Tag Archives: annette soo

30 September, Sunday – Exclusion

30 September 2018

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Numbers 11:25-29

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.

Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

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James 5:1-6

An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

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Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

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Anyone who is not against us is for us.

In today’s readings, we have similar situations: in the first, the two elders who had not been gathered at the tent, started prophesying after the spirit of God also descended upon them. In the Gospel reading, Jesus was informed of a man who was casting out devils in his name. In both situations, someone had tried to stop these men from doing what they were doing. But Moses and Jesus respectively, vetoed the decision.

Do we sometimes feel that we have been excluded from certain groups, or perhaps we are the ones who have at some point in our lives excluded other people from joining our group? If we were excluded, then we might have been made to feel that we didn’t belong. We might have questioned what our shortcomings were, or what qualities that others had that we didn’t.

While this might happen in our “human” lives – it being a “human” trait – we can take comfort that this spirit of exclusion is not something that Jesus believes in. With Jesus, we are all considered children of God. He impressed upon us that everyone is welcome into the House of God; as long as we turned to Him for forgiveness and salvation, God’s love is available to everyone – saint, sinner, man, woman, child, rich or poor. Jesus set this example by dining with the tax collectors, speaking with the Samaritans, healing the lepers, forgiving the sinners. Jesus said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

And so, when we are all united in a common interest, and that is doing God’s work in God’s name, there is no difference between what we are doing compared to what our neighbor is doing, compared to what our friend is doing. God does not rank our work, He sees only our hearts. If our hearts beat for God, then are we not moving together in one unit? Is there a need for exclusion of anyone who is for the same cause as us? That is Jesus’ message to us today.

If we have ever felt excluded, or felt that people should be excluded from something, let us keep in mind that God excludes no one, and no one is left behind. As Pope Francis said in a Penitential Liturgy in Saint Peter’s Basilica in March of year 2015, “No one can be excluded from the mercy of God”.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for an open heart that will accept all. Help us to understand in our hearts when you say that anyone who is not against God is for God.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks for accepting us for who we are, saint or sinner, and assuring us that the mercy and love of God is not excluded from us. We thank you for counting us as God’s children.

29 September, Saturday – Meeting of Minds

29 September – Feast of the Holy Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages. So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

– from a homily by Pope St. Gregory the Great

Michael was the leader of the army of God during the Lucifer uprising. Devotion to him is common to Muslims, Christians and Jews with writings about him in all three cultures. He is considered as the guardian angel of Israel, and the guardian and protector of the Church.

Raphael is one of the seven angels that stand before God’s throne. He is the lead character in the book of Tobit in which he travelled with (and guarded) Tobiah, and cured a man’s blindness; hence his connection with travellers, young people, blindness, healing and healers.

– Patron Saints Index

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Daniel 7:9-10,13-14

As I watched:

Thrones were set in place
and one of great age took his seat.
His robe was white as snow,
the hair of his head as pure as wool.
His throne was a blaze of flames,
its wheels were a burning fire.
A stream of fire poured out,
issuing from his presence.
A thousand thousand waited on him,
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
A court was held
and the books were opened.

And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven,
one like a son of man.
He came to the one of great age
and was led into his presence.
On him was conferred sovereignty,
glory and kingship,
and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.
His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty
which shall never pass away,
nor will his empire ever be destroyed.

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Apocalypse 12:7-12

Now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived all the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him. Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life. Let the heavens rejoice and all who live there.’

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John 1:47-51

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming he said of him, ‘There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.’ ‘How do you know me?’ said Nathanael ‘Before Philip came to call you,’ said Jesus ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. so You will see greater things than that.’ And then he added ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

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“How do you know me?”

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there is no meeting of minds.” I think back sometimes when I was working with a colleague, and she was tasked with meeting certain financial targets in her small service line. It was a huge challenge, and she had a small team to assist her. They were already overworked with current engagements when I joined her team, and it seemed to me that they were so busy trying to carry out their engagements that they hardly had time to think about strategy. She had all these ideas in her head about how to expand and how to move things forward, but no time or resources for execution. I recall having a conversation with her once, and we realized that we shared the same ideas, the same enthusiasm, and every time we talked over lunch or a cup of coffee, it was like a light went on and the hours flew by. Those were exciting conversations and, truth be told, I have never met anyone quite like her who could fire you up in a discussion about strategy like that.

When people understand each other, there is very little need for the use of words to explain oneself. There is a chemistry at work, where you just know what the other person is thinking or feeling, or that you get a sense of what they like or don’t like. It’s hard enough sometimes trying to understand ourselves, what more trying to elucidate it to others. So it is a relief when someone operates on the same wavelength as you, and gets you before you can even get the words out.

With Jesus, there is no need to explain ourselves. Jesus knows us intimately. He knows our thoughts, our hearts, our deeds and ambitions, doubts and fears. He knows our character. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”, says Jeremiah 1:5. “Even before they call I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear”, says Isaiah 65:24. What comfort it is to know that Jesus understands us, even in our troubled, most tumultuous times! Times when prayer fails to form on our lips, times when we are confused and conflicted within. Sometimes in these times and in desperation and frustration to find the right words, I say “Lord, you know my troubles, you know what is in my heart and in my mind. Help me find a way.” Even in those times, I feel my load a little lighter for sharing it.

Jesus knew Nathanael before he was even called. He knew the kind of person he was, which surprised Nathanael. He even knew his doubts (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)), and addressed them. For the times when we hesitate in prayer or think that no one will understand our problems, let us not doubt that Jesus will understand and help us, for he knows us intimately. He is our friend — not just any friend — but that friend who is on the same frequency as us, the friend who can finish our sentences and gets us, even before we can finish expressing ourselves. Let us lift our cares to Jesus our friend and brother, and let us be illuminated by his grace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray to break down our pride to share our innermost thoughts and troubles with you, in the faith that you will, and do understand us, and will be a balm to our soul.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the good friends that you bring our way, for those who understand us and not judge us when we share. Thank you for our friends who double our happiness and halve our sorrows.

28 September, Friday – Seedlings

28 September – Memorial for St. Wenceslaus, Martyr; Memorial for St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs

Wenceslaus (907-929) was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia, whose family had been converted by St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and Drahomira, daughter of a pagan chief, who was baptised on her wedding day but apparently never seriously took to the faith. He was the grandson and student of St. Ludmilla.

When his father was killed during a pagan backlash against Christianity, Wenceslaus ascended to power as the Duke of Bohemia and fought the pagans with prayer and patience. He was murdered by his brother Boleslaus at the door of a church. Though he was killed for political reasons, he is normally listed as a martyr since the politics arose from his faith. Miracles have been reported at his tomb, and he is the subject of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.

– Patron Saint Index

 Laurence Ruiz (1600–1637) had a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both of whom were Christians. He learned Chinese and Tagalog from them, Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He was a professional calligrapher and documents transcriptionist. He was a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. He was a married layman, and the father of two sons and a daughter.

For unknown reasons, Laurence was accused of murder. He sought asylum on board a ship with three Dominican priests, St. Antonio Gonzalez, St. Guillermo Courtet, and St. Mguel de Aozaraza, a Japanese priest, St. Vincente Showozuka de la Cruz, and a layman St. Lazaro of Kyoto, a leper. Only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan during a time of intense Christian persecution.

Laurence could have gone to Formosa (modern Taiwan), but feared the Spaniards there would hang him, and so stayed with the missionaries as they landed at Okinawa. The group was soon exposed as Christian, arrested, and taken to Nagasaki. They were tortured in several ways for days. Laurence and the Japanese priest broke at one point, and were ready to renounce their faith in exchange for release, but after their moment of crisis, they reclaimed their faith and defied their tormentors. He was the first canonised Filipino martyr.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:

A time for giving birth,
a time for dying;
a time for planting,
a time for uprooting what has been planted.

A time for killing,
a time for healing;
a time for knocking down,
a time for building.

A time for tears,
a time for laughter;
a time for mourning,
a time for dancing.

A time for throwing stones away,
a time for gathering them up;
a time for embracing,
a time to refrain from embracing.

A time for searching,
a time for losing;
a time for keeping,
a time for throwing away.

A time for tearing,
a time for sewing;
a time for keeping silent,
a time for speaking.

A time for loving,
a time for hating;
a time for war,
a time for peace.

What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes? I contemplate the task that God gives mankind to labour at. All that he does is apt for its time; but though he has permitted man to consider time in its wholeness, man cannot comprehend the work of God from beginning to end.

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Luke 9:18-22

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.

‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

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“He has made everything appropriate to its time, and put timeless into their hearts”

We are familiar with the phrase, “All in good time”, meaning that everything will happen at the appropriate moment. It is easy to believe that for something good which we are waiting for, but how do you use that to explain something negative that has happened? I often wondered as a child, and even now as a grown person, why certain bad things happen, and why God allows them to happen. Recently the church has been mired with the sexual scandals of priests, with some reports that the Catholic faith is in crisis. There have even been calls for the Pope to step down. I admit that reading the details of the scandals (even a summary at that) was enough to sicken me. But more than that, this whole saga has also despaired me, as I am sure other members of the Catholic faith as well. We put our trust in these ordained ‘men of God’, but that trust is now broken. It hurts more because we had seen them as models of upright Christian goodness and beacons of faith, but they were really monsters in our midst. Why God, why our church, and why our faith? Why the children involved, and why in the first place, these men? Why were they put in our midst to begin with? If these are the sort of men who are ‘chosen’ to be shepherds of our faith, what kind of future for the church will we have for our lambs?

I cannot blame the people for not wanting to return to the affected churches, or any church for that matter. There is an anger that seethes in them — anger and disappointment. And what about the victims and their families? The church has let them down, we have felt let down. While the bulk of this scandal has so far been reported in the Americas, the effects and the doubts will reach out worldwide: if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

I don’t have an answer for all the whys, not just for what has happened, but for everything that hasn’t gone right, either in the world or in my own life. However, I hope I can retain in my heart a little seedling of hope, a seedling that one day may burst into fruition and become a tree that I can shelter under and hold onto in times of trouble. I wonder if the current crisis is one that is a test of faith for us all; not just for the church, but for us as individual parishioners, as followers of Christ. In essence, that is what it all boils down to — we are all at church because we follow Christ, we believe in Christ. The message of the Lord was revealed to us and we believe it. The perpetrators will come and go, but the message of eternal life lives forever.

That is not to say that I condone or side these priests and what they have done. If they have done wrong, then let them be judged according to law, both man-made and God. As for us, we cannot know what God’s plan is in the face of such a crisis. Perhaps it is a call by God to come together at this moment, this time that God deems appropriate, to strengthen our faith, so that when another time comes when the world is in crisis, we are more prepared to stand together and more steadfastly. Perhaps it is God’s hope for us to rebuild the church, even as we rebuild our faith. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I see my mother laugh merrily as she sings along with her church choir, or when the children at church look forward to Sunday school, or the pride I feel when my son sings “Jesus loves me this I know”, I know that that seed of faith, though small, is well and alive. There is hope in this seed, and that hope is rooted in more than what I see or don’t see. It is rooted in Jesus.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for our church in this time of crisis and trial. May we collectively come together as God’s children to repair and rebuild the church and our own faith, and remember always that You are what holds us all together.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the strength during our trials and tribulations. We cannot do this without You and we pray for continued guidance and strengthening of faith, even when we fail to see the whole picture.

27 September, Thursday – Legacies

27 September – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

– Patron Saints Index

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Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. Vanity of vanities. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity! For all his toil, his toil under the sun, what does man gain by it?

A generation goes, a generation comes, yet the earth stands firm for ever. The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises. Southward goes the wind, then turns to the north; it turns and turns again; back then to its circling goes the wind. Into the sea all the rivers go, and yet the sea is never filled, and still to their goal the rivers go. All things are wearisome. No man can say that eyes have not had enough of seeing, ears their fill of hearing. What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun. Take anything of which it may be said, ‘Look now, this is new.’ Already, long before our time, it existed. Only no memory remains of earlier times, just as in times to come next year itself will not be remembered.

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Luke 9:7-9

Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was being done by Jesus; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see Jesus.

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“One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays”

This year marked for me 17 years of being in the workforce, most of which was with the same firm. I don’t know if I have shared this before, but most of the work I did was around companies that were in distress. I used to read a lot about companies that got built up, lasted generations, then collapsed in the blink of an eye. Overnight, lives turned upside down, legacies ended. The sad ones were the companies whose undoing was due to complacency and greed. I know greed seems like a strong word, and maybe for some, exists in a world apart from us or on the silver screen, but it is real. Greed in the form of wanting more money, vanity, popularity, pride.

I recently read a book called “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. The most common regret was wishing that one had lived a life true to one’s self, and not what others expected of one. It’s so easy to be caught up by the present and pursuit of the next thing, that we fail to see the bigger picture of our lives. For most of us, our lives revolve around our inbox, answering emails late into the night. We respond to other people’s deadlines and emergencies, and plan fastidiously for our clients, helping them to achieve their annual targets. Their targets become our targets. But those targets are temporary. The next year, there will be new targets; the old will be forgotten, charted in the annual report for comparison later to the current year, likely as a blip on a line chart or bar graph. Meanwhile, what about our own life targets?

Life passes us by so quickly. I have seen so many contemporaries feeling jaded and restless, feeling the need to do something else more meaningful. That is our soul telling us that we are made for more. But we don’t know what that is, and we sit and hope that some sign comes to tell us what that missing piece is. Few of us will look for it ourselves. Then one day, we find that death knocks on our door. Our complacency has eaten away what time we have here on earth, and we have dreams half fulfilled, if even at all. We write wills and leave our belongings for the next generation, but what else are we leaving our children? What legacies, what other memories? What mark are we leaving here on earth that we can say was for the greater good, even if in the smallest measure? Can we say our souls thirsted to achieve the best of our inherent abilities and we strived to achieve it and satisfied it? Our worldly achievements and belongings are not something we can bring to bear before God on judgment day; our epitaphs will not read “here lies so and so, who always meticulously reconciled every cent/had a million Facebook friends/was the number one salesperson for 10 years consecutively”. No. We would want to be remembered as a dear father, mother, sister, brother, child, friend, and we would want people to mean it.

A dearly beloved priest in the Assumption Church of Petaling Jaya recently passed away. Father Mari Arokiam’s death was sudden and left many people shocked. During his funeral mass, the congregation prayed for the “grace of a well-prepared death”, that when we are called to the Lord, we will be “ready, with our lamp of faith, alight, and our baptismal robe unstained”. Father Mari was a man with a big heart, especially for the poor. Ironically, as we celebrate the Memorial of St Vincent de Paul today, we also remember Father Mari, who had also served in the Society of St Vincent de Paul in his lifetime. As we reflect on our own lives and the legacy that we want to leave behind, let us keep in mind Father Mari’s words at his silver jubilee last year, “One day when I am gone, I want to be remembered as a faithful priest who had compassion”.

How then do we want to be remembered?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and give us the courage to live our lives as You have determined it. We pray to leave behind a lasting legacy that is pleasing to God. We pray as well for the soul of Father Mari, may he rest in peace in the eternal glory of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the life of Father Mari, for his contributions and his compassion. May his legacy be remembered by all who knew him.

26 September, Wednesday – Rags and Riches

26 September – Memorial for Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs

Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians who accepted no payment. Their charity brought many to Christ. Although they were tortured during the persecutions of Diocletian, the two suffered no injury.

– Patron Saints Index

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Proverbs 30:5-9

Every word of God is unalloyed,
he is the shield of those who take refuge in him.
To his words make no addition,
lest he reprove you and know you for a fraud.

Two things I beg of you,
do not grudge me them before I die:
keep falsehood and lies far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, ‘the Lord – who is the Lord?’
or else, in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

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Luke 9:1-6

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.

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“Provide me only with the food I need”

As I write this, the book “Billion Dollar Whale” has just been released. It is a book written by two Wall Street Journal reporters detailing the life of excess and scandal surrounding businessman Jho Low. A prominent Malaysian politician shared an excerpt of the book recently, about a circus-themed birthday party that Jho Low threw for himself. The extravagance of the party led it to be dubbed the most expensive private party ever held in Las Vegas.

Over the past few years, details of the scandal surrounding Jho Low and the 1MDB saga have emerged, and the life of excess of certain parties involved using public money have angered the Malaysian people. If the details of the various reports are accurate, this would be the most mind-boggling scandal the world would have ever seen.

Today’s reading encourages a life of balance. When is enough, enough? The following line in the reading caught me: “Lest being full, I deny you… or being in want, I steal and profane the name of my God”. The scandal above has shown both sides of the coin – the alleged parties wanted more and so they stole, and being full, they still lived a life that was against all that God abhors. Like Parkinson’s Law, that states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion, so too does money – our lives expand to fill the money available at hand. Where and how do we draw the line? At what point do we reach sufficiency, and what is our definition of sufficiency? Will we be happy when we reach sufficiency, or when we give to others out of our sufficiency? Jesus advised his disciples not to take anything for the journey, trusting instead in God to provide for them for their necessities. In that trust, the Twelve set off.

And so too shall we set off, in our own approach to life, believing that God will see us through. If He waters the trees and clothes the flowers so beautifully, then what more shall He do for us? Perhaps the thing that we should ask ourselves is not how much we have, but out of what we have, how shall we give to others? Perhaps in sharing, we may experience for ourselves a taste of the riches of the Kingdom of God, and therein shall our treasure lie, therein shall our desire be.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the wisdom of discernment, to know where to draw the line between wanting more and needing more. Help us to live our lives in balance, knowing that you will provide for us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the roofs over our heads, the food in our stomachs, the jobs that we have and the ability to sleep soundly at night. We pray for those who are in need, that we may find a way to help them.

5 August, Sunday – Heavenly Crumbs

5 August 

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Exodus 16:2-4,12-15

The whole community of the sons of Israel began to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our heart’s content! As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people are to go out and gather the day’s portion; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.

‘I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel. Say this to them, “Between the two evenings you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have bread to your heart’s content. Then you will learn that I, the Lord, am your God.”’

And so it came about: quails flew up in the evening, and they covered the camp; in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thing delicate, powdery, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When they saw this, the sons of Israel said to one another, ‘What is that?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’ said Moses to them ‘is the bread the Lord gives you to eat.’

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Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal for you to be set free when the day comes. Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.

Try, then, to imitate God as children of his that he loves and follow Christ loving as he loved you, giving himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.

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John 6:41-51

The Jews were complaining to each other about Jesus, because he had said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ ‘Surely this is Jesus son of Joseph’ they said. ‘We know his father and mother. How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop complaining to each other.

‘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.’

________________

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation.

We’ve heard of the saying we lead by example. Our children see how we act and mimic our ways, good or bad, to our amazement sometimes. We may not be entirely conscious of this but every day, every moment, someone is observing us, and vice versa, and observers make judgments. We emulate, or criticize, we applaud or abhor.

God wants us to lead lives dedicated to Him, and in unity not just with the Holy Trinity, but with each and every one of us. The values that St Paul exhorts to in his letter to the Ephesians – charity, selflessness, gentleness, patience – are borne out of love… for God and for each other. If our lives reflect love, then people who observe us may be drawn to emulate the love, and in due course, come to know Christ Jesus. In such a way, then is our faith multiplied.

When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves, he not only wanted to feed his people, he wanted them to understand and believe in the power of God: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 14:11). He wanted them to have faith that even in such a tight situation with so little at hand, God would provide for the many thousands. He wanted them to look beyond the miracle and look for God in the miracle.

I believe that Jesus escaped into the hills on his own when he realized the people’s intention to crown him as king, because then they would see a figurehead and not the Divine God. They would miss the message. Perhaps as well, he wanted them to reflect on the works that he had done and the miracles they had seen, on their own and based on their own understanding. If the people understood and believed in God, then they would live their lives for God, multiplying their faith and others as well.

We may not see miracles such as these, but there are miracles happening around us every day if we look. God is present in each of these miracles. Let us learn to look for God in every miracle that we encounter.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to live lives of love, worthy to be called children of God, that others may see and learn about You and Your unending love. Help us in our own ways, to multiply our faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God Almighty for the wondrous miracles that He performs every day, from the moment we awake till we close our eyes.

4 Aug, Saturday – Hearing But Not Listening

Aug 4 – Memorial for St. John Mary Vianney, priest

In his youth, John Mary Vianney (1786-1859) taught other children their prayers and catechism. As a priest, was assigned to a parish which suffered from very lax attendance. He began visiting his parishioners, especially the sick and poor, spent days in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, did penance for his parishioners, and led his people by example. Crowds came to hear him preach, and to make their reconciliation because of his reputation with penitents.

He has been declared patron saint for all priests.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 26:11-16,24

The priests and prophets addressed the officials and all the people, ‘This man deserves to die, since he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’ Jeremiah, however, replied to the people as follows:

‘The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you. For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.’

The officials and all the people then said to the priests and prophets, ‘This man does not deserve to die: he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’

Jeremiah had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

________________ 

Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

________________

“For in truth it was the Lord who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.”

Now that my son has reached toddler-hood, it has taught me a thing or two about parenting. I’m far from being the perfect parent, but if trying to raise one toddler is a challenge, imagine shepherding an entire unruly flock that does not listen. I have to mean what I say, else my son would never take me seriously, or worse, step all over me. If I threaten a punishment, I would have to really do as I say. If I promise a reward, likewise I would have to follow through with a treat. He has learnt that I really do mean business, and is learning to make his choices and check his boundaries.

I suppose we are like this too — when God speaks to us we sometimes do not listen. We question and ‘check’ our boundaries too, sometimes with undesirable consequences, but we – like our children – learn that there are consequences to our actions and boundaries that we should not cross. We know all too well what happened to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt, when they disregarded God and worshipped a golden calf instead. You would imagine that after witnessing God’s miracles first-hand, they would be fully converted. But there were still the few whose hearts were hardened. Similarly, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart despite calamity after calamity until the ultimate sacrifice – the Egyptians’ first-born – was paid. Even in the reading of Jeremiah, he had warned that if the people of Jehoiakim did not repent their evil ways, misfortune and ruin of their city would befall them, as did the city of Shiloh hundreds of years before them.

History repeats itself yes, and sometimes we may have to be reminded several times before we take action or learn our lesson. If there are parents amongst you, you would only know too well the phrase, “I told you so!” or “Didn’t I tell you…?” or “Why don’t you ever listen?”. Maybe it is human nature to have selective hearing, or it is just the curious part of us trying to see how far we can push the line. We should be wiser, with the wisdom of hindsight and learning from our ancestors, but we never really are. But we can be, by asking God to open our hearts and exploring a deeper relationship with Him. If we have not built a bond with God, it is less likely that we would want to listen to someone that we are not close to, and even if we did listen, we would tune out almost immediately rather than being genuinely interested with what He had to say. God’s message is always to help us, not harm us. It is when we try to mix in our motives to justify what we think God is trying to tell us, that the message gets muddled up.

Let us then pray for the wisdom of discernment and the ability to drown out the ‘noise’ so that we can hear clearly when God speaks to us. Too long now have we had a one-way conversation with God, where we have been the ones talking; perhaps it is time now that we listen.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have guided us always to do the right thing, and we pray to overcome our stubbornness and distractions to listen to You, even in the gentlest whisper of a breeze.            

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for Your infinite patience and guidance, especially when we refuse to listen. Thank you for not giving up on us.

3 Aug, Friday – Good Enough

3 Aug

________________

Jeremiah 26:1-9

At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘The Lord says this: Stand in the court of the Temple of the Lord. To all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the Temple of the Lord you must speak all the words I have commanded you to tell them; do not omit one syllable. Perhaps they will listen and each turn from his evil way: if so, I shall relent and not bring the disaster on them which I intended for their misdeeds. Say to them, “The Lord says this: If you will not listen to me by following my Law which I put before you, by paying attention to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send so persistently to you, without your ever listening to them, I will treat this Temple as I treated Shiloh, and make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.”’

The priests and prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah say these words in the Temple of the Lord. When Jeremiah had finished saying everything that the Lord had ordered him to say to all the people, the priests and prophets seized hold of him and said, ‘You shall die! Why have you made this prophecy in the name of the Lord, “This Temple will be like Shiloh, and this city will be desolate, and uninhabited”?’ And the people were all crowding round Jeremiah in the Temple of the Lord.

 

________________ 

Matthew 13:54-58

Coming to his home town, Jesus taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters, too, are they not all here with us? So where did the man get it all?’ And they would not accept him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house’, and he did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

________________

“Is he not the carpenter’s son?”

The much-anticipated (at least in Singapore) movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is coming out in less than two weeks. If you’ve read the book on which the movie is based, you’ll know that this is a story of a Chinese-American girl meeting her boyfriend’s Singapore-based family for the first time, and, unbeknownst to her, he is from one of the richest families in Singapore. The book is littered with descriptions of a life of excess and material wealth, and how the protagonist tries to deal with the upper-class snobbery that comes her way. Everything about her and her background gets scrutinized to microscopic detail – her upbringing, her background, her beauty, financial standing, education – and she finds few allies and a lot of criticism.

That is probably snobbery at the extreme, but the fact is this — our opinion of a person or thing is formed within 5 seconds or less of an encounter. Our environment influences our opinions so that we form ideas about something based on associated factors, e.g. if clothes look dirty, we assume that it would be smelly too. If someone is smart, we assume he or she is a degree-holder and learned. Sometimes, the unexpected takes us by surprise. The small guy is strong, the tradesman is wise, the shepherd’s son is king. God uses the unexpected and humble to show us that great things too can come out of them. If He were to operate like how we do with our pre-conceived notions, then Jesus would not have been born in the lowliest of circumstances, in a manger surrounded by farm animals. He would have been born into a high-ranking family with an army at his command. David the shepherd-boy would not have been king, and a mightier, swashbuckling prince on a steed would have been the one to slay Goliath instead. Moses and Aaron would have confronted Pharaoh with a flaming, jewel-encrusted sword instead of a simple wooden staff. Why can’t the same potential come from the most unexpected of places?

On the flipside, our own myopia about others blinds us to our own abilities too. My friends, we are better than we believe ourselves to be. We think we need this and that to be better — more experience, a PhD, an MBA, a job with an investment bank. Yes, some of these things do help, but the lack of it does not write you off as incapable or without potential. We are the ‘small things’ that God uses to bring forth His bigger plan. There is wonder yet to be wrought from us, but only if we do not remain small-minded, and be open to the possibilities that can be worked through us by God. We too can be that carpenter’s son.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we are small indeed. We are a grain of sand in a sea of people. Yet each of us have the might and potential to be something bigger than ourselves. Help us to look within ourselves, and not judge our own selves based on our circumstances or other people’s comments and perceptions.

Thanksgiving: As the oak tree springs forth from a small acorn, so too can we achieve the same heights. Thank you Lord, for reminding us about this in the world around us.

2 Aug, Thursday – Begin Again

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop 

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do. Then this word of the Lord was addressed to me, ‘House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’

________________ 

Matthew 13:47-53

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

________________

“Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased”

I’ve been in a bit of a ‘dark place’ recently. Earlier in the year, I had such great hopes for the future, as I suppose we all do at the start of each year. I was determined not to be part of the mass of dreamers that fall to the wayside as the year unfolds. I was open to God and prayer, and I think like many people who have worked a long time, you reach a point where you start questioning if what you are doing is indeed what you were meant to do. I had such a strong conviction for what I thought God had in mind for me – my calling, if I may.

Then distractions and personal heartbreak got in the way and swept these dreams aside. I keep telling myself it is God’s test in everything to check my constancy and faith. I’ve since gotten over the hard bit, the grief, but the recovery is challenging. To get back to my old self, the believer in me – that is taking a little bit more time and effort to achieve. I want to get back to that place of possibility; the mind is willing but the body is weak, or maybe my faith is? I think this is like trying to get out of an addiction, which I won’t presume to be so easy, but rather, so psychologically difficult. My own challenges I am sure are nothing compared to what some people have gone through, and I cannot imagine what someone like Job would have felt in the midst of his own personal tragedies. As I question what God’s plans are for me, I feel like I am starting again from scratch, running on empty rather than ready to embrace the future.

I’d like to think that yesterday (as I write this) was my turning point – I was listening to a song and thought I heard the words “I will love you for your mistakes”. At that moment, I felt like this was something Jesus would say to me, “It doesn’t matter what has happened, I will still love you for who you are.” Maybe my plans didn’t turn out to be what I wanted it to be, but God is the potter and I am the clay. He is the one who will mould me and fashion me into something that will be pleasing to Him, that will be of purpose to fulfill His plan. Maybe as He fashions me, so am I to fashion my own plans, with His direction. Maybe even though things haven’t turned out as I have hoped, there are lessons to be learnt, quiet guidance to be gleaned, even in the darkest times. When I am weak, then He is strong, and in turn so too will I be strong, because Christ is my strength. And as I gather my strength, I will try again, just as He will try again with me.

I may feel like I’ve been scratching the bottom of the barrel, but that is only because the barrel needs to be emptied of all the emotions that link me to that dark place before it can be filled again with God’s grace till it runneth over. Then will I be ready to embrace the future.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: God Almighty Father, praise be to You! Steady my heart and my courage to embrace Your plans for me. Let me lean not on my own understanding, but on faith that You will see me through this.            

Thanksgiving: Thanks be to God our Father, for not giving up on me, for trying again with me even when I stumble, and for loving me despite my mistakes.

31 July, Tuesday – Of Seeds and Weeds

Jul 31 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim’s robes. He lived in a cave for a year, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Jeremiah 14:17-22

The Lord said to me:
Say this word to the people:
‘Tears flood my eyes
night and day, unceasingly,
since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people,
a most grievous injury.
If I go into the countryside,
there lie men killed by the sword;
if I go into the city,
I see people sick with hunger;
even prophets and priests
plough the land: they are at their wit’s end.’

‘Have you rejected Judah altogether?
Does your very soul revolt at Zion?
Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?
We were hoping for peace – no good came of it!
For the moment of cure – nothing but terror!
the Lord, we do confess our wickedness
and our fathers’ guilt:
we have indeed sinned against you.
For your name’s sake do not reject us,
do not dishonour the throne of your glory.
Remember us; do not break your covenant with us.
Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain?
Can the heavens produce showers?
No, it is you, the Lord.
O our God, you are our hope,
since it is you who do all this.’

________________

Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

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The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man

I saw a documentary once on hay harvesting, Victorian-style. The farmers first had to cut the hay, before leaving it out to dry. Naturally, they were subjected to the vagaries of the weather. Their efforts to cut the hay were also hampered by weeds whose long roots tangled in the blades of the machinery, causing the machine to jam. The frustrated farmers had to stop each time to dislodge the weeds before carrying on. Sadly, their hay harvesting turned out to be a failure as they were unable to complete it in time.

Our personal struggles with life are similar. God made us perfect and whole in the beginning, providing what is best for us, and in our lives we are given the choice of making our own decisions. Our moral compasses direct us in the way of God that we have been taught, but often we find that our efforts to do good are thwarted by distractions that try to lead us astray. We get tangled up in these distractions and have to disentangle ourselves in order to move on.

Yet, we need not end up like the farmers in the documentary. Our struggles need not be in vain. If we asked God to, He could help us rid the weeds in our lives so that we would never have to encounter problems with our daily ‘machinery’. We would not need to worry about tangled roots of weeds clumping in our lives creating havoc. If we tend to the weeds early, we may just be able to nip them in the bud.

God is the sower of good seed. He only wants what is best for us, and wants us to choose the right paths and make the right decisions. We used to have a saying in the kitchen when we were overwhelmed with orders, that we were “stuck in the weeds”. When our lives are overwhelmed with troubles, let us have faith that God will give us enough grace to get us out, and lift our “weeds” to Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to prune our lives that we may be able to get rid of the weeds that tangle us in our journey with You.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the times when You delivered us from our troubles and provided us with the help that we needed.