Tag Archives: debbie loo

15 December, Saturday – Entering into Relationship

15 December

____________________

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4, 9-12

The prophet Elijah arose like a fire,
  his word flaring like a torch.
It was he who brought famine on the people,
  and who decimated them in his zeal.
By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens,
  he also, three times, brought down fire.

How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah!
  Has anyone reason to boast as you have?
Taken up in the whirlwind of fire,
  in a chariot with fiery horses;
designated in the prophecies of doom
  to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks,
to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children,
  and to restore the tribes of Jacob,
Happy shall they be who see you,
  and those who have fallen asleep in love.

__________________

Matthew 17:10-13

As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say then that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.

____________________

They did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.

In less than two weeks, it will be Christmas. The night of the Christmas Vigil Mass, we will then see the figure of baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the crib of the manger. This is the scene we would be none the wiser to recognise, if we were one of the wise men that fateful desert night. And that was part of God’s elaborate, intricate plan.

It is precisely this detail of our powerful God choosing to enter our world as a vulnerable and needing baby that reveals to us where His heart truly lies. He chose to appear in the flesh of the defenseless and uncelebrated. He deliberately chose vulnerability every time, as a baby and as the crucified Christ. Each time, the hearts of only a few were open to receiving Him, the eyes of only some could witness His surrendered glory.

The wise men had to strip off all presumptions of majesty in order to see the Christ-child. The young girl who first bowed her head with humble Fiat embraced vulnerability to be the holy vessel of the Immaculate Conception. She had to abandon worldly caution, social customs, and human logic. Joseph would defy his strict Jewish faith to obey the illogical command of this Mystery.

This ability to surrender and follow requires of us the willingness to enter into relationship with the Beloved. It is not possible to trust someone you do not know well – much less when the impossible is asked of your trust! To choose “Yes”, one needs to have faith that there is good ultimately in the end, no matter what evidences and reality is presented. Mary and Joseph, who brought to birth Christ to the world, were in deep communion with God, to the extent that their logical selves must have screamed, “You crazy!” in some of these moments, especially at the Annunciation. “Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love.” (Ecc. 48:12). In other translations, love is read as “friendship”.

Entering into earthly relationships is so tough. Whether they be romantic or friendships. We have to shed defences, and reveal vulnerabilities, in order to unlock the door towards new levels of intimacy, trust, and fellowship. It’s risky, terrifying, and it’s like giving someone the chance to disappoint you or break your heart. But at the same time, it is liberating to be able to choose trust. The freedom that came with spiritual surrender to God’s plan, enabled Mary and Joseph to keep saying “Yes” to how God used them, and where He led them.

I can imagine that it was only in the first “Yes”, that their intimacy and reliance on God deepened, and their relationship with Him continued to be strengthened and purified. It may have appeared ridiculous from the outside, but the interior room of their hearts was unlocked for Christ’s entrance. God was still actively moulding their journey of faith. They were actively remaining pliable and open to the Potter’s hands.

Recalling the prophet Elijah, who was considered a raving lunatic and an outcast amongst the people of Israel who had turned to worship Baal, Jesus uses the Old Testament prophecies to bring the disciples’ attention to the way John the Baptist’s ascetic life was being mocked in his time. For this same reason, the Memorial of St John of the Cross was chosen for this day’s readings. None of them could have continued on their paths and mission if not for their deep relationship with God and their abiding trust in His love and purpose. With that, they were able to choose present foolishness and ridicule, lay open their vulnerabilities, and push to birth God’s plan – an elaborate plan that could only be appreciated in retrospect.

His veiled power emanates from these hidden moments. A babe in swaddling cloths would overpower human sense. A cloth-less man in his prime hung on condemned cross would be the Saviour of the world. This divine plan of God had been set in motion since the beginning of time (John 1:1-5). It’s time we entered into this scene with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  I thank you God for the models of faith in Mary and Joseph, who inspire us to enter into a deep relationship with You.

Thanksgiving:  I pray for the courage to be vulnerable, to remain open to Your love and purposes, starting with baby steps.

14 December, Friday – Being Like Children

14 December – Memorial for St. John of the Cross, Priest, Religious, Doctor of the Church

John (1675–1726) was born in poverty. He cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. He became a lay Carmelite brother in 1563 at age 21, though he lived stricter than their Rule. He studied at Salamanca. He was ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25.

He was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced (or barefoot) reform within the Carmelite Order, and took on the name John of the Cross. He was a master of novices, and spiritual director and confessor at St. Teresa’s convent. His reforms did not sit well with some of his brothers, and he was ordered to return to Medina. He refused and was imprisoned at Toledo, Spain, and escaped after nine months.

He was vicar-general of Andalusia. His reforms revitalized the Order. He was a great contemplative and spiritual writer. On Aug 24, 1926, he was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

– Patron Saint Index

____________________

Isaiah 48:17-19

Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you,
I lead you in the way that you must go.
If only you had been alert to my commandments,
your happiness would have been like a river,
your integrity like the waves of the sea.
Your children would have been numbered like the sand,
your descendants as many as its grains.
Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me.

__________________

Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:

“We played the pipes for you,
and you wouldn’t dance;
we sang dirges,
and you wouldn’t be mourners.”

‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’

____________________

Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.

Being childlike is not the same as being childish or guilible. As I grew older, I wanted to shed more of what made me appear youthful and naïve. At one point, I put on the grown-up cloak of skepticism and cynicism. This, I suppose is why, many young adults in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties are found to have lost the faith of their childhood during this season of their lives. This tends to happen as one encounters the glamour and distractions of the ‘real world’.

It is an interesting correlation that Jesus uses in the Gospel passage: the children shouting to each other in the market place for people to dance to the tune of pipes, or mourn to the music of dirges, are likened to the people speculating from the appearances of John’s neither eating nor drinking as being possessed, to Jesus’ eating and drinking to being a drunkard and glutton (Matthew 11:16-19).

Yet elsewhere, Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3-4). At first I was confused in these two analogies to children.

Perhaps the difference lies in their perception of things. Jesus is referring to the childlike simplicity and trust in the Father’s will and commandments which leads us into God’s kingdom, as the First Reading shows us, ‘I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go’ (Isaiah 48:17). On the other hand in the reading today, he points out to his listeners that the children who were distracted by the heady activity and bustle of the market place, like the attractive toys and gimmicks of the world, began to lose the clarity and perceptiveness of childlike faith to discern what is real from appearances.

How can we then know and separate the reality of God from the reality of the world? First, we have to adopt a mental littleness and lowliness, being trusting and vulnerable to the Lord – allowing Him to change our hearts and give us brand new sight. Second, by this new perception of the affairs of the world, we can begin to see beyond the popular phraseologies and fruits of secularism and relativism – to notice that ‘wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’

And again Jesus says this, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them’ (Matthew 7:15-20).

May we not dwell and remain on the surface of assumed reality, but arm ourselves with the knowledge that the Evil One is a liar, slanderer, who deals in deceit and lures us by our pride. Let us put on the garment of humility, simplicity and virtue, to trust and surrender to our Heavenly Father.

In the wise words of Fulton Sheen, ‘There is a close relation between physical littleness, which is childhood, and mental littleness, which is humility. We cannot always be children, which is another way of saying we can be humble. And so in the spiritual order the law remains ever the same: if human beings are ever to discover anything big, they must always be making themselves little; if they magnify their ego to the infinite, they will discover nothing, for there is nothing bigger than the infinite; but if they reduce their ego to zero, then they will discover everything big for there is nothing smaller than the self. How, then, shall we find the reason behind the joy? Just as it is only by being little that we discover anything big, so it is only by being humble that we will find an Infinite God in the form of a little child.” (Eternal Galilean)

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  Help me Lord to love the humble way in which you choose to come into the world. Help me to become more like you, Jesus.

Thanksgiving:  Let us ponder on these words as we approach Christ’s birth. ‘Gratitude is characteristic only of the humble. The egotistic are so impressed by their own importance that they take everything given them as if it were their due. They have no room in their hearts for recollection of the underserved favors they received.’ (Fulton Sheen, On Being Human)

9 December, Sunday – Hidden Glory

9 December 2018

_____________________

Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,
put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,
wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,
put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:
since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,
since the name God gives you for ever will be,
‘Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.’
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
and turn your eyes to the east:
see your sons reassembled from west and east
at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.
Though they left you on foot,
with enemies for an escort,
now God brings them back to you
like royal princes carried back in glory.
For God has decreed the flattening
of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,
the filling of the valleys to make the ground level
so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.
And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade
for Israel at the command of God;
for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory
with his mercy and integrity for escort.

_____________________

Philippians 1:4-6,8-11

Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes; and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.

_____________________

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

_____________________

Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.

The words ‘peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness’ in our First Reading of Baruch caught my imagination today. That word ‘integrity’ is used more often these days in referring to honesty and moral principles, especially when we think of work ethics or corruption, or the mismanagement of funds in public or private arenas. We think less of the intrinsic value that ‘integrity’ points towards: the state of being whole and undivided; completeness, coherence, unity.

It is this yearning for a deep wholeness and peace that our world today lacks – peace through a ‘complete, united, whole and undivided’ love and respect for God. I realised that the yearning for a source of Divine Peace is truly universal. Otherwise, all of the world would not recognise, in solidarity, that the outbreak of terror and war has destroyed peace in the world and our families. And peace in our own hearts. Isn’t it true that the realisation of lack implies the need for that which is lacking? The same goes for the moments when we feel unloved and rejected. This feeling opens our eyes to realising our deep ache for acceptance and love.

It is a great sadness that when we do have love, we think little of it or may wish to be loved with greater thrill; when we have peace and stability, we see our mundanity as boring and routine; when we have the joys of waking up each new day, that we wish we could snooze longer and not have to wake up to face the daily grind. I find myself in this struggle, and it is indeed a hallmark of being human – the never ending ability to tend towards feeling disgruntled and ungrateful. And it is true too that those of us who do know God, have sometimes grieved Him so much. After all, our Heavenly Maker did give us this coveted ‘free will’.

At the same time, this freedom we have been given puts before us a task to ‘choose’ peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness. Peace and honour, joy, beauty and glory, love and compassion do not come without our striving. These come from our choosing to respond to our deep inmost desires for wholeness, completeness and unity with God through Jesus Christ. This is why the book of Baruch exhorts Jerusalem to ‘take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head…’

Likewise, the joy of claiming the Gospel, the good news of our salvation, is written beautifully by St Paul in the Second Reading. ‘Every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present… the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes… My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more… This will help you… and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.’ (Philippians 1:4-11)

Our wait for Jesus this Advent, and indeed the everyday advent of our lives, requires of us an active participation in cleaving to the joy and zeal of our missionary faith and our filial love and devotion to God who is our Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek you first in all my ways and days. Help me to wait in active hope and joy of Your promises and blessings in the ups and downs of life.

Thanksgiving: Jesus, in this time of worldly crisis, we thank you for the memory of your reign on earth in a form that people could not recognise. We trust therefore that murky as the times are today, your Glory is hidden but not absent. Jesus, we continue to trust in you.

27 November, Tuesday – Sorry We Are Out Of Seats

27 November

_____________________

Apocalypse 14:14-19

In my vision I, John, saw a white cloud and, sitting on it, one like a son of man with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the sanctuary, and shouted aloud to the one sitting on the cloud, ‘Put your sickle in and reap: harvest time has come and the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ Then the one sitting on the cloud set his sickle to work on the earth, and the earth’s harvest was reaped.

Another angel, who also carried a sharp sickle, came out of the temple in heaven, and the angel in charge of the fire left the altar and shouted aloud to the one with the sharp sickle, ‘Put your sickle in and cut all the bunches off the vine of the earth; all its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel set his sickle to work on the earth and harvested the whole vintage of the earth and put it into a huge winepress, the winepress of God’s anger.

_____________________

Luke 21:5-11

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.’

_____________________

Take care not to be deceived, because many will come using my name

Many years ago, my friend invited me to accompany her on a short weekend trip to Malaysia. The plan was to take a coach from Singapore and meet up with a local friend who would show us around. We were told of the departure point and time of the coach and so arranged to meet up there to catch our ride. However we arrived at the waiting coach (albeit on the dot and not ten minutes early as advised) both frantic and panting, to the nonchalant announcement by the guide, “Sorry we are out of seats.”

I recall feelings of disappointment and dejection pour down on us, and we were literally left stranded at the driveway as the coach pulled away from us. After settling down somewhere to chat, we both discovered that there was some misinformation between us both, and with the tour organizer. We had each interpreted the ‘Reservation’ of coach seats wrongly and the tour organizer thought that we were not turning up that morning. Even though we finally arrived, it was just too late to sort out the administrative details. It was a good lesson learnt for us and we were more careful next time to make sure we had a common and clear understanding of the terms, conditions, and information needed before we embark on any trip. Check, double-check, triple-confirm. Our next trip turned out with no such glitch!

But we don’t have this luxury for Life itself, to say “Next time I will know better to do this.” Jesus warned those who marvelled at the grandeur of the temple, of this physical world, that “the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed.” Being human, we have this instinctive need to gather information, to find out exactly the details of such a time hoping we can cleverly prepare ourselves for the time. Yet we lose focus on what is truly important – that Jesus is standing before us this very moment. We are like the temple-goers who stand face to face, speaking with the true Messiah without realising it, but instead rather look to a future event thinking we can successfully plan ahead by recognising the signs and symbols. Not now for me, we think. And so presently, we only want to know those forecast clues.

If today you stand before a decision to choose Christ over something else of this world, would you choose to recognise Him and fall at His feet proclaiming that He is indeed the Lord of your life? Our daily decisions do present to us either the choice to marvel at the fine stonework and gleaming treasures of the present world, or the choice to turn to our Lord and God as the most important relationship we must nurture and depend on in this life.

We do often kid ourselves with this phrase, “but for now…” the part and parcel of surviving in this world, of making a living, or of achieving the physical or material goals I have set for myself, is of paramount importance. And we comfort ourselves that we are sure God would understand. We constantly fear that we would lose out on the chance and opportune time to be set for life, in this world – forgetting that there is nothing more terrifying than to arrive suddenly at the end of our lives frantically clutching a fistful of misinterpretations or wrong priorities – indeed many others and many misplaced goals would have you deceived! Then we are told at the departure gates to our eternal journey that, “I’m sorry you have got the details all wrong. You read the signs wrong.” You thought all these other things were your God. You should have focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not foolishly asked Him for the time and signs so you could get ready to be ‘just in time’.

Choose Christ now; choose now His body which is the Church. Receive the salvation which is offered up at every Eucharistic celebration for you. Choose Jesus as your present guide in life, and abandon the need for superfluous signs. With Jesus as our constant travel companion, the seat will always be saved for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray that I can be brutally honest with myself to examine the heart of my intentions. When I should choose Jesus, let me not bury my intention with layers of excuses that there is still time to spare, when really, I do not know.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, I thank you for the assurance of second chances that I can return to you like the Prodigal Son. May I not be complacent, but approach you with true gratitude and repentance.

14 October, Sunday – The Look of Love

14 October 2018

_____________________

Wisdom 7:7-11

I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered.

_____________________

Hebrews 4:12-13

The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.

_____________________

Mark 10:17-30

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

Peter took this up. ‘What about us?’ he asked him. ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.’

_____________________

Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him

The young man of the gospel today is often a sharp reminder for me of my state in life, wherever I may be. As I reflected on the scriptures today, I contemplated the image of Jesus and me, encapsulated in a moment of true encounter. How does it feel to have Jesus’ eyes look steadily at me and love me? There is such a beautiful and tender feeling in that picture I hold in my mind. Right now, I am aware of the distance I feel from Jesus’ heart.

Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God, the logos (in Greek), the Infinite Wisdom. The Old Testament scriptures today point to the prophecy of encounter that the young man would experience when face to face with the person of Christ. ‘The word of God is something alive and active… it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit’ (Heb 4:12); and it is this spirit of Wisdom that cut so finely through the secret emotions and thoughts of the young man to unveil such great sorrow within him.

When Jesus looked, it was an active, penetrating, and radiant look of perfect love. And the young man’s desires came undone when Jesus told him, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ (Mk 10:21) In the gospel account, we are not told that the young man beheld the loving gaze of Jesus, instead his face fell and he went away.

There are times when I have looked away from Jesus’ loving gaze, feeling either ashamed, unworthy, or angry and hardened with some kind of bitterness. I realise I have not allowed Jesus to love me, for his love to soften and change my heart. Because honestly, it can be scary – wondering what I will be called to do. Worrying over what I must next give up, whether my ‘riches’ be an assignment, a coveted project, a friendship, a burden. Anything that could stand between my life being united with Christ even more. I fear change and material poverty.

Some of us are not the young man but the apostles. We may have given up much already, yet we are now ‘counting our losses’ and mentally chalking up ‘spiritual credit’. With divine wisdom, Jesus slices through this self-righteous mentality too, and tells us, ‘For men, it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’ (Mk 10:27)

What else is Jesus calling you to relinquish today? Will you let his loving gaze meet yours?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Loving Father, we seek Your wisdom to enlighten our minds and change our hearts, so that we may understand the truths you reveal in our hearts.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for loving me despite my imperfections and unreadiness to receive your love.

3 September, Monday – The Frivolity of Being Favoured

3 September – Memorial for St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor   

St. Gregory (540-590) collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants. He was elected by unanimous acclamation for pope. Incidentally, he was also the first monk to be pope. Before his papacy, he turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He became a missionary to England upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum.

-Patron Saints Index

_____________________

1 Corinthians 2:1-5

When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.

_____________________

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’

And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

_____________________

I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God. 

I always wondered about the people around me who seemed to have it all put together. They have good jobs, they have happy families, they kept friendships from years before and have little trouble making new ones. All of those things seem to come easy for them. Most striking of all, they never seemed to have had a faith crisis. These friends seemed to also be unwavering in commitment to their faith. I admired this all.

For one, I used to feel like an emotional hurricane. I would go through seasons of feeling close to and then far from God. When things and relationships went south, I would read my life situation as a consequence of some bad thing I had done, that I had fallen from God’s favour. There would be a cycle of sorrow, guilt, fear, and then grit – to get back on track and ‘do the right things’. Truth be told, being a Christian sometimes felt like more of a burden than a salvation. I was always playing catch-up with my idea of being favoured by God.

As I read today’s Scripture, a few points came to my mind about living a life that is close to Christ.

  1. We will never be liked all the time. Friends and acquaintances will have different reasons for their attitude and perception of me. How well I am favoured this week or this season is no measure of my worth or likeability. Likewise, I am not perfect and I will likely sometimes piss someone off. But hey! That’s normal in human relationships.

 

  1. No prophet is ever accepted in his own country. Sometimes, our families function just the way they are. Other times, there is a whole lot of dysfunction. And every one hides more than a little bit of weirdness and lack and inadequacy about their families. We just never see it in their smiles. Families are imperfect – don’t try to change your parents, your siblings, and your ancestry. Some of us (and our desire for growth, change, and salvation) will just never sit well with the people we live with – and that is okay. We choose growth, we still try to love them, and we will move on.

 

  1. Your job, your intellect, your skills and talents – these are not the only gifts that God has given you. If these don’t work out, you may begin to see cracks in your self-image. Then you will realise that you have too many unhealthy associations of your self-worth with your social and financial standing. Celebrate your life! You are the only you in this world, and you are God’s greatest gift to your self. No one can take this away from you. Hence, ‘your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.’

 

  1. Everyone needs a personal faith crisis. Everyone will eventually experience one. This is not a consolation for those who feel like they always had the short end of stick. This is the only way you or I will ever experience the immense grace, mercy, and justice of God. We can only experience wholeness after confronting our deep brokenness. And we have the consolation of God that Christ is with us in every state of great need and tribulation. This is God’s mercy. This is also God’s love.

 

Many of these thoughts are both practical and spiritual. Our love for God and faith in Him is an iterative journey that will often see us going through cycles of doubts, comparisons with others, intimacy, enlightenment, guilt for our sins, sorrow for straying, but also a deep longing to return. May we continue to forge on this path and fix our gaze on Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Help me Lord to remain steadfast in faith no matter how the winds of human favour and the world’s attractions may blow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for all my trials and tribulations through life and all its stations. They keep me real, they keep me humble, and they help me experience empathy for others.

1 Aug, Wednesday – This Valley of Tears

Aug 1 – Memorial for St. Alphonsus Liguori, bishop, religious founder, doctor

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. As a lawyer, he had his own practice by age 21, and was a leading lawyer in Naples. He never attended court without having attended Mass first.

As he matured and learned more of the world, he liked it less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He was ordained at age 29. As preacher and home missioner around Naples, St. Alphonsus was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).

As bishop, St. Alphonsus worked to reform the clergy and revitalise the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. The royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology, and his skills as a lawyer, St. Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king‘s approval.

– Patron Saint Index

_________________

Jeremiah 15:10,16-21

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.
‘When your words came, I devoured them:
your word was my delight
and the joy of my heart;
for I was called by your name,
the Lord, God of Hosts.
I never took pleasure in sitting in scoffers’ company;
with your hand on me I held myself aloof,
since you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my suffering continual,
my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Do you mean to be for me a deceptive stream
with inconstant waters?’

To which the Lord replied,
‘If you come back,
I will take you back into my service;
and if you utter noble, not despicable, thoughts,
you shall be as my own mouth.
They will come back to you,
but you must not go back to them.
I will make you
a bronze wall fortified against this people.
They will fight against you
but they will not overcome you,
because I am with you
to save you and to deliver you
– it is the Lord who speaks.
I mean to deliver you from the hands of the wicked
and redeem you from the clutches of the violent.’

________________

Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.’

_________________

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found

Since Sunday, we have read the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah in our first readings… day after day, Jeremiah seems to be ceaseless in his cries out to God.

‘Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me
to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.
I neither lend nor borrow,
yet all of them curse me.’ He wails in this valley of tears.

I am reminded of Job. I am reminded of the many times I have complained against the hand that I feel God has dealt me. Many of us have endured episodes, seasons and circumstances, leaving us utterly helpless and distressed. Where are you, Lord? Compared to others around us who seem to be in greater sorrow, we can sometimes feel lame and weak for our whines. We may not even dare to express our exasperation publicly. But privately, we do – we feel dragged through this valley of tears. So much like Jeremiah, we sometimes find life meaningless because we cannot grasp the purpose for our suffering.

But we also find the repeated mention of Jesus’ parables of the treasure hidden in the fields, the rich man and his pearl of great price spread over these past few days. The consecutive alignment of these liturgical texts by our Church is no unnecessary detail. It is a keen reminder, a salient wake-up call, to us that the woes and weariness of this world is like the field that Jesus describes. Carved into the valley of sorrows is our daily battlefield. Beneath this battlefield that we live in, lies buried the greatest treasure we could ever hope to find – Jesus Christ our Saviour.

God has planted Christ in His plan for humanity’s salvation since the beginning of time. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) Long before there was sin and suffering, there was this Treasure God had bequeathed us. That is why all religions and spiritualities of the world talk of a Quest, a Search for Meaning.

The bright lights and distractions of this world have buried our greatest Treasure. Christ is this pearl of great price that we have found. Are we ready to embrace this Truth of our hidden Treasure right now like the happy man, turn around and relinquish our attachment to the materiality of our life, to claim Christ as our reason for joyful living?

The Scripture readings today challenge me to cling very tightly to this reality of my relationship with Christ – that even if I face trials and unfairness like Jeremiah, I have a Treasure beyond all measure. It is hidden with Christ and hidden in Eternity. I may not be able to ‘spend’ it now in today’s currency, but I know where my treasures lie – ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Luke 12:34) Today, I am reminded to water the soil of my heart and nurture my love for Christ. I can only be a truly happy man when I recognise that my joy is not dependent on the seasons of the earth but rooted in God’s infinite love and mercy for me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord I desire a deeper relationship with you, to built my house on your foundations that will never change.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for being the Treasure that keeps on giving to us in your Holy Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

3 July, Tuesday – In Place Of Human Sensation

Jul 3 – Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

Thomas (d. 72) was ready to die with Jesus when Christ went to Jerusalem, but he is best remembered for doubting the Resurrection until allowed to touch Christ’s wounds. He preached in Parthia, Persia and India, though he was so reluctant to start the mission that he had to be taken into slavery by a merchant headed that way.

He eventually gave in to God’s will, was freed, and planted the new Church over a wide area. He formed many parishes and built many churches along the way. An old tradition says that Thomas baptised the wise men from the Nativity into Christianity.

His symbol is the builder’s square. There are several stories that explain it:

– he built a palace for King Guduphara in India

– he built the first church in India with his own hands

– it is representative of building a strong spiritual foundation as he had complete faith in Christ (though initially less in the Resurrection)

– he offered to build a palace for an Indian king that would last forever; the king gave him money, which Thomas promptly gave away to the poor; he explained that the palace he was building was in heaven, not on earth.

– Patron Saint Index

__________________

Ephesians 2:19-22

You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.

___________________

John 20:24-29

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

_____________________

You are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household.

 What does it mean to be a part of God’s household? It means that we share in equal sonship and inheritance to God’s love. God gave His promise to the newly-baptised that, through Christ, all are one. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:17-18)

This reality is important for all of us believers, no matter the length of time of confessing faith in Christ. Some Christians may boast of greater experience in biblical knowledge, or fellowship with a larger church, or denomination as evidence of being premium citizens in God’s house. However, the truth is clearly far from that. If anything, such pride has no place in God’s kingdom, and those who are now first may later find themselves the least and the last.

St Thomas was one of the first disciples, the inner circle of twelve who followed Christ closely and was party to his life in ministry. Despite this, we see that Thomas himself was not immune to moments of despair and unbelief in his beloved Master, when his faith was challenged, and sorrow obscured his vision.

You and I are probably not too far off too, when we find ourselves troubled in our life journey and relationships. How is it that we can fall from such great conversion experiences into the throes of doubt and questions? Perhaps this image is dramatic. Even so, for the most of us, the mildest of our unbelief can indeed manifest in cynicism and indifference. This may take the form of a blasé routinized life of weekly Mass and mindless mumbling of the Penitential Act and the Lord’s Prayer, etc… Ya-ya-ya… Yes, sometimes, that would be me. And sometimes, I would be jolted to sheepish attention by the deadest of such voices coming from the person next to or behind me in the pews.

The hope that springs from today’s biblical passages is that we are not all that different in our unbelief. Even though what causes us to drift and backslide from God may be uniquely difficult or painful, we certainly share in the ‘inheritance’ of doubt with the first apostles whom we now call saints!

Nevertheless, we can and will be able to re-encounter Christ if we desire to seek Him – to even own up to our doubt and say, “Unless I see this, so show me Lord.”

If God had not loved us so, he would not have sent us Jesus. He would have left us to the hellish perils of unbelief and despair – and that is a lonely geography.

Jesus reappearing to Thomas with the evidence he asked for is not for God’s vindication. It is most simply to save us from our flawed human nature that thrives on the senses. Touch me. Feel me. Hear me. See my works and miracles. Not for My sake, but yours.

God accepts our human nature, and therefore gifts us His Spirit to lift us out of our spiritual poverty. This grace and mercy is humbling and beautiful. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:15-16)

No matter our previous states of unbelief, we can now be a part of God’s household just like St Thomas.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me not to rely on my senses in order to trust and believe in You. Help me in my moments of doubt and weakness.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Jesus for sustaining me with your grace and hope.

2 July, Monday – Follow Me With All Your Heart And Spirit

2 July

__________________

Amos 2:6-10,13-16

The Lord says this:

For the three crimes, the four crimes, of Israel
I have made my decree and will not relent:
because they have sold the virtuous man for silver
and the poor man for a pair of sandals,
because they trample on the heads of ordinary people
and push the poor out of their path,
because father and son have both resorted to the same girl,
profaning my holy name,
because they stretch themselves out by the side of every altar
on clothes acquired as pledges,
and drink the wine of the people they have fined
in the house of their god…
Yet it was I who overthrew the Amorites when they attacked,
men tall as cedars and strong as oaks,
I who destroyed them,
both fruit above ground
and root below.
It was I who brought you out of the land of Egypt
and for forty years led you through the wilderness
to take possession of the Amorite’s country.
See then how I am going to crush you into the ground
as the threshing-sledge crushes when clogged by straw;
flight will not save even the swift,
the strong man will find his strength useless,
the mighty man will be powerless to save himself.
The bowman will not stand his ground,
the fast runner will not escape,
the horseman will not save himself,
the bravest warriors will run away naked that day.
It is the Lord who speaks.

___________________

Matthew 8:18-22

When Jesus saw the great crowds all about him he gave orders to leave for the other side. One of the scribes then came up and said to him, ‘Master, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, ‘Sir, let me go and bury my father first.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.’

___________________

Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head

Following Christ has always had its risks. This has been demonstrated throughout the Bible by the disciples. Each and every one of those who chose to follow Jesus had to weigh their decision and consequences, and I would like to think they did not find it easy to simply lay everything down for the road.

In the gospel passage today, two men had approached Jesus declaring their intentions to follow him. To each man, he had different replies –

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.”

Jesus looks into our hearts and sees through our desires. Not so much as to judge us, but rather to direct our awareness to a deeper reality of what we mean and that we need to grow in our trust in him. These men point to our various requests of the path of faith — first, that it still provides physical and material comfort and security; and second, that we delay or postpone saying “Yes” to God until all other life’s responsibilities have been settled, or that we had enjoyed life enough on our own terms. In the words of St Augustine: “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

Indeed, being human, we would have many terms and conditions for God, demands of His covenant, requests for more leeway. However, the responsorial psalm’s refrain today says “Mark this, you who never think of God.” How have we chosen to follow Christ today? Is our ‘Yes’ filled with echoes of lousy excuses and caveats? Are we sincere and contrite? Our surrender will not be a one-time affair. May we continue to follow Christ with all our heart, body and spirit – and to keep choosing so even when the stakes are high.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace and a strong will to follow you and love you wholeheartedly, despite the fear of losing out in the arms race of this world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the courage of the first apostles, martyrs, missionaries, religious, and all who sacrificed their lives to spread God’s word and love – that others might partake in the promise of eternal life.

1 July, Sunday – All Through Life

1 July

________________

Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24

Death was not God’s doing,
he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.
To be – for this he created all;
the world’s created things have health in them,
in them no fatal poison can be found,
and Hades holds no power on earth;
for virtue is undying.
Yet God did make man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

________________ 

2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15

You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short.

________________

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

________________

His anger lasts a moment; his favour all through life. At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.

The gift of retrospect is precious but often fleeting and easily brushed aside, if we do not consider that God has answered our prayers at only the most propitious time.

As I prepared my reflections for today’s readings, I was surprised by the fact that the Responsorial Psalm is exactly the same as the one I had been assigned for six months ago in March. Most importantly, this verse struck me: ‘His anger lasts a moment; his favour all through life. At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.’ I cannot help but see this as God’s message for me at this very point of my life, of my day, in my heart. It can only mean one thing – that God is real, He listens, He speaks, He loves me.

The gospel today tells of two girls in need of healing – Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter, who was thought to be terminally ill, and a woman in the crowd, who was suffering from a twelve-year long bleeding in her womb. Is this any coincidence?

To me, these two characters represented a ‘life-course’ of faith. Metaphorically-speaking, the little girl points to the start of my Christian journey and the older lady of the desire to continue seeking and holding onto my faith in God all through my life.

We have all had that moment of encounter in the beginning of our new-found faith that might have changed the course of our life. Yet, faith is not one moment in time, but an undulating path through all kinds of terrain as we try to follow and cling to Christ. How have I embraced and reflected on the successes and disappointments in my life along the way? I have definitely suffered moments of unbelief and despair. I have certainly contemplated giving up on trusting God after facing repetitive setbacks. Nonetheless, I have also experienced a renewal and revival of my faltering faith. He never leaves me. He waits for me. He pursues me.

What matters most is not how dramatically my faith life begins, but that I choose to keep on walking with Christ until the end. It matters more that I, like the older woman, am steadfast and persistent in entrusting my life and its uncertainties into the Father’s hands. It matters that I surrender my pride and stubbornness to respond to Him.

This is just like love in marriage. It matters less how we first fell in love, but most that we strive to keep dying to ourselves at the altar of mutual selfless love. That we persist in loving and honouring each other, in spite of the tribulations and differences, all through life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to remain steadfast in my love for you and faithful in love for my husband/wife.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the love from God that I receive in and through my husband/wife.