Tag Archives: baptism

29 April, Monday – Baptisms of Fire

29 Apr – Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin, Doctor

1347 – 1380 – She was born in Siena and, seeking perfection, entered the Third Order of the Dominicans when she was still in her teens. In 1370 she was commanded by a vision to leave her secluded life and enter the public life of the world. She wrote letters to many major public figures and carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, urging him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States. She burned with the love of God and her neighbour. As an ambassador she brought peace and harmony between cities. She fought hard to defend the liberty and rights of the Popes and did much for the renewal of religious life. She also dictated books full of sound doctrine and spiritual inspiration. She died on 29 April 1380. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

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Acts 4:23-31

As soon as Peter and John were released they went to the community and told them everything the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they lifted up their voice to God all together. ‘Master,’ they prayed ‘it is you who made heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them; you it is who said through the Holy Spirit and speaking through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why this arrogance among the nations,
these futile plots among the peoples?
Kings on earth setting out to war,
princes making an alliance,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.

‘This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate made an alliance with the pagan nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, but only to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen. And now, Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

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John 3:1-8

There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

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Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

Easter Sunday has just passed us. How did Lent go for you? Through several conversations with my friends, I found out that Lent was a particularly difficult period of time for most of them. For some, the 40 days of Lent can often be described as a parched desert season. We had all undergone a kind of stripping bare from certain luxuries (whether by choice or circumstances). We put on a penitent cloak of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. It was tough. We went through a certain kind of poverty or deprivation and longed for the redemption and joy of Easter.

What happens then, after the high and jubilant victory of Easter? It is a day where many of our churches (hopefully) have multiple Baptisms of new brethren who have completed their RCIA journey. This baptism of water is a symbol of their new life with Christ. A cleansing, purifying, rebirth into the Christian faith which will guide them for the rest of their days. We welcome them with joyful embrace of new family.

Yet, one thing we tend to fail to ‘forewarn’ our new brethren is to be certain that there must and will be several more baptisms that will happen over their lifetime as Christians. This is partly why some eventually fall away even after baptism, as soon as harsh waters of life wash over them. This ‘baptisms of fire’ is the descending measure of God’s great love to purify our hearts and minds and souls through the Holy Spirit. It is what we read of in today’s First reading – the Acts of the Apostles.

The disciples finally recognise that the Lord they followed in life is the true Messiah. At the same time, because of his death, they were persecuted more than ever! Indeed, the joy of recognising and claiming this redemptive miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection (the world’s first Easter), was followed swiftly by danger, persecution, and a lot of suffering. This was their baptism of fire. And there were many more in their lifetimes…

Each time I go through a particularly painful, sorrowful period of my life, I recall this powerful imagery of Abraham preparing an altar obediently to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. I consider this wrenching journey that Abraham made across the countryside to the place of sacrifice as his baptism of fire – the intense trial after the deep, great joy (of Isaac’s birth). We all need this baptism in order to purify our heart’s desire to love God and follow Christ.

Are we following Christ for personal profit; because we feel loved in a certain community; or, a misguided perception that faith is a kind of self-help tool; or, that we feel estranged from children who may have suddenly embraced a new religion…? The reasons could be a dime a dozen. These reasons could be a part of one’s considerations… but here’s the hook – God wants ALL of you and me. And so, the fires will come, not because God is making sport of us. But because He is burning up all the dross that has clogged our hearts and minds over the years, that prevents us from fully, totally, and freely following him… back to His Kingdom.

Yes, our “YES” to God the Father at baptism has to be total, free, and without reservation – just as wedding vows are made.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Help me O Lord, to offer up to you freely, fully, and without reservation, every part of my life. Because You first loved me.

Thanksgiving: I am ever grateful for the many models of faith, great examples of total surrender that we find in the early Church, Our Lady, the apostles, and the many saints of the Church.

23 March, Saturday – Not Forgotten

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt

grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

 ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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My son, you are here with me always. Everything I have is yours

I remember my baptism, and the preparation leading up to it. I had been on the RCIA program and I remember thinking at the time if I would be able to get through the year-long program. But the year sped by quite quickly and before you knew it, we were at Lent, getting ready for our baptism at the Easter vigil. It was almost like getting ready for a wedding: a lot of preparation beforehand, our placements, the rituals, the vows, the clothes that we would wear. And on the day of baptism, there we were, the ‘co-stars’ of the night, standing in front of the whole congregation in our new white garments, beaming proudly. Then shortly after the period of Mystagogy, it was back to life as usual.

It has been many years since my baptism, and probably for most of us too, as you read this. As we watch the next batch of Elect go through their sacraments of initiation, we watch their smiles, and we reflect on our own big day years ago. Maybe we wish that we could feel the overflowing of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, as we once did. Maybe we long for that closeness or assuredness in our relationship with God, as the Elect now have. Maybe many things have transpired since our baptism, that have dried up our spiritual well, and called us to question God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps we stopped seeking, perhaps life got in the way, we got distracted. Yes, life does go on but so does God; God continues to be present in our lives, even when we have stopped being the star of the day. When all the lights have faded and the sparkle wanes, God still remains.

Before we were each called by God, we were all lost in our own ways. When we opened our hearts to Him, we were like the prodigal son returned to the Father: “I once was lost, but now am found.” And when we accepted God into our hearts, He promised us salvation, a new and everlasting life in Christ Jesus, cleansed of our sins. He promised to be with us always: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He promised us security (Isaiah 43:2), strength (Isaiah 41:10), wisdom (James 1:5), unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10), forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He gave us all He had, His only Son Christ Jesus, so that we may live (John 3:16).

Our lives might be ‘as usual’, but remember David, the shepherd boy, overlooked by his brothers, but anointed as king. It would be many more years after his anointing before David finally assumed his place as king, and in the meantime, he went back to ‘life as usual’ – as a shepherd boy. But he had to, in order to learn about life to be a better king, to be in a better position to serve God and his people when the time came. Maybe if we take a different viewpoint, we may find that perhaps the preparation doesn’t end at baptism. After baptism, the real preparation begins: preparation to hear and heed God’s calling, to do His will and to be guided by Him. Our baptism may be over, but God does not forget us. He has plans for us, and if we allow it, He will reveal those plans to us. In the meantime, let us be comforted in the knowledge that whatever our life situation is, whether we are content or troubled, we are in the season of preparation for bigger things that God has in store for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to bring more consciousness in our preparation for Easter. We also pray for our Elect, as they prepare for their baptism on Easter.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for calling us to you when you did, for taking us in even when we were sinners, for finding us when we were lost. Even now, you are still with us, your gentle encouragement comforting us, guiding us through our daily lives.

25 May, Wednesday – Our Transcendent Nature

25 May 

Dear Oxygen Readers, we welcome Jacob Woo, a new guest writer with us today. Jacob has just joined our Catholic family with his Baptism this Easter. We pray he will grow in strength and wisdom in his newfound faith and life with Christ. God bless to all!

Jacob is a relatively recent convert to the Catholic faith. He is by day a Professor of Political Science and by night an ardent student of Philosophy. Deeply inspired by Ignatian spirituality, he hopes to find God in all things and to serve God in all ways.

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Memorial for St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Worker; Memorial for St. Gregory VII, Pope; Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

Bede (672-735) was born around the time England was finally completely Christianized. He was raised from age seven in the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and lived there the rest of his life. He was a Benedictine monk, and the spiritual student of the founder, St. Benedict Biscop. He was ordained in 702 by St. John of Beverley. He was a teacher and author; he wrote about history, rhetoric, mathematics, music, astronomy, poetry, grammar, philosophy, hagiography, homiletics, and Bible commentary.

He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing. He was declared a Doctor of the Church on 13 November 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

Gregory (1020-1085) was educated in Rome, Italy. He was a Benedictine monk, and chaplain to Pope Gregory VI. He was in charge of the Patrimony of St. Peter. He was a reformer and an excellent administrator. He was chosen the 152nd pope, but he declined the crown. He was chief counsellor to Pope Victor II, Pope Stephen IX, Pope Benedict X, and Pope Nicholas II. He eventually became the 157th pope.

At the time of his ascension, simony and a corrupt clergy threatened to destroy faith in the Church. Gregory took the throne as a reformer, and Emperor Henry IV promised to support him. Gregory suspended all clerics who had purchased their position, and ordered the return of all purchased church property.

The corrupt clergy rebelled; Henry IV broke his promise, and promoted the rebels. Gregory responded by excommunicating anyone involved in lay investiture. He summoned Henry to Rome, but the emperor’s supporters drove Gregory into exile. Henry installed the anti-pope Guibert of Ravenna, who was driven from Rome by Normans who supported Gregory; the Normans were, themselves, so out of control that the people of Rome drove them out. Gregory then retreated to Salerno, Italy, where he spent the remainder of his papacy.

Catherine (1566-1607) had a religious upbringing. She was initially sent to a convent at the age of 14, but was taken back home by her family who opposed her religious vocation and wanted her to marry well. They eventually gave in, and Catherine became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at 16, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene. She as a mystic, and led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the renewal of the Church and encouraging the sisters in holiness. Her life was marked by many extraordinary graces.

–  Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 1:18-25

Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ; who, though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God.

You have been obedient to the truth and purified your souls until you can love like brothers, in sincerity; let your love for each other be real and from the heart – your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God. All flesh is grass and its glory like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. What is this word? It is the Good News that has been brought to you.

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Mark 10:32-45

The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?

As Catholics, we are constantly reminded by both our priests and the Saints who have graced this world of the (necessary) presence and purpose of suffering. Indeed, Blessed Mother Teresa has often taught that suffering can be redemptive, both for ourselves and for others.

These are thoughts that have occupied me of late, as I struggle with a series of health ailments that have forced me to slow down my pace of life. With each visit to the doctors and with every ache that I experience, I am forced to face the reality of human existence – the bodily and emotional struggles that accompany our physical frailty.

Yet as Catholics, we know that beyond this physical reality lies a far deeper and more comforting spiritual reality. This is the reality that Jesus is trying to exhibit to His disciples in today’s Gospel reading. When James and John asked if they could sit by the Lord’s side in His Glory, they are rebuked with the question, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?”

Our Lord was not merely referring to a physical ‘cup’ or ‘baptism’, but something deeper and more spiritual. And yes, it involves a great deal of suffering. In today’s readings, Jesus is asking His disciples (and us) to focus on a deeper reality, one of obedience to God and service to others, over their daily material concerns and egos. As children of God, we are already imbued with a spiritual and transcendent nature. It is this God-given nature that Jesus is reminding us of today.

As we face our daily struggles and suffering, may we also remember to focus our attention on that deeper spiritual reality that our Lord offers us. May we, like Mother Teresa, raise up our suffering to our Lord, so that even our suffering should be of service to God. May we remember that we are more than our bodies and our possessions. We are children of Spirit and Light. All the joys and sufferings that we face in our earthy existence should be no more than reminders of the true joy that a life with God can bring us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we dedicate all our days to you. We lift up our joys and sufferings to You, trusting that in the sweetness of Your love, may we find the peace and joy that the world could never give us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the loved ones whom You have placed in our lives, and for the chance to reflect Your love in our families and friendships.

25 April, Monday – Humility and Miracles

25 April – Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

St. Mark is believed to be the young man who ran away when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52), and the “John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25). He was a disciple of St. Peter who travelled with him to Rome, and was referred to as “my son Mark” by the first Pope. He was the author of the earliest canonical Gospel. He travelled with his cousin St. Barnabas, and with St. Paul through Cyprus. He evangelized in Alexandria, established the Church there, and founded the first famous Christian school.

-Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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Seeing the miracles of Jesus

In the gospel text today Jesus mentioned miracles that would come with those who believed in Him – “in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover”. As a Catholic for six years now, though six years could be seen as a short period, I find that I have gotten used to the habits and rituals of being a Catholic and forget that Jesus is all about miracles. He not only performed miracles of manifestations and healing; the fact that God would become man to live among us and die as a sinless human being to atone for our sins, is one big miracle itself.

Because God came as flesh in all humility, so too are we reminded to keep humble and serve God and one another. We are never too big or high to help someone in need. And we will never be bigger or higher than the Lord our God. Humility keeps us grounded so that we can see rightly, and in seeing rightly recognize the miracles that God performs in our everyday lives. For there is no reason that flowers should bloom, or that the ocean knows where its limits are, or that you and I should be alive and enjoying our meals; these things that we take for granted are our everyday miracles that we ought to thank God for.

In looking back at the past six years since my baptism, I have my personal miracles to thank God for, which I would like to share with you all. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I thought that would be the end of me. How wrong I was! As I learned to trust in God, follow His promptings and rest in His love, I found myself growing a sense of rootedness, identity and self-confidence that had not been there before. I found a job and got promoted while at it. I regained old friends whom I had lost touch with, because they were true friends and wanted to see me get better. I found medication that suited me and worked well with my brain chemistry. And of all the miracles God has performed in my life, I am most thankful for Him granting me my husband, who has been healing and loving and good in my life.

Keep growing in God’s wisdom and have faith that your own miracle is around the corner. God bless you all!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Serene Frances Wong)

Prayer – Dear Jesus, help us see You as our own personal miracle – God’s gift to us to redeem us from our sins – and guide us to be strong in faith and knowledge so that we may be gifts to one another. Amen.

Thanksgiving – We give thanks for the gift of nature and for those who love us.