Tag Archives: annette soo

16 February, Friday – On Fasting

16 February – Friday after Ash Wednesday 

______________________

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.’

______________________

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.’

_________________________

“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 

______________________

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.’

______________________

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?’

_________________________

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 

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

______________________

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.’

_________________________

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

__________________

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.

_______________________

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.

______________________________

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.

29 December, Friday – The Spirit Of Giving

Dec 29 – Memorial for St. Thomas Becket, bishop, martyr

Thomas (1118-1170) was of Norman ancestry. He was educated at Merton Priory, Paris, Bologna, and Auxerre. He was a civil and canon lawyer, a soldier and officer. He was archdeacon of Canterbury, and was a Friend of King Henry II, as well as Chancellor of England. He was ordained in 1162 and was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury the next day. He opposed the King’s interference in ecclesiastical matters. He was exiled several times, and was eventually murdered (and martyred) in 1170 in the Cathedral at Canterbury, England.

– Patron Saint Index

______________________

1 John 2:3-11

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.
We can be sure that we are in God
only when the one who claims to be living in him
is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
My dear people,
this is not a new commandment that I am writing to tell you,
but an old commandment
that you were given from the beginning,
the original commandment which was the message brought to you.
Yet in another way, what I am writing to you,
and what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his,
is a new commandment;
because the night is over
and the real light is already shining.
Anyone who claims to be in the light
but hates his brother
is still in the dark.
But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light
and need not be afraid of stumbling;
unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness,
not knowing where he is going,
because it is too dark to see.

__________________________

Luke 2:22-35

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

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

__________________________

Whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked

Christmas season brings out the best, and also the worst in us. I was at Orchard Road (a prime shopping area in Singapore) over the weekend, and was caught in a massive jam coming out of Orchard, squeezed from left and right by the throng of Christmas shoppers and tourists. Cars were honking at each other, shoppers were colliding into each other with shopping bags and strollers, families were at loggerheads trying to determine what presents to buy… and we haven’t even covered what happens at home with the decorations and preparations for Christmas dinner! What a stressful period!

Shopping malls blare at you that this is the “season of giving” to tempt us into buying presents for everyone and their aunt. This is ‘guilt giving’, not the ‘spirit of giving’. If we want to look into what really is the spirit of giving, perhaps we should examine John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God’s giving is borne out of LOVE – a deep, deep love for us that is so unconditional that even when we have failed Him, He takes us back in His arms. A love that knows no bounds and asks no questions. His love for us is epitomized in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It is slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs. It is not self-seeking, nor will it fail.” God is putting into words what love for one another should feel like. It is not that He is never angry, but that He loves us enough to set His anger aside (remember when Abraham begged for Sodom?). God is Love, and that is how God wants us to love one another. If we are in the right spirit of love, then we are in union with God, for it is the most important commandment of all: Love one another. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” said Jesus in John 13:34-35.

As I write this, we are about 2 weeks to Christmas. Even as I wander the corridors of the heavily decorated shopping malls with Christmas carols ringing in my ears, it does not evoke anything ‘Christmas-y’ in me. As I write this, the reason is clear to me. For all of us out there who are still feeling like “it doesn’t feel like Christmas”, this I say to you — Christmas is about giving out of love. Not the kind of commercial giving as we know it, but an outpouring of love for someone from our hearts. We feed the hungry and give to the poor not for tax-deduction purposes or the ‘obligatory’ annual charitable act (or worse, guilt-manipulation!), but because we feel for the hungry, the forgotten, the unloved. We shelter the cold because we want them to feel the warmth of love, we visit the downtrodden because we know they too need the human touch. At home, we want to cook for those we love because we love them and want to provide for them. We want the joyous feel and the close bonds of a family gathered together, the laughter in the house, the smiles and the hugs. It doesn’t come to us, we evoke these feelings for them, and we evoke them out of love. If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, then let us love as he loves us. Let us give as God gives, with purpose in our giving, and put some love into it. For according to Victor Hugo, it is in loving another person that we see the face of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we approach the start of a new year, we pray to continually fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit, that we may give of ourselves a love to others as You have given to us.        

 Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for loving us first and loving us always, even when we have failed You. Thank you for not keeping score, for being patient with us, for being gentle and kind. Thank you for loving us even when everyone else has left us.

28 October, Saturday – Me too

Oct 28 – Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles

Simon was an apostle called the Cananean, or Zealot, because of his zeal for the Jewish law. He was not from Cana, nor a member of the Zealot party. Like all the Apostles, he was a convert, and was trained by St. Peter the Apostle. He evangelised in Egypt and Mesopotamia, though there are traditions of him being in several other locations. Several places claim to have been the site of his martyrdom – Abyssinians claim he was crucified in Samaria; Lipsius says he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia; Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Iberia.

– Patron Saint Index

Jude Thaddeus was the son of Cleopas who died a martyr, and Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross and who anointed Christ’s body after death. He was the brother of St. James the Lesser, and nephew of Mary and Joseph. He was the blood relative of Jesus Christ, and reported to look a lot like him. He may have been a fisherman, and was an apostle.

He was the writer of a canonical letter. He preached in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia with St. Simon. He was a healer and an exorcist, and could exorcise pagan idols, which caused the demons to flee and the statues to crumble. He was beaten to death with a club, then beheaded post-mortem in 1st century Persia.

His patronage of lost or impossible causes traditionally derives from confusion by many early Christians between Jude and Judas; not understanding the difference between the names, they never prayed for Jude’s help, and devotion to him became something of a lost cause.

– Patron Saint Index

____________________

Ephesians 2:19-22

You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.

___________________

Luke 6:12-16

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

____________________

When day came, He called His disciples to Himself, and from them He chose Twelve, whom He also named Apostles.

Today’s Gospel reading talks about Jesus choosing his apostles. The Twelve would function as his champions, his supporters and believers, who would uphold his teachings and ways. Yes, they are helpers in a way, but the definition of ‘apostle’ does not mention ‘help’ anywhere. The Apostles were Jesus’ support system.

Very recently, a whole host of actresses, interns, models and former employees of Harvey Weinstein stepped out to speak of their personal experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Mr. Weinstein himself. In what I am sure has been a PR nightmare, the Weinstein company sacked Mr. Weinstein. But the nightmare isn’t just confined to the company. In fact, the company will probably be acquired, undergo a name change, have a reshuffle in the board and with some luck, it will continue to exist as though all of this never happened. As for the women… the nightmare has only just begun, or will worsen, and they will live in constant fear of always being judged, gossiped, and scrutinised.

My heart breaks to read of reports of women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed and, in what clearly would be a case where they are the victims, the fingers are now pointed at them, the spotlight shining brightly on their ‘so-called’ values, casting shadows on their integrity. And this goes beyond just sexual harassment. This goes beyond gender. Anyone who has ever felt marginalised, bullied, taken advantage of, anyone who has felt depressed, or suicidal – this is for you too.

Why are we, as victims, so afraid to speak up and speak out? I’ll tell you why. Because we are afraid. Afraid that no one will believe us. Afraid that people will look at us and say “we had it coming” or that we’re “making a mountain out of a molehill”. Afraid that people will scrutinise our character and think so much less of us. We are already thinking less of ourselves, undignified and blemished. We have been made to believe, by our self-talk and by others’ talk, that we are somehow crazy, ugly, weak, worthless or ‘damaged goods’. And so we retreat. We build a wall of silence around ourselves, scared to speak, hoping that if we can keep the judgments from coming in, we can keep the problem out.

The Weinstein scandal however, has started a movement on media, a “Me too” movement. Women from everywhere are coming out to speak up about their own experiences. Women are now speaking up to show solidarity — that we aren’t alone, that we don’t have to build walls around us, and we don’t have to be ashamed for we have not done anything wrong. We may be victims, but we don’t have to feel victimised because we are strong. We are not crazy or worthless; we are strong and unique, and we should live our uniqueness. Sometimes though, we have retreated so far into ourselves that we need help to get back out, but we just don’t know how.

We’re not alone. We have to acknowledge that we need help, and we need a support system. We need to be around people who will cheer us on and raise us up. People who will believe in us all the way. And instead of building a wall, we will build a network of supporters who will look out for us, even in the darkest days.

The first reading today says that we are “no longer strangers or sojourners”. We are in this together! More importantly is that with Jesus as our capstone, “the whole structure is held together”. Jesus will send us the help that we need, He is in this together with us too. And He knows the turmoil in our hearts. He will never let our spirit fail, and never let us fall. He will provide us with the support system that we need, and He will be a part of it.

Jesus too needed his own support system. Knowing what he would face, it was imperative that he had his own squad of believers. He turned to God, and prayed the night to Him, and in the morning, he came down the mountain and picked out the Twelve out of all his disciples.

Let us trust God to help us find our support system, by lifting our petition to God. Let us acknowledge that no trial, no matter how big or small it may be, needs to be faced alone. We’re not crazy or weak, we are God’s children, and He will never let us fall.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in our times of trials where it is hard to even believe ourselves, surround us with people who will love and support us. Help us to believe in ourselves, and keep us secure in the knowledge that Your protective arms are all we need.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for our strength, for our families, loved ones and friends, who love us unconditionally, who are here to help us fight another day.

27 October, Friday – Check and balance

27 October 2017

____________________

Romans 7:18-25

I know of nothing good living in me – living, that is, in my unspiritual self – for though the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want. When I act against my will, then, it is not my true self doing it, but sin which lives in me.

In fact, this seems to be the rule, that every single time I want to do good it is something evil that comes to hand. In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates. This is what makes me a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

___________________

Luke 12:54-59

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud looming up in the west you say at once that rain is coming, and so it does. And when the wind is from the south you say it will be hot, and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the face of the earth and the sky. How is it you do not know how to interpret these times?

‘Why not judge for yourselves what is right? For example: when you go to court with your opponent, try to settle with him on the way, or he may drag you before the judge and the judge hand you over to the bailiff and the bailiff have you thrown into prison. I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the very last penny.’

____________________

Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord

I read today’s reading with a little wariness on how I should approach this. From the outset, today’s first reading deals with the constant struggle that man has between doing what is right by God, and yielding to sin — “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”.

Sin dwells in us, whether we know it or not. It is a question of how prevalent it is in our lives, how ‘free’ we let it be. When our eyes are opened to it, we may then question it and bit by bit, refrain from doing it in an effort to be a better person. But, as with any effort to kick a habit, it is not easy. Depending on how long we have let this sin rule our lives, such an effort could be Herculean, requiring mental discipline, unwavering commitment and time. So many things call out to distract us — procrastination, temptation from the very thing we are trying to avoid, trying to please other people. The struggle to stick with our intention is an internal one, and it is so easy to succumb. And when we do, we feel so frustrated and disappointed with ourselves, we feel miserable!

The reading today shows us that our ancestors suffered from the same issues as us thousands of years ago, so this is not new! Take comfort that we are not alone! How then, can we overcome our own weakness? “Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” The answer is in Christ Jesus. He will give us strength in our weakness, and enough grace to ride out the tough times, He will deliver us if we lift our problems to Him.

Yet this doesn’t mean that it won’t come back to tempt us again. We have Jesus who will protect us, only if we let Him, but we have to rely wholly upon Him. At any time when we falter, the probability of us falling back into sin is very great. On the flip side however, if there was no sin, then we would not have to rely on God for anything, thinking that we are invincible. Is this a controversial idea? I think not. I’ve always wondered why the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil even existed in the Garden of Eden in the first place. God has given us guidelines to live by, but I don’t think He wants to be a dictator of our lives. He has entrusted us our lives to live it as we see fit, trusting that we will make the right choices based on these guidelines. He has not bound our hands and feet, forcing us down a certain path. In fact, He lets us make our mistakes that we may hopefully learn from them. Sin exists as a check and balance for our lives. We make mistakes when we sin, we stray from the path. It is in these depths when we are scraping the barrel of desperation that we encounter the extent of God’s mercy. We discover the richness of God’s grace and the abundance of His unending love for us. When we find our way back to God, He is there celebrating our return like the Prodigal Son!

Our struggle with sin will be constant in our lives. But we have a powerful weapon and that is prayer. Let us pray to Christ Jesus to deliver us from our sins, to lead fulfilling lives, and to make the right choices.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help us find the strength for our daily struggle with sin. Deliver us from evil always, and grant us peace.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always being there to welcome us home no matter how far we have strayed, and how long and wrong we have gone. Help us to right our lives, and live in God’s ways forever.

26 October, Thursday – On Fire

26 October 2017

____________________

Romans 6:19-23

If I may use human terms to help your natural weakness: as once you put your bodies at the service of vice and immorality, so now you must put them at the service of righteousness for your sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you felt no obligation to righteousness, and what did you get from this? Nothing but experiences that now make you blush, since that sort of behaviour ends in death. Now, however, you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life. For the wage paid by sin is death; the present given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

___________________

Luke 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!

‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

____________________

I have come to set the earth on fire

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about my purpose in life. I have thought about it before, as a restless 20-something, fresh out of university, wondering what I should do in a world full of possibilities. Almost two decades later, I am still restless, still asking the same question. But while the restless me in my 20s was a more ‘youthful’, go-getter type that couldn’t wait to get started, the restlessness now in my late 30s is more urgent, more pressing.

Perhaps it is the idea of mortality – that we have a finite life here on earth – and to borrow the words of motivational writer Brendon Burchard, at the end of the day, a lot of us ask ourselves “Did we live? Did we love? Did we matter?” Are we all waiting for the ‘ah-hah’ moment, or a near-death experience to jolt us from our stupor before we begin to truly live? Our daily grind and stresses have caused us to live day by day, from one moment to another, not quite really experiencing life and not quite savouring nor appreciating the moment. Tired and depleted, most of us escape into the virtual world of social media and online games and movies, thinking that we need to give our brains a break, but even as we swipe through other peoples’ lives on Facebook and Instagram, the tragedy is that our own lives are passing us by, unfulfilled… unlived.

Life is the most precious gift of all that God has bestowed upon us. And on top of that, we each have been given a talent. It may not be much of a talent to you, but put to use, it can do amazing things. We can make a difference in someone’s lives just by being present. We can help others, starting with something small — a kind word, a greeting, a smile. The silence of a soul that has ceased to live and believe is the saddest sound of all. A smile or kind gesture is like a small spark that, given enough, would soon transform into a raging fire that will burn through our whole being and, as aptly put in today’s first reading, sanctify our souls to be given to God.

We have one life here on earth and we are accountable to this life. God has entrusted us with this life, and given us the creative license to live it as we see fit, only that we account for it at the end of our days. How then do we want to live this life? Believe me when I say that if you make a difference in someone else’s lives, you also make a difference in yours. It won’t matter what station we are at in life – bus driver, waitress, CEO – but making a difference will make us more fulfilled than we have ever been. If we do more of this, we will spread that feeling to others. If we do more of this, we will heal our own souls. We will live with a higher purpose in mind.

How then again, do you want to live your life today?

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: God Almighty, as we live our lives each day, help us to live it with purpose and passion, to help others, even as we help ourselves. Help us to be the spark that will start Your raging fire here on earth.

Thanksgiving: Father, we thank you for the gift of life, for our second chances, for the kindness that we receive from others. We thank you for giving us the ability to lead a full life, and we pray for Your help and guidance to live it fully.

17 October, Tuesday – Wisdom

Oct 17 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Ignatius (c. 50–107) was a convert from paganism to Christianity. He succeeded Peter as bishop of Antioch, Syria. He served during persecution of Domitian. During the persecution of Trajan, he was ordered to be taken to Rome to be killed by wild animals. On the way, a journey which took months, he wrote a series of encouraging letters to the churches under his care. He was the first writer to use the term The Catholic Church. He was an apostolic father and a martyr. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Legend says he was the infant that Jesus took into his arms in Mark 9.

– Patron Saint Index

____________________

Romans 1:16-25

I am not ashamed of the Good News: it is the power of God saving all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen!

___________________

Luke 11:37-41

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’

____________________

The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew
I’d like to touch on a very real trait that is well-known in Singapore society: ‘kiasu-ism’. The Hokkien term ‘kiasu’ denotes someone who is afraid to lose and would literally do anything to get ahead and stay ahead. Sometimes, this includes withholding information from other people, so as to have a “first mover advantage” or to place oneself in an important position because you possessed that information.
I once worked with a manager who liked to do that. In fact he even had a reputation in the office for not sharing important information, even with his own team members. During meetings with the clients and bosses, he would present this information, giving the impression that he was in the ‘know’ and therefore creating value for himself at the expense of his team. It’s difficult to work with people like this. I can understand their motives, though I may not agree with it. In this dog-eat-dog world, it really is the survival of the fittest, and if you can’t stay in the game, you would be out.
In today’s reading, St Paul condemns those who had the knowledge of God but refused to share it with others. God revealed this to them so that they would go forth and spread the Good News of the gospel. Some of these people felt privileged that such a revelation should come upon them and turned that privilege as a bargaining chip for position. They felt important, and believed that they were smart because people would look to them. Consumed by pride, they believed only in their own reasoning and the Word of God became obliterated.
Knowledge is a gift given to us by the grace of God. We know the things that we do because God made it so. Some people are smarter than others, but it doesn’t mean that they are more important. Perhaps others possess a gift for speaking, or a gift for the arts, that another person does not have. The Holy Spirit gives each of us special gifts as he sees fit (1 Cor 12:11). What we know about work and life is because we were given the smarts to do that by God. Our ability to digest numbers, recite the law, or comprehend technical terms is undeniably from our own efforts, but more importantly because God blessed us with the ability to understand these things.
So for those of us whom God has blessed, let us ask ourselves: what are we doing with the knowledge that God has given us? Are we sharing it as we should? Are we using it for the right purposes? Are we applying discernment to what we know? Are we giving Him glory? God gives us the wisdom to know Him, His word and His creations. If we ask, we would receive it. But it is a gift and, as with all of God’s gifts, if we use it unwisely, it may one day be taken away from us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, help us shed our ‘kiasu’ spirit and learn to share what we have with those who need it most.   
Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for giving us the wisdom to understand Your word and the wisdom to discern. We pray that we will not take this gift of knowledge for granted.

26 August, Saturday – Titles & Positions

26 Aug

______________

Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11, 4:13-17

Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, well-to-do and of Elimelech’s clan. His name was Boaz.

Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, ‘Let me go into the fields and glean among the ears of corn in the footsteps of some man who will look on me with favour.’ And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ So she set out and went to glean in the fields after the reapers. And it chanced that she came to that part of the fields which belonged to Boaz of Elimelech’s clan.

Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Listen, my daughter, and understand this. You are not to glean in any other field, do not leave here but stay with my servants. Keep your eyes on whatever part of the field they are reaping and follow behind. I have ordered my servants not to molest you. And if you are thirsty, go to the pitchers and drink what the servants have drawn.’ Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground. And she said to him, ‘How have I so earned your favour that you take notice of me, even though I am a foreigner?’ And Boaz answered her, I have been told all you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death, and how you left your own father and mother and the land where you were born to come among a people whom you knew nothing about before you came here.’

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. And when they came together, the Lord made her conceive and she bore a son. And the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has not left the dead man without next of kin this day to perpetuate his name in Israel. The child will be a comfort to you and the prop of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you and is more to you than seven sons has given him birth.’ And Naomi took the child to her own bosom and she became his nurse.

And the women of the neighbourhood gave him a name. ‘A son has been born for Naomi’ they said; and they named him Obed. This was the father of David’s father, Jesse.

______________

Matthew 23:1-12

Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

______________

As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Someone I know was recently incensed about a ‘shake-up’ in his department. The management there decided to change the job titles and grades of the staff in his department, and the lack of communication and the way it was managed (or mismanaged) caused a bit of strife amongst the staff. The management had to hastily do some ‘damage repair’, but the damage was already done.

We place great importance on our job titles — it shows progression on our CVs, and hierarchical importance in the chain of command. Even clients and customers would prefer to deal with someone who has authority, and that authority is seemingly depicted in the title on our business cards. It gives us a sense of importance, especially when our position is acknowledged by others.

Jesus issued a warning to his disciples, especially on the pursuit of titles. He must have known that it would be so easy for his disciples to be sucked into the practice of ‘vain glory’, and let the pursuit of the position overshadow the purpose of their work. The title was not important, it was the role. And Jesus reminds us not to go down the route of the scribes and Pharisees, lest we too forget the reason for our calling.

Jesus reminds us that we are all equal in God’s eyes. There is only one Rabbi, and only one God. We may be the president of the company, or a tea lady in the pantry; whatever our position in life, at the end of the day, when we stand before God to account for our lives here on earth, that position is not going to matter.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” says today’s Gospel. Let us rid ourselves of the feeling of self-importance and remind ourselves that it is our service over self that will determine our true standing in heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, forgive us for the times when we have allowed self-importance to overshadow our work, especially in our work for God. Help us to realize that it is not how close we are to a position of authority, but how we serve our brothers and sisters in Christ that matters.

ThanksgivingLord, we are thankful for our positions in life. Let us realize that the real privilege that comes with our positions is the ability to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.