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25 December, Mass in the Day – The Revelation Of A Child

25 December

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Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness,
proclaims salvation,
and tells Zion,
‘Your God is king!’

Listen! Your watchmen raise their voices,
they shout for joy together,
for they see the Lord face to face,
as he returns to Zion.

Break into shouts of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord is consoling his people,
redeeming Jerusalem.

The Lord bares his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

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Hebrews 1:1-6

At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature, sustaining the universe by his powerful command; and now that he has destroyed the defilement of sin, he has gone to take his place in heaven at the right hand of divine Majesty. So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.

God has never said to any angel: You are my Son, today I have become your father; or: I will be a father to him and he a son to me. Again, when he brings the First-Born into the world, he says: Let all the angels of God worship him.

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John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word:
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light
that enlightens all men;
and he was coming into the world.
He was in the world
that had its being through him,
and the world did not know him.
He came to his own domain
and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to all who believe in the name of him
who was born not out of human stock
or urge of the flesh
or will of man
but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh,
he lived among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims:
‘This is the one of whom I said:
He who comes after me ranks before me
because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received –
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God;
it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart,
who has made him known.

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But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God

This Advent has been a memorable one. My husband and I recently welcomed the birth of our first born child – a precious little boy. Awaiting the birth of our son has naturally placed us in a state of waiting. True enough, our world has completely changed in a mere month!

There are countless things I have learnt about my child, my husband, and myself during this time – and it has been a challenging and humbling journey so far.

Ever since I have become a mother to my son, I have had an ongoing ‘conversation’ with Mother Mary. These happen throughout our endless days and nights, when feeding sessions merge with naps, that merge with feeding sessions yet again, in one infinite two or three hour loop! There have been tough nights when we are kept up trying to soothe a crying colicky baby to no avail, with no way to communicate our desire to help take away his pain. Watching your tiny baby’s suffering cries, as he fights the discomfort and tries to sleep, is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences.

In these and many other trying moments, I wonder how Mother Mary experienced taking care of an inconsolable colicky Jesus. How frustrated and exhausted she must have felt trying to understand and decode what each cry meant, worrying over every little whimper or breath or silence from the baby. She must have felt discouraged when baby Jesus could not be soothed. How did she get through those nights of an endlessly needy and suckling infant? How did St Joseph help Mother Mary with the home and caring of Jesus? Did they let the sleep deprivation take over patience and tenderness with each other? I often pray for sufficient grace just to make it through to the next feed or nap!

At the same time, I marvel at the great sacrifice and heartbreak of our Heavenly Father who sent His only begotten son into our world, to walk in our midst, and to endure the suffering of being human though he is faultless. How often have we taken for granted the necessary stages of life that Jesus had to pass through from infancy to childhood into adulthood.

God has given us the greatest gift of a very vulnerable Jesus who humbly had to rely and trust completely in His mother’s ability to care for him.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us contemplate the humbling of our Lord and Saviour in order that we might more readily receive Him into our hearts and home. Christ came to mankind as a needy and humble infant to rescue us from our self-absorbed gazes of self-reliance and self-preservation.

May we extend our gazes beyond our needs this season, and reach out to friends, family, or strangers who need to know that they are a beloved child of God. May we bring the infant Jesus with us everywhere we go — to empathise with, to touch, and to comfort them. Blessed Christmas!

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for ‘redeemed’ eyes to experience the world anew with the innocence of a child’s gaze, the reliance and surrender of a baby to his parents. May this image humble us to love more tenderly.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for giving us the parents we have, who have tirelessly loved and cared for us, even in their moments of exasperation, self-doubt, ignorance and discouragement.

20 December, Wednesday – Preparing The Nativity Of Our Hearts

20 Dec

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Isaiah 7:10-14

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 Isaiah 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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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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I am the handmaid of the Lord.

It is so hard to recover the lost art of being a handmaiden in our day and age. These days, we have a thousand and one ‘hacks’ and ‘tips’ and ‘lists’ and ‘secrets revealed’ online about just any problematic topic. These lists are concise and quick reads, telling us in just 10 or 20 points how to resolve or overcome difficult marriages/relationships; run a household/company; understand ourselves/others better… and the list goes on! While some could be useful, I have found my recent fixation with these quick-fixes detrimental to my spiritual life.

I am tempted to think I can solve every problem I, or my loved ones, face; that a solution is just out there waiting to pop up on my daily newsfeed; that I can be the harbinger of answers to the people around me. The folly!

Likewise, elsewhere in Scripture, we hear of another Mary, and her sister Martha who received Jesus into their home. In the passage where Jesus visits the sisters, we see two ways of being – the ‘Mary’ way, and the ‘Martha’ way.

‘Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”.’ (Matthew 10:38-42)

Mary understood what it was to be the handmaid of the Lord. She was not over-zealous to prove her worthiness in the doing-of-things like Martha was. She was aware of the transcendental presence of the Christ in their home. If Christ was the Lord that Martha called Him to be, then certainly He didn’t need the 1001 things to be done for Him. Jesus is the Lord of the Heavens and Earth, not the Lord of the world. There is nothing we can give to Him or add unto Him to illuminate His Holiness further.

The only desire He had in the house of Mary and Martha, was that they be present to Him. Their posture of a handmaid, waiting in watchful silence, ever-alert, ever-listening, surrendering our preoccupations with things to submit to His will. That was Mary’s way. Just as we would find it hard to find an appropriate gift for a very important person if we were invited to the house of say, the President of our country – he would have everything already. The most treasured and one-of-a-kind gift we could offer, would be the dedicated attention of our individual presence in his company. It is most simple, and yet our agendas can often be so obtuse!

Mary, Mother of our God, fashions for us the precise qualities of what it means to be a ‘Handmaid of the Lord’. It is her watchfulness, her humility, her openness and surrendered spiritual posture, that receives the Holy Spirit. It is this diminishment of her Self, and the desire to magnify the Lord, that allows the Holy Spirit to permeate and impregnate this graced moment, and bring us our Christ Jesus, Saviour of the world.

It is no easy feat for me. And I realise I constantly need this reminder to model my spiritual life after Mary our Mother. Being the Type A ‘fixer’ personality that I am, the tendency I have to solving problems (my way), stubbornness, impatience, and pride, has brought much friction to the relationships around me – demanding of others, ‘haven’t you seen what I have been doing?’ It is hard to truly be still and deeply ponder as Mother Mary does.

Indeed, as Jesus reminds me today: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”. It is of far more eternal value to our Father, that we be-with-Him, than to be buzzing around Him. After all, isn’t He called Emmanuel, God-is-with-us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving us Mary our Mother, who is our model of faith, humility, and surrender to Your Holy Will. Teach us to love and honour her the way You have specially chosen her for us.

Prayer: We pray for each other: That in this Christmas season, we lose our obsession to plan and over-plan around the festivities and parties, where the misguided focus is on ourselves to be charitable and hospitable to others in our homes and churches – but instead, we neglect to prepare our own souls to be hospitable to the Infant Jesus who is waiting to enter into the Nativity of our hearts. May we be more self-aware and humble like Mother Mary.

19 December, Tuesday – Prayer, A Mirror Into Our Souls

19 Dec

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Judges 13:2-7,24-25

There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman and said to her, ‘You are barren and have had no child. But from now on take great care. Take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For you will conceive and bear a son. No razor is to touch his head, for the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb. It is he who will begin to rescue Israel from the power of the Philistines.’ Then the woman went and told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me; his presence was like the presence of the angel of God, he was so majestic. I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not reveal his name to me. But he said to me, “You will conceive and bear a son. From now on, take no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be God’s nazirite from his mother’s womb to his dying day.”’

The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and the Lord blessed him; and the spirit of the Lord began to move him.

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Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were worthy in the sight of God, and scrupulously observed all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both getting on in years.

Now it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the ritual custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. And at the hour of incense the whole congregation was outside, praying.

Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’

Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had received a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them, and remained dumb.

When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

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‘…it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’

We read two stories of women who endured a long season of barrenness. In the Bible, as is the case of many agrarian civilisations, fertility is regarded as anointing from God. It is a blessing from the Heavens if a woman bears many children and her husband is also deemed a righteous man for fathering many. Likewise, if a woman remains barren, it is seen as a curse from God and she is frowned upon by her kinfolk. If her husband is a good man, he would still love and protect her. If he was a strong man of faith, he would still honour and cherish her as God did Israel, he would defend her from their tribespeople. A woman was therefore largely dependent on the spiritual, mental, and emotional strength and resilience of her husband – to withstand these humiliations himself, and therefore protect her and uphold her dignity.

These two women – the mother of Samson; and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist – were women of great faith. They were also blessed by good and righteous men of God who stayed with them and honoured them. However, were their husbands impervious or immune to the humiliations their wives faced because they were childless? I doubt it. Were the husbands themselves troubled, humiliated, discouraged? I am sure. As Elizabeth said, ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’ She suffered when her husband suffered, but she had to remain strong for the both of them.

Zechariah was a priest and, as Scripture tells us, he and Elizabeth scrupulously observed the commandments and were worthy in God’s sight. For this fact alone, I am sure many of their prayers in the dark of the night consisted of lamentations that their faithfulness had not resulted in fruitfulness – they were only human. Even I can feel their yearnings on my lips! Zechariah must have been worn down by years of unanswered prayers and the ridicule of his fellow priests that his first response to the angel of God (unlike Elizabeth’s) was ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.’ Hence he was struck dumb – it was a lesson from God.

None of us are immune to seasons of doubt. And especially for husbands and wives who may pray specifically for answers to ‘why isn’t my husband a more loving and gentle man?’ to ‘why isn’t my wife more understanding to my needs?’ to ‘why are our children so rebellious?’ it can get very exhausting and despairing. Prayers for our loved ones are always riddled with seasons of barrenness as what we pray for about them, are actually things that God is teaching us about ourselves. That is, prayers for a more understanding and pliant wife, could be God’s invitation to the man to grow more noble and generous in himself.; while prayers for a more loving and tender husband, could be God’s invitation to the woman to soften in patience and gentleness. Many of these prayers we make are often mirrors for ourselves illuminating blind-spots that we need to grow more aware of in ourselves, to experience a conversion of our mentality and approach.

When the things we pray for do not get answered immediately, or things do not work out the way we envision or prescribe to God, we need to re-examine our prayer life and our own relationship with our Lord Jesus. Have we tried to conform God’s love and mercy into our own mould and image? Have we tried to specify to God how we want Him to help and bless us?

In the light of our Scriptures today too, it is an invitation for husbands to reflect if they have continued to protect their wives needs, to cherish and honour them, as the Bride whom they took at the altar. It is an invitation for wives to reflect if they have been loving, respectful, and tender to their husbands needs, to build them up and encourage them to grow in imitation of Christ.

It is so tough – and it is tougher when we are called to love as God first loved us, in moments when it seems the other party is wringing us dry… And so we look to our Lamb of God, and we draw on His strength and mercy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for the love of our family members who, by their patience and endurance in loving us in our difficult moments – help to change us from within.

Prayer: We ask you Jesus, for the strength to keep on loving even when it hurts, when it gets tiring, when it becomes senseless to do so. Teach us Your ways O Lord.

18 December, Monday – Where Are You, God?

18 Dec

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –
when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David,
who will reign as true king and be wise,
practising honesty and integrity in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel dwell in confidence.
And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.

So, then, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt!” but, “As the Lord lives who led back and brought home the descendants of the House of Israel out of the land of the North and from all the countries to which he had dispersed them, to live on their own soil.”

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Matthew 1:18-24

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

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God-is-with-us

Whenever we hear of the terrible and tragic news around the world, such as the hostage situation and deaths striking the Lindt Cafe in Sydney; the massacre of students in the Peshawar military-run school by the Pakistani Taliban; the Sewol ferry tragedy in Seoul; the victims of Super Typhoon Hagupit in Philippines, it is hard to believe that God truly is with us. Recently, a very dear friend of mine lost her beloved husband to an unexpected sudden death, and I could not help but share in her grief and tears, myself asking, “God, are you there?” In times like these, I ask God: did you show your glorious face to them in their final moments? Do they know You are real, did they know You as Love as they passed through this life?

On this side of life, we struggle to understand, give, receive, experience love. What is love to those of us who have experienced heartbreak, growing pains, mental-, emotional-, sexual-abuse, loss and grief? How can we make sense of this constant falling short of true joy and fulfilment in life… this almost-but-not-there-yet-ness of many endeavours we put ourselves through? God seems so far from us in these desperate moments. It is cold, dark, lonely, and terrifying to find ourselves trapped in this valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) – living in this moment of the absence of God. But God is with us even in this very valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Psalm 23)

How do we see God in this pitch-black night of sorrow and fear? The reality of our understanding of darkness is testament to our existent experience and knowledge of light. As darkness is not a level of brightness, but the absence of light, we need to trust that we have once seen and experienced Pure Light. This is the prior knowing of our soul. We have been kissed and visited by the Light of God when God had knitted us in our mother’s womb – and this imprint of Love and Light is carried deep inside of our soul throughout this life. Our constant realisation of the falling-short-of joy and fulfilment in this life, the frustrating incompleteness of life’s endeavours, serves to point us to the light of Eternal Truth, Way and Life.

The secret is to ‘walk through’ this valley of the shadow of death as Psalm 23 tells us. It is not enough to stand at the mouth of the valley staring into darkness and fearing the worst. As consuming as whatever darkness we experience can be, there is always an imperceptible glimmer of brightness by which our eyes eventually acclimatise to see. We can still discern the edges of this shadowed valley and fumble through. And God-is-with-us in each present moment.

The Word proclaims His promises of rescue and shelter for us. His Promises are the rod and staff by which we steady our gait. This is what we need to cling onto whenever we feel shattered by fear and grief, hatred and injustice.

Baby Jesus was himself pushed through the darkness of Mary’s birth canal. Our Lord was born unto us after much human struggle. His first sounds were cries of fear and confusion, turned to the relief and comfort of Mary’s breast. The God Almighty allowed Himself to experience the necessary human passage through time and shadow in order to be one with us and share in our human passions and sufferings and ultimately, death.

May we realise that this is how God-is-with-us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Thanksgiving: Jesus, you have gone through everything we will ever go through in our lives. Your first infant cries; your playground scuffles; the frustration of learning the ropes of carpentry; the betrayal of friendships; the humiliation of slander; injustice for innocence; and cruel death on Calvary. For Your companionship in all that I fear and suffer in, I thank You Lord.

Prayer: We pray for the innocent departed souls of all we hear in the news and of our loved ones. May our Lord shine His Divine Mercy and Love upon them and grant to them Eternal Peace and Rest.

17 December, Sunday – Jesus, With Joy I Shall Trust In You

14 Dec – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Our Joy In Christ

We celebrate our joy in Christ’s redeeming work among us, realising that he who is to come is indeed already with us, unknown to us. 

– Sunday Missal

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Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

‘I exult for joy in the Lord,
my soul rejoices in my God,
for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation,
he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity,
like a bridegroom wearing his wreath,
like a bride adorned in her jewels.

‘For as the earth makes fresh things grow,
as a garden makes seeds spring up,
so will the Lord make both integrity and praise
spring up in the sight of the nations.’

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1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.

Never try to suppress the Spirit or treat the gift of prophecy with contempt; think before you do anything – hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.

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John 1:6-8,19-28

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’

Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

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God has called you and he will not fail you.

It is the year end and, as the year closes, it is predictably a difficult time for me – both in my work and personal life. I start to take stock of stuff, evaluate progress, achievements, and improvements. Some events bring joy, other situations strap me with anxiety. Then again, this is Advent, a season of waiting.

One of the toughest things to cling onto in my faith journey is to trust that God’s got my back 100% of the time. Truth is, there are countless moments where I suddenly feel abandoned by the very God who is all-knowing and all-seeing. I could come home after a lovely night out celebrating a milestone with my friends, or after a peace-infused quiet time in the Adoration Chapel, to a home that has mysteriously gone all discordant in the few hours I’d been out. Tempers are flaring, temperatures rising. A rug pulled out from under my feet. Wondering if I’m actually allowed to even trust that life and people can be stable and reliable. I get impatient, angry, frustrated, and most of all I despair, and throw myself into the sea of doubt.

The second reading of Thessalonians today strikes a chord – “Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.” I am challenged. But I am reminded that a joyful soul is a blessed soul – “I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation…”

It is truly hardest to believe that we are cared for and protected when we lay our expectations on other people who cannot save themselves. Salvation does not come from with-in, it enters into our lives from with-out, and beyond our earthly dimensions. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we are able to admit this invasion of Eternity into our present moment – that is, the infant Christ can then be born in our hearts and lives.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, […] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? […] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? […] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)

This restfulness and blessedness is revealed in the Gospel passage today when John the Baptist is not fazed by the incessant haranguing and harassment of questions by the Jewish priest and Levites about his identity and origin. “This is how John appeared as a witness” it is said; that sentence is full of authority and certainty. John appeared as a witness without mincing his words or flailing with anxiety. John replies “I am… a voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord.” John does not need to reply to their superficial questions about his place of birth or his ancestry. Instead, he proclaims his identity and purpose in the Lord God Almighty. Simply said.

How often do we grow anxious, weary, despondent, and fearful about how we appear to the world, and how the world (mis)treats us, when all the world is passing anyway? Indeed as God has called us, He will never, ever fail us. He calls us My beloved, and He calls us to come to Him as children to their father. Our only duty and purpose in life during these storms is to cling to His everlasting promise of salvation, and root our identity in being His beloved children. He will lift us up, and save us in the most unexpected of ways – just as He did by sending a baby in manger to be the Saviour of the world. As we proceed into the third week of Advent, may we wait in joyful, expectant, and child-like hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Thanksgiving: Lord, I thank you for this timely reminder of my sin of distrust and pride in the blaming you for abandoning me, when it is in fact my momentary choice to let go of You. Help me be better at loving and trusting in You Jesus!

Prayer: Holy Spirit, prepare my heart to receive Christ with joy and praise on my lips. Fill me with the grace to give thanks and bring Jesus to others around me.

21 October, Saturday – Faith In The Dark

21 October 2017

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Romans 4:13, 16-18

The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith. That is why what fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us. As scripture says: I have made you the ancestor of many nations – Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist.

Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised: Your descendants will be as many as the stars.

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Luke 12:8-12

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you, if anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare himself for him in the presence of the angels. But the man who disowns me in the presence of men will be disowned in the presence of God’s angels.’

‘Everyone who says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.’

‘When they take you before synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how to defend yourselves or what to say, because when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will teach you what you must say.’

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If anyone openly declares himself for me in the presence of men, the Son of Man will declare himself for him in the presence of the angels.

How comforting it is to be promised a defense before the court of angels – by Jesus Christ himself! No, this is not a pipe dream, the candy-coated part of our faith that we will never live to see. It is true in the present, in that the heavenly court is an unseen reality right now. But of course, this is invisible to the naked eye. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1).

St Paul tells the Romans that Abraham is their father of faith too, precisely because they have received their faith through Christ Jesus and not by Jewish tradition. “The promise of inheriting the world was not made to Abraham and his descendants on account of any law, but on account of the righteousness which consists in faith.” (Rm 4:13). This was a very important statement in the time of the early church because there was often strife between the Jews of Abrahamic descent, and the pagans and gentiles who were adopted into the faith. Those who became adopted children of God could sometimes face discrimination or a lower esteem as ‘second-class family members’. I suppose this could be the experience of some of our young brethren in this day and age. St Paul wanted to assure them of their equal sonship through Christ.

The thing about the gift of faith is that the length of reception into the family does not matter. What matters is a deep desire and sincerity in believing in God. “What fulfils the promise depends on faith, so that it may be a free gift and be available to all of Abraham’s descendants, not only those who belong to the Law but also those who belong to the faith of Abraham who is the father of all of us” who believe in the one God “who brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not exist” (Rm 4:16-17).

A totally new life in Christ is what awaits those amongst us who have yet to come to know God the Heavenly Father, or have yet to be fully received into the Church family. What lies behind them no longer matters in this new life. As St Paul encourages the early Philippian church too, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi 3:13-14).

And even those of us who struggle to put one foot in front of the other in this dark night of our faith journeys, let us be comforted that: “Though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled, he hoped and he believed, and through doing so he did become the father of many nations exactly as he had been promised” (Rm 4:18).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for a deeper trust in God, in responding to this gift and mystery of faith. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you God, for this gift of knowing you and your Son Jesus Christ who walks with me.

20 October, Friday – Yeast of Sincerity

20 October 2017

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Romans 4:1-8

What shall we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are all descended? If Abraham was justified as a reward for doing something, he would really have had something to boast about, though not in God’s sight because scripture says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him. And David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:

Happy those whose crimes are forgiven, whose sins are blotted out; happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.

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Luke 12:1-7

The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.

‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’

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Every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid.
A little yeast is a dangerous thing. Throughout the Bible, yeast is referred to repeatedly. Scripture speaks of yeast in this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Mt 13:33). But in most places, yeast seems to have a negative connotation, as we read in the Gospel today “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). Elsewhere, we are called to bring unleavened bread and wafers as our offering to God (Lev 10:12; Num 6:14-15; etc). For Holy Communion, we use unleavened wafers to represent the Body of Christ.
Initially, I was a little confused between this reference to yeast and salt. Why is salt good and why are we called to be ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13; Mk 9:50)? But yeast seems to hint at different meanings. Yeast is used as leitmotif for sin and evil intentions in one place, but is also used as a peace offering and wave offering to God (Lev 7:13; 23:17).
I suppose this is the very thing that Jesus warns us against – this ‘yeast of hypocrisy’. It is hard to be certain when yeast can be used for good or bad. Haven’t we experienced something of this nature in our personal experiences before? Conversations amongst a church community may start with the best intentions of sharing faith experiences, but can also become a stumbling block for those who begin to believe themselves more faithful or obedient than others. It is truly no easy balancing act!
I believe the clue to understanding this is seen in the first reading today – the age-old question of what justifies us in God’s eyes. This is where the symbiotic and intertwining relationship of faith and good works comes to bear. St Paul tells the Romans: “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him” (Rm 4:2-4). Abraham had to ‘put his faith in God’, and not merely ‘have faith’. This is evidence of an active faith – one that required a living action and not a passive reception (Jas 2:14-26). This is the trip-up that Jesus calls us to be on guard against.
Faith and Works are like flour and yeast; though their significance can differ according to each person. It is the foolish man who thinks he knows which parts of his faith and how many parts of his good works contribute to counting him worthy in God’s eyes. How will we ever know? It is not for us to count towards our self-justification. After all, David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven,
whose sins are blotted out;
happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Help us Lord, to humbly discern our own spiritual needs and cultivate our own faith garden. Help us not to peek over the fences into our neighbour’s garden to compare spiritual fruits which are yours alone to give. 
Thanksgiving: Happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless!

19 October, Thursday – Who Can Understand God?

Oct 19 – Memorial for Sts. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, martyrs; Memorial for St. Paul of the Cross, Priest

John de Brebeuf (1593–1649) was a French Jesuit. He wanted to enter the priesthood since young, but his health was so bad there were doubts he could make it. His posting as a missionary to frontier Canada at the age of 32 was a literal godsend. He spent the rest of his life there, and the harsh and hearty climate so agreed with him that the Natives, surprised at his endurance, called him “Echon”, which means “load bearer”. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear of sinking.

John had great difficulty learning the Huron language. “You may have been a famous professor or theologian in France,” he wrote in a letter home, “but here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse.” However, he eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.

According to the histories of the game, it was John who named the present-day version of the Indian game ‘lacrosse’ because the stick used reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (la crosse).

He was martyred in 1649, tortured to death by the Iroquois. By 1650, the Huron nation was exterminated, and the laboriously built mission was abandoned. But it proved to be “one of the triumphant failures that are commonplace in the Church’s history”. These martyrdoms created a wave of vocations and missionary fervour in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.

– Patron Saint Index

Isaac Jogues (1607–1646) joined the Jesuits at Rouen, France in 1624. He was ordained a priest and taught literature. He became a missionary to New France (Canada) in 1636, starting in Quebec and working among the Hurons and Petuns in the area of the Great Lakes. This was a rough assignment – not only were the living conditions hard, but the locals blamed the ‘Blackrobes’ for any disease, ill luck, or other problems that occurred where they were.

He was captured on 3 August 1642 by the Mohawks, enslaved, tortured and mutilated for 13 months, but he taught the Faith to any who would listen. With the help of local Dutch settlers he finally escaped and was sent back to France to recover.

In 1644, he returned to Canada to continue his work with the natives and negotiate peace with the Iroquois. He was martyred with fellow Jesuit priest John de Brebeuf and several lay missionaries when the natives blamed Christian sorcery for an epidemic and crop failure. He is one of the North America Martyrs.

– Patron Saint Index

Paul of the Cross (1694–1775) was the son of a merchant and a pious youth. After receiving a vision and while still a layman, he founded the Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion (Passionists) in 1721 to preach about Jesus Crucified. He was a preacher of such power that hardened soldiers and bandits were seen to weep.

The community lived a penitential life, in solitude and poverty, teaching people in the easiest possible way how to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. He was ordained in 1727 along with his brother John Baptist by Pope Benedict XIII. After ordination, they devoted themselves to preaching missions in parishes, particularly in remote country places where there were insufficient priests pastorally involved. Their preaching apostolate and the retreats they gave in seminaries and religious houses brought their mission to the attention of others and gradually the community began to grow.

However, the austere life of the Passionists did not encourage large numbers and at one point all the brothers in the Order deserted him. But Paul preferred a slow, at times painful, growth to something more spectacular. In 1741 his Rule was approved by Pope Benedict XIV, and the community began to grow again.

During his lifetime, Paul of the Cross was best known as a popular preacher and a spiritual director. More than two thousand of his letters, most of them letters of spiritual direction, have been preserved. By the time of his death, the congregation had 80 fathers and brothers. He is considered among the greatest Catholic mystics of the 18th century.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Romans 3:21-30

God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law, since it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone, Jew and pagan alike, who believes in Jesus Christ. Both Jew and pagan sinned and forfeited God’s glory, and both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith. In this way God makes his justice known; first, for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand, then, for the present age, by showing positively that he is just, and that he justifies everyone who believes in Jesus.

So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them. What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do. Is God the God of Jews alone and not of the pagans too? Of the pagans too, most certainly, since there is only one God.

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Luke 11:47-54

Jesus said:

‘Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets, the men your ancestors killed! In this way you both witness what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building.

‘And that is why the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles; some they will slaughter and persecute, so that this generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary.” Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all.

‘Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.’

When he left the house, the scribes and the Pharisees began a furious attack on him and tried to force answers from him on innumerable questions, setting traps to catch him out in something he might say.

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So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)

The readings today are truly confounding. Let us put aside what we already know, to step into the shoes of all who were present in the scene where Paul preached, or in the presence of Jesus as he denounced the Pharisees and lawyers. How might we feel?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul cautioned them against self-righteousness amongst themselves, whether Jews or pagans. It is not enough just to live within the bounds of the Law, for all have sinned and forfeited God’s glory. We understand this reasoning when we pause long enough to recognise even the minor wrongs we commit against our neighbours through gossip, judgmentalism, lies. It is not enough to be of the same Christian stock or label – for every person’s individual flaws and weaknesses are different. Paul tells us, “…both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus… so as to win reconciliation through faith” (Rm 3:24-25).

We must not be complacent and boast about our salvation simply because we outwardly profess our faith in Christ Jesus. This can become misguided and exclusionary. “What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do…” (Rm 3:27-28)

Only God can look into the hearts of man. Even the holiest of men cannot see into the soul of another, though he may be able to discern it. This is what made Jesus furious as he lambasted the Pharisees and lawyers of the time. He accused them of the same sins as their ancestors, by “taking away the key of knowledge” (Lk 11:52). Jesus was referring to their wrongful gatekeeping of the faith and misrepresentation of the Laws.

Theirs was a love of the law of the Law, and not the the love of Love itself. By their interference, they became the obstacle between their fellow men and God – murdering prophets and apostles ‘between the altar and the sanctuary’. “You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.” (Lk 11:52).

Are there occasions where I have (through my zealousness or judgmentalism) unconsciously interfered in the gift of faith that God was working in someone’s life?

This is a moment for me to pause and contemplate what the words of scripture mean personally for me. It is not only by works; yet, it is not only by faith. Both can be superficial extremes which Jesus denounces. How I am called to act and respond in every moment, to each person, is a unique sensing of God’s Wisdom. God’s grace is always at work within me; may I not neglect the Holy Spirit in my daily life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help us to deepen our own spiritual sensing and hide our life with Christ; for even narrower is the gate to heaven for those with spiritual pride. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for this gift of faith I have received by your sacrifice.

16 October, Monday – Silence Speaks To Open Hearts

Oct 16 – Memorial for St. Hedwig, Religious; Memorial for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

Hedwig (1174–1243) was the daughter of the Duke of Croatia, and aunt of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She married Prince Henry I of Silesia and Poland in 1186 at the age of 12, and became the mother of seven. She cared for the sick both personally and by founding hospitals. Upon her husband’s death, she gave away her fortune and entered the monastery at Trebnitz.

– Patron Saint Index

Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690) was healed from a crippling disorder by a vision of the Blessed Virgin, which prompted her to give her life to God. After receiving a vision of Christ fresh from the Scourging, she was moved to join the Order of the Visitation by Paray-le-Monial in 1671.

She received a revelation from our Lord in 1675, which included 12 promises to her and to those who practiced a true devotion to His Sacred Heart, whose crown of thorns represent his sacrifices. The devotion encountered violent opposition, especially in Jansenist areas, but has become widespread and popular.

The Twelve Promises of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary for those devoted to His Sacred Heart are:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will establish peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
  5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
  9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.
  10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
  12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under any displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 1:1-7

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.

This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead. Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name. You are one of these nations, and by his call belong to Jesus Christ. To you all, then, who are God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace.

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Luke 11:29-32

The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

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This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign

Don’t you just hate it when someone asks you for some advice on a situation, yet they continue to persist in the same way, until someone else – or two – comes along with the same advice and suddenly their ears are open and they pay heed? Isn’t it just worse when they come back to you and share how that advice had changed their lives or made so much sense? It seems this person forgot that you gave the same advice from the start. I am sure this is a common experience for many, and it is definitely more irritating when it happens with someone close such as a family member or a good friend.

This happens to me; and I have done the same to the people who try to help me. Actually, for some of us, we do need to hear the same message, probably twice or thrice, before it sinks in and we take note.

However, the readings of today reveal an important ingredient: wisdom. It is not enough for us to ask for a sign, to ask for the way to be shown us. After all, Paul tells us in the first reading, the signs, the Good News had been promised by God long before through the prophets in the scriptures. The people who lived in the time of these prophets had heard the prophecies loud and clear – Jonah, Moses, Elijah – but not everyone heeded their clarion call. Well, they were mere men anyway.

But here comes Jesus. Jesus, Paul proclaims, is the Son of God, the Christ our Lord. Paul is reminding the Romans that Jesus Christ is the sign for this generation. ‘For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation… and there is something greater than Solomon here… and there is something greater than Jonah here.’ (Lk 11:31-32) These were the very words of Christ himself as he preached amongst the Jews and Pagans that he walked amongst.

As I pondered this scene, I wonder if I were one of those around him back then, would I have truly listened with wisdom and discernment, or merely heard and forgot. Would I have walked on from that crowd and joined another gathering to listen to yet another wise man preach, aimlessly asking for teachings and signposts like a mindless addiction for cure-alls? Or do I choose to open my heart to the Living Word of God to seek His wisdom and love for a deep conversion within?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to sit still and let Your Word in the scriptures sink into my being like food from heaven for my weary soul.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for the gift of a morning or night-time silence when we can reflect on our days and Your presence.

30 September, Saturday – God’s Full Measure of Mercy

Sep 30 – Memorial for St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor

Jerome (347-419) led a misspent youth. He later converted in theory, being baptised in 365, and then had a true conversion when he studied theology. Monk. He revised the Latin text of the Bible. The result of his 30 years of work was the Vulgate translation, which is still in use. He is a Doctor of the Church and Father of the Church. Since his own time, he has been associated in the popular mind with scrolls, writing, cataloguing, translating, etc. This led to those who work in such fields taking him as their patron – a man who knew their lives and problems.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Zechariah 2:5-9,14-15

Raising my eyes, I saw a vision. It was this: there was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘To measure Jerusalem, to find out her breadth and her length.’ And then, while the angel who was talking to me stood still, another angel came forward to meet him. He said to him, ‘Run, and tell that young man this, “Jerusalem is to remain unwalled, because of the great number of men and cattle there will be in her. But I – it is the Lord who speaks – I will be a wall of fire for her all round her, and I will be her glory in the midst of her.”’

Sing, rejoice,
daughter of Zion;
for I am coming
to dwell in the middle of you
– it is the Lord who speaks.

Many nations will join the Lord,
on that day;
they will become his people.

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Luke 9:43-45

At a time when everyone was full of admiration for all he did, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For your part, you must have these words constantly in your mind: “The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men.”’ But they did not understand him when he said this; it was hidden from them so that they should not see the meaning of it, and they were afraid to ask him about what he had just said.

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Many nations will join the Lord, on that day; they will become his people. 

Imagine the last days when we are all gathered outside the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet, as today’s first readings prophesy, it is an unwalled city (Zechariah 2:4-5) and the Lord Himself is dwelling gloriously in the midst of it, casting a mighty ‘wall of fire’ around her where fortress walls should stand. Who will we discover being admitted through the wall of fire around her?

Today’s readings remind me of this hymn:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
 

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

The man with the measuring line in the first reading today seems to be conducting a vain and futile endeavor – to measure Jerusalem’s breadth and length. I cannot help but think of the best intentions of even the most righteous and self-righteous people I have met, who believe they know just how God will measure us up for the deeds of our lives.

Fraternal correction must be conducted with charity, justice, and mercy. But within this desire to call out a brother or sister to their failings or sins, is ultimately a mirror of reflection for the one who brings this charge against the sinner – how have you truly loved your neighbour in the midst of professing your judgment and correction? How pure is your heart? How humble have you been in acknowledging to God for your own times of failure?

This is not to say that no one is ever righteous enough to correct another with love. But indeed, we should not claim to think we know better whether this present momentary sin of others would be the death knell for the sinner and presume his or her condemnation outside the walls of Jerusalem. One’s present state of life does not convict them to an eternal state of life – but we must commit them to prayer with great love.

We are told that Jerusalem is unwalled. It is only God’s glorious wall of fire – a fire of justice and mercy – that will be the true measurement for the eternal length and breadth of his Heavenly kingdom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the gift of wisdom and greater love when we exercise our Christian duty of fraternal correction.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the love of my fellow Christians who courageously challenge me to accountability for my actions – even at the expense of risking misunderstandings.