wonder what stories parents and grandparents are telling the children in their family. I myself never really heard the Christmas story from my parents – it was merely the annual lights and sights of Orchard Road, gift exchanges with relatives and later on with friends as I grew older. Are we watering down the sacred birth story of Jesus where God came to be one with us in humanity by over romanticising the Nativity scene as a kitsch dollhouse set up, and on-trend gadget presents? Or are we telling this beautiful story with tenderness, magic, love, and rekindling the awe and majesty that truly befits this Truth of God become Man?

Even more specifically – as parents, grandparents, god-parents, aunts and uncles – are we even sure what this Nativity story means to us in our lives? If we scarce believe it, how will we pass on our Faith to the generations after us? If we are hardly in love with Jesus, how will our children fall in love too?

I leave you with this scene that never fails to move me: every once in a while, I head down to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at the Catholic Spirituality Centre along Upper Serangoon Road to spend time with our Lord. I have been tremendously blessed to witness more than thrice, two young boys – about 3 and 5 years old – who would tiptoe in quietly and genuflect low to the ground, sign themselves with the cross, grab a cushion, and sit in silence gazing at our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It doesn’t last very long, but then ten minutes in such deep silence is precious enough to our Lord. Each time, I do ask myself if this could be real – such innocence and obedience! Then I look to the parents who have each found their quiet corner in the chapel, and I smile, because I know, it is a conscious decision to make. And it is possible.

It is never too late for us to pay heed to our Lord. I would like my generations onwards to start with me. May we share our faith more passionately with our loved ones this Christmas!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: I thank you Father for this repeated scene I have witnessed. When it is my turn, I seek the joy and passion to gift my faith to my children.

Prayer: We pray for families who do not yet know the story of our Saviour wrapped in swaddling clothes. We pray for the courage to bring this salvation story to the hungry hearts around us.

Tuesday, 16 Dec – On Second Thought

16 Dec

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Zephaniah 3:1-2,9-13 ©
Trouble is coming to the rebellious, the defiled,
the tyrannical city!
She would never listen to the call,
would never learn the lesson;
she has never trusted in the Lord,
never drawn near to her God.

Yes, I will then give the peoples lips that are clean,
so that all may invoke the name of the Lord
and serve him under the same yoke.
From beyond the banks of the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants
will bring me offerings.

When that day comes
you need feel no shame for all the misdeeds
you have committed against me,
for I will remove your proud boasters
from your midst;
and you will cease to strut
on my holy mountain.
In your midst I will leave
a humble and lowly people,
and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.
They will do no wrong,
will tell no lies;
and the perjured tongue will no longer
be found in their mouths.
But they will be able to graze and rest
with no one to disturb them.

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Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?’ ‘The first’ they said. Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.’

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But they will be able to graze and rest with no one to disturb them.

God desires a willing heart. Even if at first we should be stubborn and rebellious as we can often be, He pulls closest to his bosom the ones whom He calls, and though defiant, come back to Him on second thought.

In the Gospel passage today Jesus tells the parable of the two sons. One son obeys his father’s command to work in the vineyard, after a period of disobedience and reluctance. The second son conveniently agrees to the task immediately, but after he thinks he’s safe from the duty, goes off to skive instead of honoring his promise.

I am led to think of those of us who have been called early to our baptismal vows, some perhaps as young as infants, others like myself in our youth. At the same time, I think of friends I know who have come to know God late in life – as St Augustine was known to opine, “Late have I loved You” – and they have begun to love God with a fervor that put the early birds to shame.

Yet in today’s Responsarial Psalm 33, “The Lord turns his face again the wicked to destroy their remembrance from the earth. They call and the Lord hears and rescues them in all their distress.” We are thus reminded this: God angers at those who intentionally defy and ignore Him, who choose the label but not the labour. However, should they realize their errors and cry out in contrite repentance, He will rescue them. He is not the Lord of Love and Mercy for naught.

It is this constant tender offering of God’s amazing grace that we need to connect with, to come into relationship with. Our God is only portrayed as a harsh God, because we have first chosen to harden our hearts against Him. If we be pliable and soft, open and listening, we will receive Him abundantly.

As we enter into the third week of Advent, Jesus is calling us all into a posture of reflection and repentance – to choose to come back in communion with God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This week, many of our churches will be open in the evenings for Penitential Service before we enter into Christmastide. May we slow down with the parties, and take time out to reflect before our Lord over the year, ponder on the things we did that have nailed Him evermore to His cross, and to seek His forgiveness and healing.

The entrance of our Lord Jesus requires us to make space in our hearts – to cleanse our souls where conscience clamours. Only then will we be “able to graze and rest with no one to disturb [us].”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our Church who continually opens her doors to receive us as a mother would for her sorrowful returning child.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, give us clean hands and clean hearts, as we prepare our souls to receive you this Christmas.

Sunday, 14 Dec – Jesus, with Joy I shall Trust in You

14 Dec – Third Sunday of Advent

Our Joy In Christ

We celebrate our joy in Christ’s redeeming work among us, realising that he who is to come is indeed already with us, unknown to us. 

– Sunday Missal

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Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

‘I exult for joy in the Lord,
my soul rejoices in my God,
for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation,
he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity,
like a bridegroom wearing his wreath,
like a bride adorned in her jewels.

‘For as the earth makes fresh things grow,
as a garden makes seeds spring up,
so will the Lord make both integrity and praise
spring up in the sight of the nations.’

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.

Never try to suppress the Spirit or treat the gift of prophecy with contempt; think before you do anything – hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.

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John 1:6-8,19-28

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’

Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

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God has called you and he will not fail you.

It is the year end, and as the year closes, it is predictably a difficult time for me – both in my work and personal life. I start to take stock of stuff, evaluate progress, achievements, and improvements. Some events bring joy, other situations strap me with anxiety. Then again, this is Advent, a season of waiting.

One of the toughest things to cling onto in my faith journey is to trust that God’s got my back 100% of the time. Truth is, there are countless moments where I suddenly feel abandoned by the very God who is all-knowing and all-seeing. I could come home after a lovely night out celebrating a milestone with my friends, or after a peace-infused quiet time in the Adoration Chapel, to a home that has mysteriously gone all discordant in the few hours I’d been out. Tempers are flaring, temperatures rising. A rug pulled out from under my feet. Wondering if I’m actually allowed to even trust that life and people can be stable and reliable. I get impatient, angry, frustrated, and most of all I despair, and throw myself into the sea of doubt.

The second reading of Thessalonians today strike a chord – “Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.” I am challenged. But I am reminded that a joyful soul is a blessed soul – “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation…”

It is truly hardest to believe that we are cared for and protected when we lay our expectations on other people who cannot save themselves. Salvation does not come from with-in, it enters into our lives from with-out, and beyond our earthen dimensions. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we are able to admit this invasion of Eternity into our present moment – that is, the infant Christ can then be born in our hearts and lives.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, […] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? […] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? […] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)

This restfulness and blessedness is revealed in the Gospel passage today when John the Baptist is not fazed by the incessant haranguing and harassment of questions by the Jewish priest and Levites about his identity and origin. “This is how John appeared as a witness” it is said – that sentence is full of authority and certainty. John appeared as a witness without mincing his words or flailing with anxiety. John replies “I am… a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.” John does not need to reply to their superficial questions about his place of birth or his ancestry – instead he proclaims his identity and purpose in the Lord God Almighty. Simply said.

How often do we grow anxious, weary, despondent, and fearful about how we appear to the world, and how the world (mis)treats us, when all the world is passing anyway? Indeed as God has called us, He will never, ever fail us. He calls us My beloved, and He calls us to come to Him as children to their father. Our only duty and purpose in life during these storms, is to cling to His everlasting promise of salvation, and root our identity in being His beloved children. He will lift us up, and save us in the most unexpected of ways – just as He did by sending a baby in manger to be the Saviour of the world. As we proceed into the third week of Advent, may we wait in joyful, expectant, and child-like hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving:
Lord, I thank you for this timely reminder of my sin of distrust and pride in the blaming you for abandoning me, when it is in fact my momentary choice to let go of You. Help me be better at loving and trusting in You Jesus!

Prayer: Holy Spirit, prepare my heart to receive Christ with joy and praise on my lips. Fill me with the grace to give thanks and bring Jesus to others around me.