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15 April, Saturday – Easter Vigil

15 April 2017 – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 5 from our writing team, along with 3 guest writers, Adele, Daryl and Cassandra have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Nicholas (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsarial: Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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Exactly what you need to be

“Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”

In the run-up to Easter, there is the risk that we try to do too much and, in the process, lose sight of why we celebrate this spiritual season. We weigh ourselves down with so much of the ‘doing’ that we can’t find the time for ‘thinking’. Or ‘reflecting’. Or ‘praying’. Or ‘being’ with God.

Everything has its place in time. God could have created the world in an instant, yet He spread it out over 6 days, with a day of rest to reflect upon and appreciate all that was before him. Let’s take heed then and make this Vigil evening a time of thanksgiving for all that He has put in our lives – the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the friends, the foes, the blessings, the struggles, the triumphs and the disappointments. Everything in its proper place in time. This beautiful evening, let’s lay aside all of our ‘doing’ and focus on simply ‘being’ with God.

Lay down your cares. Right now, you are exactly where you need to be.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the awareness to appreciate the moments and the people in our lives, to not breeze past superficially, but fully breathe in the beauty of each.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the gifts and blessings that He has so generously showered upon us. May He give us the wisdom to be good stewards of them.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsarial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Abraham tested, faith tested

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. And the two of them went on together.

It seems that God is asking for an impossible sacrifice from Abraham, his only son. When God speaks His will for me in no uncertain terms, do I have the courage to obey Him, if it seems that there is a high personal price to pay? Do I have faith that His plans for me are the best ones? Do I understand that He loves me so lavishly and wholly, that what He asks of me, is most certainly for my good?

What is God asking me to give up?

When I am asked to give up something that I treasure, is my instinct to give generously and unquestioningly? Or do I harbor resentment towards God for this costly price of obedience? It is human nature to be ‘loss averse’, since behaviourial economics tell us that ‘losses loom larger than gains’, and the pain of losing something is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something of equivalent value. As a result, people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid a loss, but will be less motivated to take risks for acquiring equivalent gains.

In the reading of Genesis today, Abraham is tested to his limits when God asks for Isaac to be offered as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. I can only imagine the shock, grief and disbelief of a father, when Abraham spots the place that God had identified, and proceeds to build an altar, bind up Isaac, and prepares to take his knife to his only beloved son.

Why would a loving God ask this immense sacrifice of the people who love Him? Perhaps Abraham, in his heart, was hoping for a miracle, or an intervention?

I cannot begin to even imagine, the fear that Isaac might have felt, as his father led him into the isolation and desolation of the mountains. What might Isaac be thinking, as his own father bound him up, and appeared to be on the verge of killing him? Why did the passage not speak of any struggle on Isaac’s part? Why did he appear to accept his fate so calmly?

God’s lavish providence transcends our human understanding. What are the big and little ways that God is providing for you?

When I think back at the times where I experienced inexplicable, gut-wrenching losses, such as the painful breakdown of long cherished relationships and friendships, or sudden upheavals in my career that throw my livelihood into question, do I surrender to His providence? Or do I fight and cling on stubbornly to what I think I am entitled to and have painstakingly built, or hold on ever more tightly to the sand that is slipping through my fingers?

In my moments of extreme doubt, unhappiness and fear, I remember asking God, “What is Your purpose of taking this person, happiness or opportunity away from me? What is Your point of making me lose something so precious to me?” However, once the internal strife subsides, or when the initial shock wears off, when I can remain calm enough to consider the situation more clearly, like in Psalm 16, God will not “abandon me to Sheol, He cannot allow His faithful servant to see the abyss”, the final resolution or outcomes are often far better than what my human mind could previously imagine. Many times over, what God asks of me to give up is often replaced by His grace and provision beyond what I deserved. Like the angel that points out the ram that is meant to take Isaac’s place for the offering, God offers the best solutions to our challenges, only if we trust Him enough, to be open to His promptings.

Only when we trust God completely, can we fully welcome His love for us.

In Psalm 16:11, God “will teach me the path of life, unbounded joy in His presence, at His right hand delight forever”. When I let go of my human expectations of what my life ought to be like, how others should respond or reciprocate to my efforts, what my success is meant to be in worldly terms, or how God should grant me particular blessings, only then do I become open to rejoice in the abundance, delights and joys that God has already laid out for me. I would suffer a lot less heartache, anxiety and grief, when I choose to surrender completely to the circumstances that God has made for me to experience. Let us open our hearts and minds to God’s plan for our lives. For it is only in holding lightly, do we experience the magic of resting in our Father’s lavish love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Adele Khee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the humility and wisdom to discern Your will for me. Grant me the courage to obey You completely and trust in Your providence, especially when the costs seem impossible or unacceptable in my limited human understanding.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for Your divine providence, and Your care for the biggest concerns and smallest details of my life. I am grateful to You, Lord, for the people, circumstances and blessings that You have granted me, to help me become more like You.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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A Close Partnership with God

“Tell the sons of Israel to march on”

Over the last few years, my son has taken a fascination to ‘special abilities’. We have been asked, repeatedly over a period of time, whether we prefer to be able to slow time, or be in two places at one time or even to know what others are thinking.

Very often, we hope to be saved in a very tangible way by our God. Like a superhero, we imagine the day we would have our Lord pop up and rescue us from whatever we need to be rescued from.

I have always known the song “The Horse and Rider” of Psalm 15. In it, we read of how God defeated the Egyptians as the slaves crossed the Red Sea, about how God turned up like a superhero, coming to save the day.

In the 3rd reading today, we read that before the events of Psalm 15 happened, God gave Moses two instructions. Firstly, to “tell the sons of Israel to march on”, and secondly, for Moses to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the sea and part it.  God asked Moses to play his part so that God could play His!

Rather than having God swoop in and solve our problems, I believe God asks us to be active participants in the solution. He wants us to first begin the process, then let Him take over and do the rest. Rather than being passive in the whole process, I feel that God wants us to be collaborators; to work in partnership with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we will have the courage to collaborate with You; to take the first steps in allowing You to work within our lives.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father for working within our lives; for teaching us to take the first step in working closely with You.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsarial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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Strength in Commitment

“With great love will I take you back”

I remember attending the Marriage Preparation Course twenty years ago. One of the most memorable takeaways I remember is that love was not just an emotion; it was also a decision. Many older married couples counseled us, saying that beyond the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, making love work would take conscious decisions, which need to be made and reaffirmed time and again.

In the 4th reading today, we get a sense of the level of commitment our God has for us. The reading reminds us that whatever difficulties a wife may face with the husband, they return to the marital promise of being there for each other.

My wife and I have been married 20 years this year. Indeed, the advice and words from our elders came true during the years. Many friends have told me that both my wife and I are blessed to have a successful marriage. The truth is, however, that our marriage took very hard work, with many ups and downs along the way. Ultimately though, the decision was, for the both of us, we would work on our marriage no matter how hard it took.

Let us cling to this strong commitment that our God has for us and remember that whatever happens, He is there for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, help us to always remember that You are always there for us, loving us.

ThanksgivingThank You Lord, for the deep commitment You have given us. Thank You for being there for us, no matter what.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Jesus is waiting for you

Listen, that you may have life.

The end of 2016 wasn’t not easy going for me – spiritual dryness, praying was especially hard and I struggled to find meaning in my very existence. It was a time of sheer darkness. My God had abandoned me! So by January, I knew I needed to just get away from it all. To be completely alone, to come away from ‘life’ as I knew it.

I marked the beginning of Lent by spending a week away on a retreat. I had planned to go with a friend, but that friend pulled out due to work commitments. I found another willing companion but just days before, she too pulled out. Eventually I went alone. I have never before travelled on my own; work trips excluded. But the Lord planned that I would make this journey on my own. I needed this quiet time away but truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, learning from past experiences, nothing goes according to my plan. On previous silent retreats, I would list a slew of questions and our God of surprises would throw my list out of the window. Still, on the very first day, I wrote in my journal 4 objectives for my retreat. How typical of me to set ‘the agenda’ for this ‘meeting’. But even as I wrote in my book, I was thinking to myself “I bet none of these questions would be covered.”

On route to my destination, I was reading and came across this line which struck me. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? I had been worried about a situation I was facing and reading this was very comforting. Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money come! And so, my retreat began.

For some time, I kept questioning what my reason for being is – my vocation. I was convinced that the Lord was simply silent to that question. But during this time, when I shut out all my own thoughts and feelings, I heard it loud and clear — “Your vocation is not static. It moves and evolves”. It was like ‘wham!’ a lightning bolt, and it all became clear in my mind. While I was so busy wallowing in my self-constructed prison of darkness, the answer was as simple and clear as day, right before me and yet I never saw it. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.

God yearns to speak to us and lead us – we can choose to listen, or go our own merry way. He gives us free will. As for me, my head was so busy and noisy with my own thoughts and ways of fixing my problem that I practically shut out His voice. And of course, my way was not the best way. I found myself completely lost in a maze. Then like a spoilt child, I scream and throw a tantrum saying that God has abandoned me. It was only when I finally gave up, gave in and gave it all to Jesus that I heard Him. I acknowledged that it was I who walked away from Him, while all along, He never left my side. I came away from my vacation with Jesus refreshed, recharged, with a sense of hope and purpose. And yes, He did answer my questions this time!

So today, as we are just hours away from Easter, can we let ourselves out of the tomb of darkness? The darkness and pain that we are so accustomed to and walk out into the light?

Jesus is waiting just outside, my friends!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, teach us to silence our hearts and minds that we might hear you speaking. Teach us to seek you and call to you when we are lost and in need of your nourishment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for rejuvenating our souls. Your words are refreshing cool spring waters on a parched soul. Thank you for being our strength and comfort.


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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsarial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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To Listen is to Love

“Had you walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in enduring peace”

 I’ve heard it said many times before that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’m not so sure. For one it leaves me feeling foolish whenever I come across that mountain of bad decisions I’ve made in my life. What if I had done things differently or taken another path, would I be better off now? But then, what is better off? It would be what I perceived to be better off, maybe even what the world perceives to be ‘better off’.

But where would God fit into my life if I didn’t make bad decisions then beg for divine intervention? I might look back one day and say, if only I didn’t have it all together then God would have entered my life sooner. Much like the Israelites in slavery, did we ever find out what got them there in the first place? Then in being rescued, the journey took so long that while God was rescuing them, they wanted to abandon him again.

I think our journeys into the light are long and painful, filled with valleys and peaks so that we can stand tall at the end and say with true marvellous reverence, “My Lord and My God”.

How much more do we appreciate that which we fought so hard for, how much more do we appreciate the airport we land in when the flight was 24 hours long with 3 connections, when we find the place of wisdom and enter into her treasuries where we find peace, we can truly appreciate being there and dwelling there.

Our history is blessed, it had led us to where we are now, with all our failings and misdeeds. We have been called out of slavery and into everlasting life. Hindsight works for some, not so for others, but for me, I’m blessed to be able to look back at the journey that I am still on, in fact, and boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, he is strong and if I let him, he will carry me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: The path to you is narrow and filled with dangers; but you, my Saviour, can bring me home. Grant me that trust and reliance on you my Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for my blessed history. Let me gain wisdom by reflecting on my past to help me rely on you more every day.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsarial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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The Struggles in Prayer

Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.

Often in prayer, I have to overcome a barrier — my sense of unworthiness. I frequently enter into prayer with a sense of shame. A shame that I have not been living as closely with God as ‘I should’; that I have not been talking to God as ‘I should’. Needless to say, these thoughts keep me focused on myself and my inadequacies, causing prayer to be a very heavy and burdensome experience.

The verse above provides a sense of liberation. God treats me well not because I deserve it, but because of His own name. Perhaps it would help to think about how I treat certain individuals that I dislike in order to understand how God treats me when I act poorly.

When I am tempted to be unkind to people I dislike, I refrain from acting like this because I cannot live with myself being an unkind and cruel person. I find myself instead extending general courtesy towards them. If I, a human being and a sinner, can withhold from acting nastily or cruelly because it is not in my nature to do so, what more God?

In fact, God goes further. He doesn’t just treat me civilly; the way I do with people I am not fond of. He doesn’t just keep me at arm’s length when He is displeased with me. On the contrary, He pursues and gathers me home, cleanses me, changes my heart and calls me, a sinner, “Mine”. He does this because His nature is that of a loving Father – one who patiently woos and changes hearts, one that always welcomes His children home, one that does His best to let His children feel safe at home.

If I imagined God as this loving Father who is here to welcome me, hold me, help me, renew my heart, make me more like Him, would I enter into prayer differently? Would I still shrink into the darkness of self-condemnation or would I relax into His loving and compassionate light?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Nathalia)

Prayer: Dear Father, I pray to relax into Your loving and compassionate embrace. I pray to let go of my habit of judging myself, and build a new habit of focusing on who You are and how You will always act in accordance with Your loving nature.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that because God’s nature is good, He will always be good to us. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’.


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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsarial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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All you who long for Life

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.

This scripture passage reminds me of the story of Lazarus having died and been buried in the tomb for three days. We have encountered this story during Lent. And so we know that Jesus arrived late, he witnessed the grief of Mary and Martha, and he mourned with them. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Jesus called Lazarus to arise from his death and walk out from the tomb.

Tonight, we will witness the baptism of new members into our Catholic family. It is a tremendously joyous occasion, one filled with jubilation and hope and new life! At the same time, the readings also call us to a powerful reality we must contend with as Christians, and that is the fact of death, or the need to die. Dying is such an important part of life, that God uses death to reveal to us a conundrum – it does not only happen at the end of one’s life. Death is a powerful gateway to true and eternal Life. ‘But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him… in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:8,11).

Many of us may never fully understand this until we are finitely confronted with death in its literal sense. We realize how helpless we truly are in the face of our mortality, and those of our loved ones, or even, the millions of refugees in war-torn lands. Even so, how would this knowledge touch our souls?

From my experience, dying will happen to us on three levels of our reality, although each may be felt differently. The first is literal (the loss of life), the second metaphorical or emotional (the loss of a relationship, a dream), and the third being spiritual (death to one’s sin, death to the spiritual life, the loss of hope, depression).

In the light of baptism and our renewal of our baptismal vows together with the congregation, we are called to choose to die to our sin, to reject Satan and his lies, to trust that our redemption and true life will come with His Resurrection. It will not be easy, as some of us struggle with addictions, compulsions and even blindness to our wrongs. Still, we pray humbly for the courage to wage this battle, knowing full well that our hope and victory come through the power of Christ’s Precious Blood and Body. We are called and chosen to hold the great I AM in our hands and taste of His true flesh and blood. May we never take the Eucharist for granted.

At the same time, I feel called to address my brothers and sisters who are struggling with your faith, with elements of our faith, with your own desolation, depression, and despair, who feel daily dead in their spirits or lost in loneliness. As Jesus comforts Mary and Martha, “this [illness, pain, doubt or suffering] does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). This is a death that is hardest to talk about amongst even the closest of friends and family. But the Christ whom you have once professed faith in and who has chosen you, He sees you. He sees through, hidden as it may be. He feels your pain and struggles, your doubts and confusion, your despair and sorrow.

Oftentimes, there are no quick fixes, no three-day empowerment programs, no majestic resurrection moments. Do not be discouraged. Do not shudder or recoil at the glory of these “Alleluia!” Scriptures that are promised you tonight, simply because you can not presently feel the joy or hope.

This is the heroism of our faith, that we, human as we are, are called upon to defy the darkness, in spite of our own darkness. Trust! Hold fast! The glory of God and His Son is still germinating in the dark soil beneath wherever you are standing, and it will take time. It must take time. We have the Christ, who is King over all of the living and the dead, and especially these agonising in-between spaces. He has traversed these boundaries and revealed His Eternal Dominion over all of time and space. Have faith. I know that three days can sometimes feel like forever. I know because I have been stuck before. But I know Christ has always remained faithful in these spaces with me. Even if I had been blind to it. He has never let me go, and He has raised me up. He will never let you go, and He will raise you up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, please make known your love and presence to those who are struggling with sorrow, doubt, depression. May they sense the warmth of your Precious Blood even in the darkness.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for the gift of faith, the grace of baptism, and the Holy Spirit who protects me at all times.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

25 March, Saturday – “God is with us”

25 Mar – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel, the archangel, that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

  • Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then he said:
Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God is with us.’
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Hebrews 10:4-10
Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:
You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’
Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.
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Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
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Every day at 12 noon, my alarm goes off. And as long as I am not urgently occupied I say the Angelus (or my wife reminds me to). Traditionally, it was prayed three times a day, accompanied by church bells. Even the Holy Father makes an event of praying the Angelus when he does it on Sundays at noon and gives a short address. The Church has also attached a partial indulgence to praying the Angelus.

Why does this prayer get so much air time? I think, precisely because it represents the single most significant event in the history of the world. The Annunciation. Mary said ‘Yes’ and the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity was immediately present in her womb and, until now, is present in the world. Literally, God is with us. So every day, millions of people take a bit of time to ponder this great mystery. The one sovereign God loves us so much that he became exactly like one of us, holding on to none of His splendour and grandeur.

What does this mean to us? Do we live like God is among us? Or is He only present in the tabernacle or worse, only 2000 years ago? I have come to realise that once we make ourselves aware of God’s true presence within and around us all the time, then we truly live as His children; like recently, when I visited an old workplace of mine and met with old colleagues, (post reversion to the faith) I could see people for the people they are and not what they can do, how they work or what position they hold. Being more aware of God’s presence makes us less judgmental and more compassionate. It makes us model Mary, just a little bit.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me,” said Mary. And from that moment, the Lord was with her. Let us, in recitation of the Angelus daily, become handmaids too, and do all the Lord asks of us and always be aware that he is truly with us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for your Mother; Our Mother, for her yes, for her intercession and for her leading us to you.