Tag Archives: annette soo

17 April, Tuesday – Waters of Life

17 April 
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Acts 7:51-8:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

16 April, Monday – Steadfast and Saved

16 April 
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Acts 6:8-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

15 Apr, Sunday – Out Of Ashes

15 Apr – Third Sunday of Easter

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Acts 3:13-15,17-19

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

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

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1 John 2:1-5

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

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

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Luke 24:35-48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

16 February, Friday – On Fasting

16 February – Friday after Ash Wednesday 

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Isaiah 58:1-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 9:14-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

15 February, Thursday – Choose Life

15 February – Thursday after Ash Wednesday 

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Deuteronomy 30:15-20

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

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Luke 9:22-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

14 February, Wednesday – Reflection, Repentance, Return

15 February – Ash Wednesday 

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Joel 2:12-18

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

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

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

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2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

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

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Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

30 December, Saturday – New Year Resolution

30 December 2017

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1 John 2:12-17

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

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Luke 2:36-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

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

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

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

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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.

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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.’

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.’

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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.