Tag Archives: annette soo

5 June, Tuesday – Steering Through Stormy Seas

Jun 5 – Memorial for St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

Educated at the Benedictine monastary at Exeter, England where he became a monk, Boniface (c.673–754) was a missionary to Germany from 719, assisted by St. Albinus, St. Abel, and St. Agatha. They destroyed idols and pagan temples, and then built churches on the sites.

He was ordained a bishop and later became Archbishop of Mainz. He reformed the churches in his see, and built religious houses in Germany. He ordained St. Sola. He founded the dioceses of Bavaria, Thuringia, and Franconia. He evangelized in Holland, but was set upon by a troop of pagans and he and 52 of his new flock, included St. Adaler and St. Eoban were martyred.

Once in Saxony, Boniface encountered a tribe worshipping a Norse deity in the form of a huge oak tree. Boniface walked up to the tree, removed his shirt, took up an axe, and without a word he hacked down the six-foot wide wooden god. Boniface stood on the trunk, and asked, “How stands your mighty god? My God is stronger than he.” The crowd’s reaction was mixed, but some conversions were begun.

One tradition about St. Boniface says that he used the customs of the locals to help convert them. There was a game in which they threw sticks called kegels at smaller sticks called heides. Boniface brought religion to the game, having the heides represent demons, and knocking them down showing the purity of spirit.

He is the patron of many groups, including World Youth Day.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Peter 3:11-15,17-18

You should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace. Think of our Lord’s patience as your opportunity to be saved. You have been warned about this, my friends; be careful not to get carried away by the errors of unprincipled people, from the firm ground that you are standing on. Instead, go on growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory, in time and in eternity. Amen.

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Mark 12:13-17

The chief priests and the scribes and the elders sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, ‘Master, we know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, yes or no?’ Seeing through their hypocrisy he said to them, ‘Why do you set this trap for me? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.’ They handed him one and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they told him. Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ This reply took them completely by surprise.

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“Be on your guard not to be led into the error of the unprincipled and to fall from your own stability”

I have been following the developments of the political situation back home in Malaysia, right from the run-up to the elections till the implementation of reforms by the current government. Equivalent to a modern Shakespearean drama, the unfolding of events has also given rise to scenes of “he says, she says”, with politicians and media trying to ensnare one another in a game of words.

I saw one such interview of a young politician (whom I shall not name) whom the interviewer was clearly trying to corner in her line of questioning. The said politician deftly manoeuvered the situation with a series of comebacks and responses which were very admirable.

Experience in the media spotlight has, no doubt, given this politician a trump card; however from the conviction in the responses given, it also seemed clear that a strong set of principles has given this politician a firm foundation from which to fire off these responses without getting caught with one’s foot in one’s mouth.

The Gospel reading today isn’t much different from the politics of present-time. The Pharisees and Herodians were sent to corner Jesus, hoping that he would trip up over his words. But Jesus knew what they were about, and not only deftly answered the question, but point-blank asked them “Why are you testing me?” Life will always be peppered with people and situations meant to trap us and test us, people who want to shake us and expose to the world our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and thus shame us. That could ruin us. It could bring down our morale and ruin our reputation. It could cause us to hide in anger and embarrassment. Or we could maneuver it into a positive experience instead, should we have a firm set of principles to fall back on.

How strong our faith is, and how unshakeable our moral compass is, will determine how well we navigate through the storms of life. One false step and we could smash into the rocks, one wrong turn and we could end up miles off our route. A single moment of giving in to fear could mean the sinking of our lives as we know it, and those who depend on us will go down as well. We do not know when this time will come, when tests will be laid at our feet. But every day is a new day to train our minds and hearts to be ready for when it happens. Every day, we have to learn to don the armour of God through prayer and reconciliation, by living an upright life with the fear of God within us. When that day comes, may we be found blameless and ready to steer safely through the storm.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, many are out there trying to trap us with their words and wiliness. We pray that we may hold steadfast in our faith so as not to fall into their trap.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks for guiding us through the rough times in our lives and always being for us a beacon of hope and salvation.

4 June, Monday – We Have Enough

4 June

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2 Peter 1:2-7

May you have more and more grace and peace as you come to know our Lord more and more.

By his divine power, he has given us all the things that we need for life and for true devotion, bringing us to know God himself, who has called us by his own glory and goodness. In making these gifts, he has given us the guarantee of something very great and wonderful to come: through them you will be able to share the divine nature and to escape corruption in a world that is sunk in vice. But to attain this, you will have to do your utmost yourselves, adding goodness to the faith that you have, understanding to your goodness, self-control to your understanding, patience to your self-control, true devotion to your patience, kindness towards your fellow men to your devotion, and, to this kindness, love.

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Mark 12:1-12

Jesus went on to speak to the chief priests, the scribes and the elders in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug out a trough for the winepress and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce from the vineyard. But they seized the man, thrashed him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another servant to them; him they beat about the head and treated shamefully. And he sent another and him they killed; then a number of others, and they thrashed some and killed the rest. He had still someone left: his beloved son. He sent him to them last of all. “They will respect my son” he said. But those tenants said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. Now what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this text of scripture:

It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone.

This was the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see?

And they would have liked to arrest him, because they realised that the parable was aimed at them, but they were afraid of the crowds. So they left him alone and went away.

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“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion”

I was having a conversation with a close friend recently about how we do not ‘own’ our children – we are merely guardians or stewards of them, entrusted to us by God to raise, provide for, and protect until such a point where they are capable to live out the plans that God has laid out for them individually. Not our plans for them, but God’s plans. Our duty as parents is to empower them and instill in them the proper skills and values to guide them on their own adventure – their walk with God.

God has a plan for each one of us. We may not know what that plan is, but faith and prayer for guidance to doing His will, will reveal that plan eventually. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have enough: not enough money, experience, time, brains, resources, energy… But we do. God would not give us something that is so beyond our capabilities that we would not be able to execute it. No knowledge? He will present the resources. No time? Help will come to relieve us. No experience? He will give us the experience, and the mentors to get us there. All we have to do is pray.

I know it seems hard to believe and it is easier said than done, but it is true. God our Father, generous and merciful and loving, has given us the gifts and promises to empower us to live our lives to the fullest potential, to serve others in His name. He has given us the tools and values, and then given us the liberty to exercise our creative licenses. He does not tell us how to use them, rather He gives us the responsibility to use them wisely. As St Peter says in today’s reading, we have to add to our faith “virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.” We need to keep adding, as a life-long process, to our God-given ‘tool kit’ the tools necessary to carry us forward and to withstand the temptations and evils of the world that would otherwise sway us off-path.

We cannot spend our years being afraid to live them because we think we do not have enough. Fear holds us back into the arms of the comfort zone. If we take our promises and our gifts, and not use it or use it unwisely, whatever we have then may yet be taken away from us. Denying ourselves of what God has given us is akin to denying God Himself. God has given us a most precious gift — life. How we live that life is a testament to how we consecrate God in our lives. A life lived for God in service of others in the name of love — that is the highest devotion that we should strive towards — hard as it may be, for that is the life that Jesus lived for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the courage to live up to the promises and gifts You have given us. Guide us towards the life You have planned for us and help us to live it to the best of our abilities.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise for entrusting us with our lives and the promises You have given us. We pray that we will not squander them, but use it in service of others.

3 June, Sunday – The Ultimate Promise

3 June

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Deuteronomy 5:12-15

The Lord says this: ‘Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for the Lord your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your ox nor your donkey nor any of your animals, nor the stranger who lives with you. Thus your servant, man or woman, shall rest as you do. Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with mighty hand and outstretched arm; because of this, the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the sabbath day.’

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2 Corinthians 4:6-11

It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown.

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Mark 2:23-3:6

One sabbath day Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick ears of corn as they went along. And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the sabbath day that is forbidden?’ And he replied, ‘Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’

He went again into a synagogue, and there was a man there who had a withered hand. And they were watching him to see if he would cure him on the sabbath day, hoping for something to use against him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up out in the middle!’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it against the law on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?’ But they said nothing. Then, grieved to find them so obstinate, he looked angrily round at them, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was better. The Pharisees went out and at once began to plot with the Herodians against him, discussing how to destroy him.

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“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

I have recently been trying to teach my son about making and keeping promises. It still needs some work, but so far, we have been making promises with the linking of our pinkies, and for the ultimate important promises, sealing the pinky promise with a kiss. He knows that if he breaks a promise, he will break his mama’s heart (or at least that is what I tell him).

The covenants in the times of the Old Testament were sealed with blood, through the sacrifice of the first of the flock for the atonement of sin. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” says Hebrews 9:22. A life for a ‘new’ life, cleansed by sacrifice.

As we are reminded annually on Holy Thursday, right into Good Friday, Jesus became that sacrificial lamb for us. It was His blood that was shed for our sins, His blood that sealed the covenant for our salvation, and His body that was broken that we may have a new life in God. We are cleansed by the spilling of His holy blood.

When we partake in the Eucharist, we remember the price that was paid for our lives, a price that is not to be taken lightly. If we proceed forth to receive the Eucharist nonchalantly, then are we honorably acknowledging the price of our redemption? Are we worthy of our share in the Lord’s Supper? 1 Corinthians 11:27 puts it very simply that “therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” We are called to reflect inwardly on our conduct and manner, to examine ourselves – are we in a position that warrants our partaking in this sacred covenant?

This is not so different from what we tell our children about making and breaking promises. God sealed His promise to us with His Son, and the Lord knows that if we break that promise, we will break His heart.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the Holy Spirit to cleanse us that we may be made worthy of Your promises.

Thanksgiving: Thanks be to God, for His Holy Covenant with us sinners!

17 April, Tuesday – Waters of Life

17 April 
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Acts 7:51-8:1

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

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

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep. Saul entirely approved of the killing.
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John 6:30-35

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

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

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

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

What happens when our body is dehydrated? According to research, we can get by a few days without food, but not quite without water. Water is crucial for our body to function, as it makes up roughly 50%-70% of our body weight. Did you know that as little as a 1% dehydration rate can adversely affect our mood, attention, memory and motor abilities?

What happens when our hearts are ‘dehydrated’? Do they not share the same effects as a dehydrated body? Without the presence of God, do we not feel lost and out of kilter, unfocused without a higher purpose to strive towards? Do we not feel weaker in will because we lack the faith in something bigger than ourselves? Without God to depend on, don’t we feel bitter, angry and depressed; and, in our bitterness, do we forget gratitude for the things that have gone well for us, for the present blessings that come our way daily? Do we not feel like we are running around in circles, or stagnant in our lives, stuck in our victim mentality, refusing to move because we are too much in a “woe is me” situation? This is what ‘spiritual dehydration’ does to us.

Our fasting during the Lenten period was a metaphorical reminder to us of what it could be like to go through life without God. The more we remove food from our lives, the more we seek it and, due to its scarcity, the more we appreciate it. We hungered during our fast, yet God sustained us by answering our prayers for strength. When we empty ourselves fully and sincerely, only then are we able to receive Christ in full measure.

I am a sinner, and God knows my trespasses, as He does yours. Yet, He offers us the waters of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, the spring of everlasting life. My soul thirsts for the Lord, though I have sinned. Yet for those of us who have sinned, is not our thirst for the Lord great, like a deer who thirsts for water? And is not God’s ‘thirst’ to save us as strong, if not stronger than our thirst for Him? Jesus, the font of Life, asked a Samaritan woman for a drink – a woman who belonged to a race that had a long-standing opposition to the Jews, who had had many husbands, yet was unmarried to her current one. She was searching, just as we are, for the way and the truth, and Jesus was offering it to her, in exchange for her thirsty heart.

Let us hold out our hearts to Jesus, and ask the Lord to fill our cup to overflowing; empty out our hearts to follow Him, like a desert that lies barren to the sun and the wind, with the knowledge and faith that in its place, He will transform our hearts into an oasis of greenery, one that will thirst no more.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, You are the fountain of Life, the unending waters that will wash us clean and quench our thirst. Lord, may we seek You always, that we may hunger or thirst no more.

ThanksgivingLord, though I am unworthy, You still offer me the cup of Life. Thank you for thirsting after my heart though I am a sinner.

16 April, Monday – Steadfast and Saved

16 April 
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Acts 6:8-15

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.
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John 6:22-29

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, his disciples saw him walking on the water. Next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
Jesus answered:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs
but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
Do not work for food that cannot last,
but work for food that endures to eternal life,
the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you,
for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’
Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’
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But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke

My son is 2 years old now and is at a most impressionable age. He is constantly observing his surroundings, the people around him, and absorbs details like a sponge. It surprises me sometimes when he says certain things, and I wonder where he learnt them from. He is developing his identity and character, making this time of his life all the more important to instil the right values and teachings in him – teachings that I hope and pray as a mother, will carry him well when he heads off to school, and with that, life.

One of my worst fears is school bullying. No parent wants to find out that their child has been bullied, or worse, that their child is the bully – either way it is heartbreaking to hear. I can’t be there for everything that my son will go through. I know that he will have to learn the hard knocks in life, or maybe he simply won’t want to open up to me and I will just have to wait patiently by the sidelines until he is ready to reach out. But I do hope that I can teach him well enough for him to know that if he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, he can at least talk to God and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help.

In Stephen’s situation, false witnesses were called upon to taint his character and speak ill of him. They accused him of blasphemy when they themselves were the blasphemous ones. They did all that because they couldn’t win against him. And so they resorted to verbal abuse and later, as we know, physical abuse and death.

People, especially children, fear being bullied and sadly, most will join in the bullying to avoid being picked on by the bully. Bullies bully because they don’t want to look weak. They need to feel a sense of security, and their strength over a ‘weaker’ person makes their position validated in their minds. What could Stephen have done? He could have fought back. He could have remained a victim. But that would not be the kind of person God called him to be. The Bible tells us not to take vengeance, for “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Jesus goes on to say that if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn, and offer him your other cheek too (Matthew 5:39). Jesus challenged us further by exhorting us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Stephen neither retaliated, nor did he become a victim. Instead, he stood steadfast in truth and faith in God, and God was with him.

It pains me to know that this is easier said than done and as humans, we are fragile beings with fragile emotions. My son is not exempt from that, neither is anyone for that matter. But I hope that I can help to instil a faith in him that is strong enough to withstand it if it ever happens. I hope that he understands that he can “call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and [be] saved” from his enemies (Psalm 18:3). I hope that he knows that truth and love will prevail in the end, and that there are more rewards for him to be steadfast on the side of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, for our children and all those who are silently suffering their tormentors and bullies – please give them strength, comfort and a listening ear. May their seedlings of faith in you grow as you stand with them, even as others stand against them.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us that there is a better path to follow. It hurts, but you will sooth our hearts and show us a higher purpose, and we thank you for that.

15 Apr, Sunday – Out Of Ashes

15 Apr – Third Sunday of Easter

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Acts 3:13-15,17-19

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

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

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1 John 2:1-5

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

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

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Luke 24:35-48

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

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

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

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“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name…”

We have survived Lent, we have carried our own crosses for 40 days, we have fasted and abstained. We have confessed, repented, and we have celebrated the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. We are also lucky. We have the benefit of hindsight of more than two thousand years to reflect on the resurrection and what it means to us. We are able to do a ‘post-resurrection review’ (for lack of a better term), at least to a much better extent than the early followers of Christ.

Those who had witnessed the cruelty meted out to Christ at the hands of his captors, followed by his crucifixion, would no less be confused, doubtful and afraid. Had this man really been the Messiah as people said he was, in which case why then did God let these things happen to him? If Jesus could raise the dead and heal the blind, why then could he not send down a bolt of lightning to silence his captors and angels to free him from the cross? The soldiers at the foot of the cross mocked Jesus, asking him to save himself. Perhaps they were expecting a miracle to happen, not realizing that they would soon be witness to one.

We know now that all these things had to happen for God’s plan to materialize. The resurrection of Christ is a metaphor of our own struggles in life. Whatever demons we are fighting within ourselves, they are constantly taunting us to save ourselves, telling us that if we can’t, then we are weak. But the thing is, we can’t save ourselves. We can’t do it alone. We need God to help us, we need to depend on God for the emancipation from our struggles. We think we can do it alone and probably, to a certain extent, we could; but at some point, we will hit a roadblock and exhaust our own capabilities. We crash and burn and at our rope’s end, that is where the miracle happens — out of the ashes of our old selves, a new us is reborn in Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Out of ashes into freedom, out of dying into life,” sings Steve Green in his song “Out of Ashes”. We ‘die’ to our old selves, not only during Easter when we renew our baptism vows, but every single day that we surrender to God for help. We die to stubbornness, we die to pride, we die to addiction, to lust, to unfaithfulness. We die to the self that God abhors and in its place – in the name of forgiveness, mercy and love – He transforms us into an image more like Him, every day. He frees us to love and to live our best selves. This is all part of our transformation. It is hard. It is painful. But through fire we are tested, and we emerge on the other end victorious and full of grace.

Out of the ashes He is risen! And so are we. Like a phoenix, we must first burn to rise again. Out of the ashes, we are entwined with Christ in His resurrection. Let us celebrate our renewal and our rebirth into freedom.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: We pray O Lord, for the strength, obedience, and willingness to surrender to God the transformation of our lives according to His plan for us.

Thanksgiving: Thanks be to God, for the risen Christ and for our own rising from our ashes!

16 February, Friday – On Fasting

16 February – Friday after Ash Wednesday 

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Isaiah 58:1-9

Thus says the Lord: Shout for all you are worth, raise your voice like a trumpet. Proclaim their faults to my people, their sins to the House of Jacob.

They seek me day after day, they long to know my ways, like a nation that wants to act with integrity and not ignore the law of its God.

They ask me for laws that are just, they long for God to draw near: ‘Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?’

Look, you do business on your fast-days, you oppress all your workmen; look, you quarrel and squabble when you fast and strike the poor man with your fist.

Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high. Is that the sort of fast that pleases me, a truly penitential day for men?

Hanging your head like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me – it is the Lord who speaks – to break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor,

to clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin? Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over.

Your integrity will go before you and the glory of the Lord behind you. Cry, and the Lord will answer; call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’

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Matthew 9:14-15

John’s disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast.’

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“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?”

I recently overheard a conversation between two people about fasting during the Lenten period. They had been debating as to the right way to fast, and what one should abstain from. It got me thinking about my own plan for fasting and abstinence and if I had been doing it right at all.

For those of us who have been wondering, as I have, today’s readings address our (mis)conceptions on the practice. I have an acquaintance who used to tell me what he would do during Lent, and having said it rather matter-of-factly, I – being new to the faith at the time – naively thought it was pretty admirable. With some enlightenment however, I realise and hold till this day, that our fasting and abstinence is like prayer — a conversation and commitment between our own selves and God. What we do, we do for God, and not for anyone else. Our strength for this period comes from God; our wanting to be better for Him, and our love for Him – and, in return, His love for us – will provide us with the necessary strength to see it through. Our penance during abstinence may also be a big sacrifice for us, requiring considerable effort on our part, but just as our commitment to God is only between us and Him, so too is our sacrifice. It does not need reminding, for God knows, and it doesn’t need pats on the back from anyone. God will provide us the encouragement we need.

God reminds us as well in today’s readings that fasting should not just be for ourselves, but OF ourselves, i.e. we set aside our personal needs for others. I do not mean this to imply that we have been selfish people; rather we learn to put others’ needs before ours, a service to others. As Christians, we are not truly disciples of Jesus until we learn to serve as Jesus did, not because we should but because we are spurred on by brotherly/sisterly love for one another. As Gospel says, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11).

Jesus also implies in today’s Gospel reading that we should fast, not because religious practice demands it of us, but because his absence causes us great sorrow: “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Absence makes the heart fonder, evidencing the sincerity of our feelings for a person; likewise with Jesus. Our fast should come from the heart, because we yearn for Christ in our empty hearts. When we empty ourselves fully and sincerely, only then are we able to receive Christ in full measure.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for encouragement during this Lenten period. Strengthen us when we are weak, and help us to remain steadfast in this journey of Lent.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for staying by us. Our journey would not be possible without You. Our sacrifice is nothing compared to Your sacrifice for us. May our penance be sufficient to make us whole again with You.

15 February, Thursday – Choose Life

15 February – Thursday after Ash Wednesday 

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses said to the people: ‘See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he would give them.’

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Luke 9:22-25

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The Son of Man 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.’

Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?’

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Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

A lot has been said recently about people in powerful positions who abused those positions for their own personal gain, be it for sexual pleasure or financial riches, or position. When news of that breaks, it grips society, no less because these are usually people elected to office, trusted by people, seen as mentors and leaders, loved by others. There is a sense of betrayal because we had, more often than not, held this person in high esteem, and he/she did not turn out to our expectations.

In a sort of twisted sense of reality, sometimes we try to justify that person’s change in character. Perhaps he was arm-twisted into the situation, or that such a position of power is stressful hence leading to this change. The sad reality is that sometimes we accept it as ‘normal’ behaviour and close an eye to it, or even blame ourselves for it, especially for personal encounters. Each of us are called to account for our own conduct here on earth. Our job is not to justify or feel guilty for the conduct of others, but to pray for those who have disappointed us and have gone askew.

God gives authority over men to those whom He chooses. He anoints rulers, gives wealth to those whom He pleases. Yet He who bestows can also take it away. The Bible is dotted with anecdotes of seemingly ordinary people who were chosen by God to lead His people because they were upright and of good character, God-fearing and honourable. Their moral compass would serve as the people’s guide. Yet some of them, when they had power, misaligned their moral compass, and in so doing turned away from God. As God did with David when David killed Uriah the Hittite, so can God do with the people whom He has elected to power and position.

Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that there is no profit for those who gain the whole world but in so doing, lose themselves. What legacy would we leave for our family, and those whom we serve? It is not an easy journey to follow God — Jesus tells us that we would have to endure our own crosses. But if we love God whole-heartedly, it makes our daily crosses easier to bear. God’s love will also provide us the ‘true north’ for our own moral compasses, ensuring that we choose life, an everlasting life with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us to make the daily decisions in our lives that choose a life with you, and give us the strength for the way.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being our guide in life’s journey, for bringing us back to the path when we have gone astray.

14 February, Wednesday – Reflection, Repentance, Return

15 February – Ash Wednesday 

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Joel 2:12-18

‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent. Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent, will not leave a blessing as he passes, oblation and libation for the Lord your God?

Sound the trumpet in Zion! Order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, call the people together, summon the community, assemble the elders, gather the children, even the infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his bedroom and the bride her alcove. Between vestibule and altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, lament. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, the Lord! Do not make your heritage a thing of shame, a byword for the nations. Why should it be said among the nations, “Where is their God?”’

Then the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land, took pity on his people.

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2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

We are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God. As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.

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Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

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Behold, now is a very acceptable time; Behold now is the day of salvation

We are on the cusp of celebrating a new year, according to the Chinese calendar, and with just shy of a week left (as I write this), everyone is preoccupied with cleaning, shopping, cooking. It’s out with the old and in with the new!

Ironically, today also marks the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence. As with most things, there are two sides to the coin. While we prepare to herald in a new year and hope for new (good) luck, how prepared are we in our hearts to receive the tidings of new beginnings? Have we reflected upon our lives in the preceding months? Where we have fallen short? Do we know where that was and have we repented for it? Have we scrutinized our hearts and conduct enough to say, “Lord, I have learnt! And now I return”? And how are we returning to God? Are we returning with a subconscious nonchalance or are we returning with our hearts in our hands?

If I may speak candidly, Ash Wednesday this year will bear some significance for me. Today is the day that I will separate myself from an untenable situation that I let prolong for far too long. God has been quietly showing me all the signs but each time I negotiated to stay, to test it out, and see how far I could push myself. Then one night not too long ago, I lifted my prayer wholeheartedly up to God and said, “If I am too dense or stubborn, open my eyes Lord and show me the way!” In that moment, torn between the dilemma of staying or going, I surrendered my future up to God.

I have made this prayer several times to God before, but I understand now, reading today’s second reading, what God means when He says, “In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Though I had prayed the same prayer countless times, I had only done so half-heartedly, on my terms. In that moment when I surrendered my prayer to God, I was desperate and indecisive, tired of being blind to God’s guidance, and of my own stubbornness. I knew I had those faults, but I also recognized and accepted that I couldn’t fix them on my own. In that moment, I accepted that it was no longer my terms, but God’s will. In that moment, in my situation, God said, “This now, is an acceptable time, and I will help you.” And He did. He opened my eyes, and showed me the way.

The Lord implored us in the first reading, “Return to me with your whole heart”, with a reminder that God is full of kindness and mercy, slow to anger. The process leading up to today, while liberating, has also been painful, but then God reminds us that all pain of correction is only temporary. He has a better path laid out for us, and we need to keep the faith. This period of Lent is a time for inward reflection, a time for surrender, for forgiveness. Let this too be a time when God says to all of us, “This now, my child, is an acceptable time”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, during this period of Lent, help us stay the course and keep the faith, in prayer, reflection, and repentance, and transform our hearts in the process to turn back to you.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for your kindness and mercy, for your patience when we seek our terms instead of surrendering to your will. Thank you for showing me the way, for opening my eyes when I was too blind to see that my terms were doing more harm than good. Blessed be God forever!

30 December, Saturday – New Year Resolution

30 December 2017

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1 John 2:12-17

I am writing to you, my own children,
whose sins have already been forgiven through his name;
I am writing to you, fathers,
who have come to know the one
who has existed since the beginning;
I am writing to you, young men,
who have already overcome the Evil One;
I have written to you, children,
because you already know the Father;
I have written to you, fathers,
because you have come to know the one
who has existed since the beginning;
I have written to you, young men,
because you are strong and God’s word has made its home in you,
and you have overcome the Evil One.
You must not love this passing world
or anything that is in the world.
The love of the Father cannot be
in any man who loves the world,
because nothing the world has to offer
– the sensual body,
the lustful eye,
pride in possessions –
could ever come from the Father
but only from the world;
and the world, with all it craves for,
is coming to an end;
but anyone who does the will of God
remains for ever.

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Luke 2:36-40

There was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

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Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, never have been. I think this is because I’ve been apathetic for the most part, and totally undisciplined for the other. I used to receive annual diaries and planners that would remain as they were given to me – pristinely clean. But something this year has shifted in me, a sense of urgency if you will. Last year, I bought a journal for myself for the first time in my life, telling myself this year would be different from the last, and endeavouring to make it happen. For the first quarter of the year, that journal remained blank. Then suddenly around the month of April, a few notes appeared here and there. Gradually the pages filled up with more concrete ideas, as I journalled more about my life’s purpose. As I reflected, I constantly questioned what it is that God has called me to do, and what I can do with the gifts that He has given me. In fact, I sought to answer what those gifts were in the first place. I feel that each of us must have a purpose, and while I am still finding mine, no doubt that it is clearer to me now that I have started to put my thoughts on paper, and this clarity has led to a more defined plan, with milestones and timelines.

Many times at the end of the year, we make resolutions that don’t really stick: losing weight, getting fit, going to the gym x no. of times a week, being a better spouse / son / daughter, climbing a mountain, visiting places. Then life gets in the way and we get distracted and side-tracked. Back in high school, my English teacher gave us a project at the start of the year to write down our resolutions, and at the end of the year, she gave them back to us. I couldn’t recognise those resolutions, though it was clearly my handwriting. I had written them down and locked them away in my mind, never to be unearthed. Now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), I realised that all my previous resolutions were no more than fluff because they had no sense of purpose. When there is no purpose, they become weak resolutions. There is no resolute behind the resolution! But as I started asking myself about my life’s purpose, I also found myself praying more about it, asking God to show me the way. Though I have not seen the whole plan yet, God has, throughout this year, shown me little things that have led from one thing to another, like a little trail of breadcrumbs. I am certain that as I pick up on this trail and start acting on it, God will reveal His plan for me.

My point is this: if we make resolutions without a plan or purpose, we don’t attach a sense of urgency to it. Why are we doing it in the first place? And how are we going to do it? If it is unclear to us, we can’t expect that we will stick to it for long. And if we have no discipline or patience, chances are they won’t be permanent. So, what kind of resolutions are we making for 2018? Are we making resolutions of the world, or of God? Whatever our resolutions may be, let us attach a higher purpose to it, praying and asking God for guidance and wisdom, acting in faith that He will reveal His plan for our life in time.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we pray for wisdom to set goals to fulfill a life that You have planned for us, perseverance to hold steadfast to it, and faith to see it through till the end.

Thanksgiving – A brand new year approaches us oh Lord. Thank you for the blessing and opportunity to do something right and purposeful in our lives. May what we do not be “me-centric”, but focus instead on those around us, and on your purpose for each and every one of us.