Tag Archives: annette soo

21 April, Friday – Fighting for the Truth

21 Apr – Memorial for St. Anselm, bishop & doctor

Anselm (1033-1109) was born of Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, he wanted to enter religious life, but his father prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon his mother’s death, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as abbot, before later becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm was a theological writer and counsellor to Pope Gregory VII, Pope Urban II, and William the Conqueror. He opposed slavery and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He fought King William Rufus’ encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independences of the Church, and was exiled. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at the Council of Bari in 1098. He strongly supported celibate clergy. King Henry I invited him to return to England, but they disputed over investitures, and Anselm was again exiled in 1106.

He was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages, and was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.

No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.”

  • Anselm, Opera Omnis, Letter 112
  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 4:1-12

While Peter and John were talking to the people the priests came up to them, accompanied by the captain of the Temple and the Sadducees. They were extremely annoyed at their teaching the people the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They arrested them, but as it was already late, they held them till the next day. But many of those who had listened to their message became believers, the total number of whom had now risen to something like five thousand.

The next day the rulers, elders and scribes had a meeting in Jerusalem with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, Jonathan, Alexander and all the members of the high-priestly families. They made the prisoners stand in the middle and began to interrogate them, ‘By what power, and by whose name have you men done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed them, ‘Rulers of the people, and elders! If you are questioning us today about an act of kindness to a cripple, and asking us how he was healed, then I am glad to tell you all, and would indeed be glad to tell the whole people of Israel, that it was by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence, today. This is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone. For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.’

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John 21:1-14

Jesus stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.

It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.

As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

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But many of those who heard the word came to believe

Nobel-prize winner Malala Yousafzai is a staunch advocate for education, especially for girls. What started off as a movement in her native home in the Swat district in Pakistan is now an international campaign, with supporters like Angelina Jolie and the Obamas. Malala took the brave road laden with trials and obstacles to have her voice heard — she was threatened and finally shot at in an assassination attempt by the Taliban, and all this before she was 16 years old. She lived and recovered, and her message is now heard all over the world.

Sometimes when we defend the truth, we will find opposition from naysayers. Critics attempt to question our credibility by tainting our image. People start to isolate us. Who will hear us?

Peter and John faced similar adversity when they spoke of Jesus’ resurrection. The priests and Sadducees arrested them and threw them into prison in an attempt to silence them. But this only fuelled the spread of the resurrection news, and the number of believers grew and grew.

The point is this – sometimes, it is hard to defend the truth and what we believe in. We will face challenges from all fronts — people will laugh at us, family may criticise us, friends may ostracise us. Lies and rumours about us will spread. Even people who have no association with us will claim familiarity and spread all kinds of falsehoods. It will be the loneliest place on earth to be, fighting in our corner. But that is the thing, God is truth. And while it is lonely for us on earth, if we are on the side of truth, then God is on our side, in heaven. He will have a way of making things happen; we need not understand how, but have faith that it will happen, according to His will, His way, in His time.

It is hard to fight for the truth alone. But Peter and John had full faith in God because they believed strongly in what they had witnessed, and believed that to be the truth. God promised that he would never leave us alone nor forsake us, and He did not abandon Peter and John. In fact, He turned the situation on its head and multiplied the number of believers. Eventually Peter and John were released.

I realise that such situations may not yield similar results. Sadly, not every story has a happy ending. But it is my hope that we will be encouraged by God’s promise that He will be our help, which will lead us to hold on steadfastly to what we believe in. Maybe one day we will be called to testify, I don’t know. If I were in Malala’s shoes, I don’t know if I would have half her courage. But she stood for what she believed in, and in the end, truth prevailed. There is hope yet my friends, to stand by the truth, and it is my hope that truth will prevail.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the courage to stand by the truth though the odds may be against us, firm in the belief that You will deliver us and let the truth prevail.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being there with us, walking the journey though we may be alone.

20 April, Thursday – Life Stories

20 April 2017

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Acts 3:11-26

Everyone came running towards Peter and John in great excitement, to the Portico of Solomon, as it is called, where the man was still clinging to Peter and John. When Peter saw the people he addressed them, ‘Why are you so surprised at this? Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness? 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; and it is the name of Jesus which, through our faith in it, has brought back the strength of this man whom you see here and who is well known to you. It is faith in that name that has restored this man to health, as you can all see.

‘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, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets. Moses, for example, said: The Lord God will raise up a prophet like myself for you, from among your own brothers; you must listen to whatever he tells you. The man who does not listen to that prophet is to be cut off from the people. In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days.

‘You are the heirs of the prophets, the heirs of the covenant God made with our ancestors when he told Abraham: in your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed. It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.’

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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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The author of life you put to death

For writers, the story that you tell gives a voice to the cause or message that you want to put through. For example, if your story is about pre-school pedagogies, you could be advocating early learning for children. If you are talking about paleo diets, you could be raising health awareness, so on and so forth. Whatever story that a writer tells though, is always entwined with the writer. Any raw emotion or experiences, the writer’s thoughts… some part of it will end up being sprinkled into the writer’s piece. The story also ends with the writer. If a writer stops writing, the story ends there. If a writer dies, the story dies with the writer, and no one knows how the story would have been intended to end.

When the people crucified Jesus, they thought that that was the end of the story. The Pharisees and high priests were probably relieved, the disciples and followers of Jesus, very depressed. Christ was no more…

But God works in His own way. The author of life, they may have put to death, but it was through his death that the story lives! The story could only be written with Christ’s death on the cross, as it was through death that He then resurrected on the third day. So much was said about Christ in his lifetime, and so much more was even said after his resurrection. His resurrection made witnesses of many people, and his resurrection opened up the eyes and ears of many others who finally understood the scriptures, and now more than ever, believed in the power of God!

Jesus said to the disciples, “everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”

Indeed, other people before Jesus had written these ‘stories’, but only Jesus could have provided life to them. Only through Jesus could these ‘stories’ finally have meaning, only by Jesus’ death on the cross could the message of the prophets finally come to pass. The ordinary people may have put the author of life to death, but they could not put an end to the story. The story did not, and does not die. God brought life back to us through the resurrection through Christ Jesus.

Every day, God’s story is written through us. His power and glory are manifested through our lives. Every day is a new chapter for God to write our story with us. Let us allow Him to do so, so that His message comes through via how we live our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

PrayerLord, I have been trying to write my life story on my own, but I pray now with Your guidance, I will write my story with You.

ThanksgivingThank you Lord, for giving us life through Your death and resurrection. It is because of You that we live.

17 February, Friday – Dream Big

17 Feb – Memorial for Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites

The Order of the Servants of Mary (Servites) was named the fifth mendicant order by Pope Martin V. It was founded in 1233 by Sts. Alexis Falconieri, Bartholomew degli Amidei, Benedict dell’Antella, Buonfiglio Monaldi, Gherardino Sostegni, Hugh dei Lippi-Uguccioni, and John Buonagiunta Monetti.

They were beatified on 1 December 1717, and canonized on 1887 as The Seven Holy Founders. On the Feast of the Assumption in 1240, the Founders received a vision of Our Lady. She held in her hand a black habit, and a nearby angel bore a scroll reading “Servants of Mary”. Mary told them:

“You will found a new order, and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name: Servants of Mary. This is your rule: that of St. Augustine. And here is your distinctive sign: the black scapular, in memory of my sufferings.”

From their first establishment at La Camarzia, near Florence, they moved to the more secluded Monte Senario where the Blessed Virgin herself conferred on them their habit, instructing them to follow the Rule of St. Augustine and to admit associates. The official approval for the order was obtained in 1249, confirmed in 1256, suppressed in 1276, definitely approved in 1304, and again by Brief in 1928. The order was so rapidly diffused that by 1285, there were 10,000 members with houses in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, and early in the 14th century, it numbered 100 convents, besides missions in Crete and India.

The Reformation reduced the order in Germany, but it flourished elsewhere. Again meeting with political reverses in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it nevertheless prospered, being established in England in 1867, and in America in 1870.

The Servites take solemn vows and venerate in a special manner the “Seven Dolours of Our Lady”. They cultivate both the interior and the active life, giving missions and teaching. An affiliation, professing exclusively the contemplative life is that of the “Hermits of Monte Senario”. It was reinstated in France in 1922.

Cloistered nuns, forming a Second Order, have been affiliated with the Servites since 1619 when Blessed Benedicta di Rossi called the nuns of her community “Servite Hermitesses”. They have been established in England, Spain, Italy, the Tyrol, and Germany.

A Third Order, the Mantellate, founded by St. Juliana Falconieri under St. Philip Benizi (c. 1284) has houses in Italy, France, Spain, England, Canada, and the United States. Secular tertiaries and a confraternity of the Seven Dolours are other branches.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 11:1-9

Throughout the earth men spoke the same language, with the same vocabulary. Now as they moved eastwards they found a plain in the land of Shinar where they settled. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them in the fire.’ (For stone they used bricks, and for mortar they used bitumen). ‘Come,’ they said ‘let us build ourselves a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven. Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we may not be scattered about the whole earth.’

Now the Lord came down to see the town and the tower that the sons of man had built. ‘So they are all a single people with a single language!’ said the Lord. ‘This is but the start of their undertakings! There will be nothing too hard for them to do. Come, let us go down and confuse their language on the spot so that they can no longer understand one another.’

The Lord scattered them thence over the whole face of the earth, and they stopped building the town. It was named Babel therefore, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth. It was from there that the Lord scattered them over the whole face of the earth.

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Mark 8:34-9:1

Jesus called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to win the whole world and ruin his life? And indeed what can a man offer in exchange for his life? For if anyone in this adulterous and sinful generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’

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What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?

This post is for the dreamers amongst us who want to chase their dreams and make it a reality.

We all have dreams, be it big or small. We may feel frightened to chase our dreams, because maybe we’re afraid that people will think it is silly, or we are afraid of failure, or that it won’t provide a proper living. Maybe we don’t know how to begin. So the dream remains just a dream, like a seed in a store cupboard, unplanted and therefore will never get a chance to grow.

No dream is insignificant. God has given us each a dream to pursue, and has equipped us with the necessary talents to help us fulfill those dreams. We cannot compare ourselves to the next person; God has chosen for each of us a dream that fits us, tailor-made to our personality, so that each of us is unique in our dreams. Even the trials that come to test us will be unique to build our character and perseverance. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” How wonderful is this — that God already has in mind a dream for us to be a baker, artist, dancer, scientist, astronaut, mountaineer, fighter pilot, novelist, and He sets alight the passion in our hearts that we might fulfill it, giving us the right tools for it.

Yet sometimes the fear still overtakes us. Perhaps we think that the timing is not right. I ask myself that same question all the time, “when is the right time”? When we have saved enough for a fallback plan for 5 years? When the kids have all grown up and gone to school? We may end up pursuing something else for security reasons, and like a cat trying to think it is a dog, we force ourselves to believe we were made for something else. We become good at it, but we don’t realize that maybe we could have been better at what God intended, because we already had the right skills for it.

As we can see from today’s first reading, if we try to do something that God has not intended for us, our plans will be frustrated. We might just end up being in a confused state of mind. And what about if we forced our hand to do something else and really did become good at it? Perhaps some amongst us have felt as though our lives were empty, like we haven’t fulfilled our potential, or our dreams. When we reach our 30s or 40s, we have what is fondly known as ‘midlife crisis’, but that could just be us questioning what we have done in the past 30 years or so since we finished studying. What have we to show after all those years? Maybe we are a CEO or director of a big company. If we are happy about it and if this is what we believe is our dream, then congratulations! Yet I suspect many of us are going around feeling ‘unfulfilled’, which is probably why Steve Jobs’ speech on doing what you love is such a popular speech — most of us aren’t doing what we love, we’re just going around blindly day after day, because we have to make ends meet. How will we account for this though when we are too old, or when we meet our Maker? God might say, “Hey, I gave you all these gifts and put a dream in your heart, but you went and did something else. Why didn’t you use what I gave you?”

Pursuing dreams is a big leap of faith, but I sincerely believe in them, and I pray you will receive direction from God for your dreams. “May He grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your counsel!” (Psalm 20:4)

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for wisdom and guidance to see the path You have set forth for me, courage to pursue the dreams that you have put in my heart, and faith to hold on to that dream especially when the chips are down.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving each of us a dream and the talents to fulfill it. We believe that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

16 February, Thursday – The Promise

16 February 2017

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Genesis 9:1-13

God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Be the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven, of everything that crawls on the ground and all the fish of the sea; they are handed over to you. Every living and crawling thing shall provide food for you, no less than the foliage of plants. I give you everything, with this exception: you must not eat flesh with life, that is to say blood, in it. I will demand an account of your life-blood. I will demand an account from every beast and from man. I will demand an account of every man’s life from his fellow men.

‘He who sheds man’s blood
shall have his blood shed by man,
for in the image of God
man was made.

‘As for you, be fruitful, multiply, teem over the earth and be lord of it.’
God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth.’

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Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

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I will establish my covenant with you

When I was in my early teens, I made a promise to God. I was down with a high fever which refused to break, and while she never told me so, I could see the worry etched on my mother’s face. I remember feeling really feverish, standing in the middle of the bathroom with cool, damp towels swathed around me, trying to get the temperature down. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid.

But it was in this feverish state that I first spoke to God. I remember saying to God, “God if You are really there, please help reduce this fever, and I will believe in You and convert” (I was non-Christian at the time). God did actually hear me. After that encounter, I lay down to sleep and my fever broke in the middle of the night.

It took me several years though before I fulfilled my promise to God. I remembered it always though, but I was afraid and maybe I was making excuses to delay fulfilling it.

Imagine if God was human like us, in terms of keeping promises. But He isn’t. He is God Almighty, and He is true to His word. In today’s first reading, God reminds us that He takes the arrangement seriously — reference to the covenant between God and man is repeated at least four times in the reading between verses 8-15, and if you read on, it appears another two more times in verses 16-17. It is as though God is saying, you’re not entering into an agreement with any old Joe, this is me, your God and Father! God is not saying this to remind Himself. He is saying this to ingrain into us that He has made a covenant with us, and it is to last a lifetime. When we get married, for example, we are only required to repeat our vows once during the ceremony, and not six times. After a few years of marriage, we probably would have forgotten what those vows might be, even though they are meant to last us till the day we die. But our Father reminds us of the contents of His promise to us, and in case we, in our human ways, were to forget this promise, He even sends us a beautiful reminder in the form of a rainbow.

Yes, of course, we can argue in scientific terms about the formation of a rainbow, but science cannot extinguish the essence behind the rainbow, or the spiritual message that it contains. Our hearts light up a little each time we behold a rainbow; perhaps we can light up a little more as well knowing that God is also saying “I remember My word with you”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, help us to take our vows and promises seriously, especially those that we make with You. It is only in keeping our word that we will build our integrity. 

Thanksgiving – Thank you Father, for the blessing of the rainbow as a sign of Your everlasting covenant with us.

15 February, Wednesday – Delayed Gratification

15 February 2017

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Genesis 8:6-13,20-22

At the end of forty days Noah opened the porthole he had made in the ark and he sent out the raven. This went off, and flew back and forth until the waters dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove, to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth. The dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, again he sent out the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there it was with a new olive-branch in its beak. So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days he sent out the dove, and now it returned to him no more.

It was in the six hundred and first year of Noah’s life, in the first month and on the first of the month, that the water dried up from the earth. Noah lifted back the hatch of the ark and looked out. The surface of the ground was dry!

Noah built an altar for the Lord, and choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelt the appeasing fragrance and said to himself, ‘Never again will I curse the earth because of man, because his heart contrives evil from his infancy. Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.

‘As long as earth lasts,
sowing and reaping,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall cease no more.’

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Mark 8:22-26

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida, and some people brought to him a blind man whom they begged him to touch. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.

Then putting spittle on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ The man, who was beginning to see, replied, ‘I can see people; they look like trees to me, but they are walking about.’ Then he laid his hands on the man’s eyes again and he saw clearly; he was cured, and he could see everything plainly and distinctly. And Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

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He waited seven days more and again sent the dove from the ark

We live in a really fast-paced world where everything is instant. With a click or a touch, we can do banking, take instant photos, buy our groceries, book a flight… there are no more barriers that stop us from getting where we are to where we want to go. We want our lives to be like a McDonald’s outlet: cheap, fast, and good. By cheap, I don’t mean that we are opting for cheaper alternatives in life, I mean that we want our things at the barest minimum inconvenience to ourselves.

Are we like that in our prayer life?

I remember when I was first introduced to the Catholic faith, my friend was telling me about the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer, and that it was a fairly long prayer. I asked him how long and he replied: “20 minutes, if you do it breezily”. I’d like to think that God understands when we are busy. It can be hard to devote time to prayer as you would like to if unprecedented things occur. Yet, prayer is our own personal and private conversation with God, and we can speak it in our hearts and minds. Therefore we could be anywhere, and still have a meaningful conversation with him. God knows our heart’s desires and private anguish even before we do, and He hears us. What matters is the quality of the conversation that we are having with Him. Are we asking for things hoping that God will deliver ASAP? Are we placing conditions with God? Is our prayer life on our terms or God’s terms?

God is our loving Father, but He knows how to parent us better than we know ourselves. He isn’t going to submit to our requests (or demands!) if we keep whining and throwing a tantrum. Sounds familiar? We do see parents who, in an effort to keep their children quiet, give in to them. I, too, have been guilty of that. What God wants though is persevered prayer and patience. Through faith and understanding that all will be done in God’s time, we learn patience. Through faith in believing that God will come through for us, we learn perseverance. And through perseverance and patience, we form a meaningful conversation with God i.e. prayer.

Consider if you went in to your local store to buy bread — you pick your loaf, pay at the counter, and maybe barely looking up from your phone, you take your bread and leave. The alternative scenario is that we pick our loaf, bring it to the counter and smile at the store owner, say “how’s it going”, talk about the weekend or the weather, say thank you cheerily, and leave. We need not even have had a long conversation, but in that time when we shared a smile and stopped for a chat, we would have enriched our own lives, and the other person’s.

God probably doesn’t want to answer our prayers immediately, as there would be no bonding nor enrichment, no quality, appreciation, nor believing. He might as well be a vending machine of prayers. He wants us to slow down… take time… breathe…, and reflect.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in the busy-ness of our lives, we pray that our prayers and conversations with you don’t reflect that. Help us to slow down for a while and stop to have a chat with you.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for hearing our prayers no matter what form they come in, and for continuously believing in us that we will change one day and stop to take time to speak with you.

3 December, Saturday – Labour’s Lost

Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)

Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.

In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.

He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 30:19-21,23-26

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more. He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, follow it.’ He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. Your cattle will graze, that day, in wide pastures. Oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat a salted fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and watercourses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall. Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter – like the light of seven days in one – on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.

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Matthew 9:35-10:1,5,6-8

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

He summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’

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The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few

Hundreds of years ago, Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, preaching and healing as he did. He was a lone foreign missionary, carrying out God’s work. He recognized that the people were hungry for God as they had been in spiritual need for so long, and to fulfil the need to minister to as many of the lost and abandoned as possible, he sent out the twelve apostles to far-flung places to do God’s work. Thus you could say, began the foreign missions.

St Francis Xavier was one such missionary. His work carried him from present day Spain where he was born, to Goa, India, Malacca, Japan, and China, to name a few. There, his mission work was often met with resistance, cultural and language differences, lack of funds and support, and opposition. But he, like Jesus, recognized that the people were like lost sheep, and needed spiritual guidance. In most places, he was the first Jesuit, and therefore he had to carve out a road where no road had been before. There was much work to be done, and many a time he would get side-tracked and remain longer at a place than he had intended. Where there had been some in-roads before his arrival, those efforts had been previously focused on the nobility and officers; St Francis Xavier instead reached out to the ordinary folk in lower classes, and concentrated on teaching the children especially. He believed that there was an abundance of ‘lost sheep’ in China and had set his sights on missionary work there, but sadly he died before he could fulfil his purpose there.

Things have not changed much since. Few hundred years spanned between the time of Jesus and that of St Francis, and few hundred years have now passed between the time of St Francis and the present day. Yet one thing remains — that there are still many of us searching and yearning for Jesus. Our loneliness makes us feel abandoned, and the emptiness in our hearts makes us wish we were wanted and loved. We seek solace and comfort in other ways, sometimes in not so positive ways. As a result, we turn to habits that destroy us rather than help us, but thinking that these are resolutions to our emotional needs, we continue doing them until we realize too late that it has not helped us. We are now stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to break the habit, and nowhere near emotional fulfilment.

God is around us, and He could be our next door neighbor, or the soccer mum you see on the school run, or your colleague. God sends His labourers out to do His work and He hears our cry. He knows our hearts. Maybe it feels like He is distant or does not hear us. Sometimes we even question whether He is there. However, turn away from these thoughts and remember that God searches for His lost sheep, and He rejoices for every lost sheep that is found (Luke 15: 4-7). Every now and then, God sends out his labourers to find and gather His sheep; take heart that we too will be found.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, I pray for your comfort for our loneliness, love for our empty hearts, and direction for our wandering souls. Hear our hearts as they cry out for you, and fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may rejoice with hearts overflowing at being found.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for the labourers that you send out to do your work. We pray for wisdom to recognize them, strength to emulate them, and courage to do your will.

2 December, Friday – Strength in Weakness

2 December 2016

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Isaiah 29:17-24

The Lord says this:

In a short time, a very short time,
shall not Lebanon become fertile land
and fertile land turn into forest?
The deaf, that day,
will hear the words of a book
and, after shadow and darkness,
the eyes of the blind will see.

But the lowly will rejoice in the Lord even more
and the poorest exult in the Holy One of Israel;
for tyrants shall be no more, and scoffers vanish,
and all be destroyed who are disposed to do evil:
those who gossip to incriminate others,
those who try at the gate to trip the arbitrator
and get the upright man’s case dismissed for groundless reasons.

Therefore the Lord speaks,
the God of the House of Jacob,
Abraham’s redeemer:
No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale,
for he shall see what my hands have done in his midst,
he shall hold my name holy.
They will hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Erring spirits will learn wisdom
and murmurers accept instruction.

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Matthew 9:27-31

As Jesus went on his way two blind men followed him shouting, ‘Take pity on us, Son of David.’ And when Jesus reached the house the blind men came up with him and he said to them, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do.’ Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.’ And their sight returned. Then Jesus sternly warned them, ‘Take care that no one learns about this.’ But when they had gone, they talked about him all over the countryside.

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Do you believe that I can do this?

In today’s Gospel reading, we encounter two blind men who cry out to Jesus, asking him to heal them. We see that Jesus doesn’t immediately stop. In fact, Jesus first meets them as he passes by. The two men follow him, crying out as they do, until he enters the house. Only then does Jesus show any sign that he has noticed them. Still, he does not heal them immediately. Rather, he asks them first and foremost if they believe he could heal them, to which they affirm their belief in him. Only then are the two blind men healed.

More often than not, when we ask the question, “Do you believe that I can do this?” it is set in a tone of self-doubt. Well, at least in my case. There have been so many circumstances in my life where I have asked that question of myself, but none more so than when I delivered my son.

When I found out I was pregnant, the first thing that came to my mind was that the pain of childbirth would be too traumatizing for me to bear, and I contemplated having a Caesarian section instead. I wasn’t aware that there were other ways of delivering, and more importantly, I had to re-wire my thinking to believe that my body was designed by God to deliver my baby naturally. I did have a natural birth eventually, after a long labour, but there were many times where I had questioned if I could do this. I found strength in myself that I never knew I had, and through prayers of family and friends, and the support of my husband and the birthing team, I was able to see through my pregnancy till the end.

I don’t quite know where that strength came from, but after having had time to reflect, I am convinced that it was through God’s grace that this was possible. God’s grace was sufficient enough for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). When I was drained from the many hours of labour, God gave me rest and strength to continue. When I doubted, God’s grace manifested in the relentless support of my wonderful doula. When my legs quivered from the contractions, and I couldn’t support myself, God gave me grace through the strong arms of my husband who held me up. At every turn, my faith was put to the test, as though in questioning myself, God was actually questioning my faith.

When Jesus asked the two blind men, “Do you believe I can do it?” he already knew that he could. But for him to work his miracle, he needed the right vessel to make it happen, and this would be a willing and faithful heart. Why did he wait to heal the men? I would like to believe that it was all in good time; that by waiting a little longer, their hearts would be better prepared and more open to receive God’s gift, and in so doing, the miracle of their healing and God’s strength would be made all the more pronounced.

2 Corinthians 12:10 goes on to say: “When I am weak, then I am strong”. I find that overwhelmingly comforting for during my difficult times, not just at birth, God used my difficulties to manifest Himself by giving me enough grace to see me through my trials, so that upon surmounting those trials, I would be able to give God thanks and praise.

As I write this, my little son lies sleeping next to me. God has rewarded and blessed me with the most amazing gift of all, and it was only through His grace that all this was made possible.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer – Lord, through my many trials and tribulations, I have questioned my ability to see things through the end. I pray for the strength, patience and remembrance always that Your grace is sufficient, and it is Your grace that will lead me home.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for making me strong in your grace when I am weak.

1 December, Thursday – Not always about connections

1 December 2016

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven

Have you ever noticed when things are going well and you are prospering, you may find yourself surrounded by multitudes of friends. But when the chips are down, you wonder where everyone is? Everyone wants to be in your camp when you’re popular, no one wants to be left out. The danger lies in who you can trust, and weeding out who is genuine and who is a hanger-on. People will use their closely-guarded connections and name-drop or claim association, like gaining access to the VIP lounge in the hottest night club of the moment. In our world of doing business, it is deemed important to ‘get a leg up’ on other people, therefore it is about who you know that can get you there.

Not with Jesus though; Jesus doesn’t care about who you know, or if you claim association with Him. He is only interested in the condition of your heart, and what lies within: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jer 17:9-10). Jesus recognizes the “bad fruits” by their deeds and words. Their lips may have called upon his name, but their hearts may not be in sync with God. As such, in today’s readings we see that he disassociates himself from these people by calling them out, questioning their motives and actions.

In whatever that we do then under the standard of the church, be it in attending mass or volunteering in ministries, perhaps today’s reading is a call to us to re-examine our motives for doing so. Sometimes, the devil comes in to distract us so that we lose sight of the reasons why we joined a ministry, for example. When we lose our focus, it is easy to get caught up in the other things that we encounter in our work for God, from the simplest things like getting frustrated with the car park situation at the church, or annoyance at one of the members of the ministry for being ‘bossy’. We are human, and it is normal for us to feel negative feelings, but let us pray for patience and focus to prevent such things from distracting us from the reason at the end of the day — God. 

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, we seek forgiveness for the times when we have let our actions become “bigger” than you. Help us to re-focus and remember that ultimately, all that we do is for God and with God.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks for the opportunity to carry out works in God’s name. We pray that we will glorify His name in all that we do.

30 November, Wednesday – The Messenger

Nov 30 – Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

Andrew was the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman by trade, and the brother of Simon Peter. He was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew went through life leading people to Jesus, both before and after the Crucifixion. He was a missionary in Asia Minor and Greece, and possibly areas in modern Russia and Poland. He was martyred on a saltire (x-shaped) cross, and is said to have preached for two days from it.

Patron Saint Index

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Romans 10:9-18

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent, but as scripture says: The footsteps of those who bring good news are a welcome sound. Not everyone, of course, listens to the Good News. As Isaiah says: Lord, how many believed what we proclaimed? So faith comes from what is preached, and what is preached comes from the word of Christ. Let me put the question: is it possible that they did not hear? Indeed they did; in the words of the psalm, their voice has gone out through all the earth, and their message to the ends of the world.

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Matthew 4:18-22

As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.

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How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!

I think I have been truly fortunate to live in a lifetime before the advent of email. As convenient and speedy as it may be, email has ironically made me appreciate snail mail more; and by snail mail, I do not mean the monthly bills and statements that we receive (sadly), but letters or greetings where someone has actually taken the time to sit down and write, in their own script, a personal message to you. The thought of that and the enclosed warm greeting would be enough to bring cheer to my heart and a smile to my face, and I’m certain it would be the same for you too.

Imagine then, in Jesus’ time, when the only way for news to arrive was if it were to be communicated in person, by word of mouth. The apostles were sent out to do just that, to spread the Good News of the Messiah, and this they had done via long journeys on foot, over land and sea. One such apostle was St Andrew, brother of St Peter. In the Gospel of John, St Andrew is depicted as one of Jesus’ first followers. In John 1:35-42, St Andrew, who was a disciple of John the Baptist, immediately followed Jesus, along with another disciple after John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to them. St Andrew subsequently brought his brother to Jesus after telling him that they had found the Messiah.

While in his lifetime, St Andrew preached as far as modern-day Ukraine and Greece, imagine if you would for a second, what it might have been for Simon his brother (later St Peter), to be out fishing, only to come home and be greeted in person by probably a rather excited and breathless Andrew, gushing that he had found the Messiah! Wouldn’t you, in Simon’s shoes, be terribly excited as well? Personally, I might have hugged him in delight and excitement! With such wondrous news, would you not also have done the same?

With the same level of enthusiasm, I believe this would have been how Andrew might have approached his mission. Yes, as the first reading indicated, not all heeded the good news, and not everyone who heard it, believed. However, for those who like him, had been waiting for news of our Saviour, his coming to preach would have been welcome tidings, and for them, this was their salvation.

In our modern day, our good tidings may come in an electronic form, but let us look beyond the form and see the substance that lies within, for what lies within may just be the good news that we are waiting for.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we hear all kinds of news these days over the media, some of which may be true, while others may be exaggerated. Help us to filter out the news that attempts to confuse us, and give us the wisdom to recognize the message of God.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the messengers whom you have sent out to spread your Word and carry out your works in your holy name. We pray that we too will be able to emulate them and spread the Good News to others too.

29 November, Tuesday – Propehcies

29 November 2016

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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That day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.

In this season of Advent, while we wait in anticipation for the good things that Christmas brings, I think back to the times of the olden days, in Jesus’ time, when such a thing had yet to materialize. I think back in particular, to Simeon, in the Gospel of Luke, who was a righteous and devout man. I think of what he might have experienced, the anticipation of a different kind, when the Holy Spirit told him that “he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

We will never know when that message was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Who knows, he might have waited for years, and every day for him would have been like Advent. But what an anticipation it would have been, to see God’s salvation in the flesh! He recognized Jesus as the one who would be a light to the people and declared as such — “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).

There is so much promise contained in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, it is almost too overwhelming to hear. But for those who believed and heard the word, they must have been waiting anxiously as Simeon did, for the day that this promise would be fulfilled.

Fast forward to current times — is there something that we are waiting for this Advent? Are we looking forward in earnest for the day when Jesus will come again in all His glory? Are we anticipating the wonders that He will bring? There are so many distractions that can lead us astray from the true meaning of Advent. Things are so complicated now, what with presents and shopping, and Christmas parties to plan and attend. I would like to invite us all to take a step back, and simplify our thoughts to waiting for the one thing, the one event that mattered, and that is the birth of Christ, the ‘signal to the peoples’ that salvation is at hand.

The reason for the season remains present; while we partake in our merriment during this time, let us not forget who this reason is, for He is very much still the living reason.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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Prayer: Lord, as we prepare ourselves this Advent, let us not forget that You are the reason for the season, and that is all that matters.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give you thanks that we can celebrate You every year. We give you thanks for the blessings that you have given us throughout the year.