Tag Archives: debbie loo

29 April, Monday – Baptisms of Fire

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

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

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Acts 4:23-31

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

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

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

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John 3:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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

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

20 March, Wednesday – Fairness in God’s Kingdom

20 March 2019

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Jeremiah 18:18-20

‘Come on,’ they said, ‘let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.’

Listen to me, O Lord,
hear what my adversaries are saying.
Should evil be returned for good?
For they are digging a pit for me.
Remember how I stood in your presence
to plead on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.

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Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

  When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Should evil be returned for good?

Last Friday, the world was shaken yet again by the news of another senseless shooting at a place of worship. This time it was at two mosques (Linwood Mosque and Al Noor Mosque) in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll is a number that will never truly reflect the sheer number of lives thus forever altered by this act of violence and terrorism.

In the midst of this great pain and suffering, loss and grieving, we cannot help but ask – where is the sense and fairness in all of this? Why do the innocent suffer or die while the wicked live or get away scot-free? We expect a certain logic and universal law to life but we are often met with unfairness in our daily dealings and news like these.

It is in these times that Jesus’ words in the gospel give us a sliver of hope: “anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, an anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It recalls the verse in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

We know that the Muslim worshippers had set apart their Friday to honor and praise God. They had taken time to slow down to pray. Time away from work, away from other obligations to make an offering of attention to God. Yet, in this, they ended up victims to a very deluded killer. Their martyred souls are certainly closer to their Maker for the very fact that they lost their lives in the very house of God. I believe that God receives the souls of these victims – of which a child as young as three is amongst them.

While we are tempted to hate and anger and revenge, I am humbled and moved by the outpouring of compassion, forgiveness, and tenderness that is shown between people of all stripes and faiths in the aftermath of this tragedy. People from various backgrounds offering to keep vigil and guard the mosques while their Muslim brethren pray. Muslims reaching out to people of other faiths and offering their hospitality in return. We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond.

God sent Jesus to overturn our expectations of what we can expect in our lives. We can expect loss, sorrow, pain, unimaginable suffering. But Jesus reminds us that when we drink our cups with faithfulness to God and love for our fellow men – we are living by the topsy-turvy law of God who will repay us not in this life, but with Eternity and communion with Him in His Kingdom. 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for eternal rest for the souls of all who have perished in this tragedy and for their loved ones who must now live with sorrow and fight to choose forgiveness still.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for bringing good out of this very terrible times. Thank you for always sending your Spirit of hope to us who walk in the dark.

19 March, Tuesday – ‘Silent’ Fatherhood

19 March 2019

Solemnity of St Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

St Joseph – Nothing is known of St Joseph except what is said of him in the Gospels. He was a carpenter; he accepted the will of God; and he supported Mary and brought up Jesus. From the human character of his son we can see that he was a good and responsible father. Although he is not officially a patron saint of anything in particular (though he is a patron of the Church as a whole), he is widely venerated as a patron of artisans who honourably do good work with the gifts God has given them, and of workers in general.

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2 Samuel 7:4-5,12-14,16

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:

  ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: “When your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Romans 4:13,16-18,22

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. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him.’

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Luke 2:41-51a

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

  ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority.

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See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you. 

Silence and quietness is often seen as an unfavourable character trait. Introverts are often misunderstood as having few opinions, little personality, or just plain ‘hard to get a sense of them’. We often think of Mary being a quiet, docile handmaid of the Lord. But if I were to pick the quietest, most passive and silent biblical person, it would be Joseph, husband of Mary, earthly father to Jesus.

Everything that we know about Joseph is through description. We are only told things about Joseph, but never hear a word in scripture from the man himself. How bewildering that God would write the life of a man in to His story, without writing a word to be spoken by him. We know he and Mary were betrothed; that she bore child out of wedlock that was not his flesh and blood; that he received his mission in a dream and obeyed; that he probably stood up for and defended Mary and their union from the naysayers amongst their kinsman; that he protected mother and child as they fled the deserts; that he raised his family on his humble woodworking craft. What a man!

Yet, nay a word he spoke! Not even when Jesus went missing on a family trip. Instead he let Mary speak and discipline their son. One can only wonder what kind of man Joseph was. Let us pause for a moment and consider the mettle of a man who would do all of those things and more – and yet have little need for words. I know that some of us have grown up in families with absent or silent fathers. They did not say much – good or bad – and so we knew little of them and there was hardly any relationship. Some others lived in homes with all-too-imposing father figures – overbearing, opinionated, harsh – we knew too much of what they thought and felt insignificant. These two are extremes. Perhaps most of us have fathers, if at all, who fall somewhere in the spectrum.

As I pondered the role of St Joseph in God’s story, it came to be clear as day the reason for his silence – both as a narrative device, as well as a character trait. Joseph’s silence is the humble place-holder to allow God’s presence and voice in his family’s life to be heard clearly! For sure Joseph spoke. He would have talked with Mary, taught Jesus to pray, disciplined him, instructed him in woodworking, dealt and traded his craft and wares…

Through all of his life, he was ultimately a quiet, obedient, and faithful man! Faithful to his betrothal vows to Mary, to their marriage, to his heavenly Father, to his son, to the message that God sent him about fathering Jesus. We never hear Joseph speak – but his silence carries humility, wisdom, maturity, gravitas, and obedience. In the absence of speech, we as Christian disciples, are made to see beneath the surface of words to decipher fidelity in action.

May we look to St Joseph as our model Christian. He can teach us to trust, obey, love; to be faithful, hopeful, peace-loving, dependable; to lead our families to faith by example.

(for some reflections on St Joseph, explore https://augustinianvocations.org/blog-archive/2016/3/18/lwkee9qlvsxjwo8vnhqlc3oefnohca and https://devotionsbychris.com/tag/does-joseph-speak-in-the-bible/)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We humbly seek your intercession St Joseph to help us love and follow God as you did. We ask that you inspire the fathers among us to be faithful and strong defenders of their wives and families.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the fathers in our lives who have been given to us: whether by blood or adoption or baptism, through loving instruction from fatherly teachers, coaches, bosses, colleagues.

18 March, Monday – Come Back to Me

18 March 2019

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Daniel 9:4-10

O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.

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Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Rescue us for the sake of your name

Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
With tenderness
You shall know.

– Hosea (Come back to me) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czPF5B1aQ1Y

This beautiful hymn has been playing on in my head for the past week. It is after all, one of the Lenten staples. I am always struck with a quivering lip and hot tears welling in my eyes at the second verse “the wilderness will lead you, to the place where I will speak.” And I am speechless to explain why.

Perhaps, it is because I am going through a kind of wilderness now. At the same time, I know as well that the source of my tears are a deep longing for a closeness that I have missed with Christ my lover. This passionate love was so strong, that I would feel Jesus living in my heart every moment and I could commit to him with joy all my thoughts and feelings that happened throughout the day. I would visit him for daily morning or evening Mass and spend time in the quiet of the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was SO IN LOVE! Yet, even as I continue to do these things (although with less frequency), I had felt a distance and coldness in me.

How long have I felt estranged? I cannot be sure. I do know that several rough and tumbles of life and strained relationships have cast me into the wilderness.

As I read today’s Gospel passage where Jesus urged his disciples to be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. I realise that while I do not know how I got to this wilderness, God has the antidote to the dry and barren soil of my heart. We are called to water our souls with compassion just as God is compassionate to us. I realised that this compassion is not only to be given to others (although our love does need to be poured out), but restoratively, I need to be compassionate to myself!

Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. (Luke 6:38)

Notice the words of this hymn Hosea. It is a call to repentance that is borne out of a love and longing God has for us. He calls us to return to Him by casting aside our fears (of punishment, self-loathing, guilt, hatred, anger, unforgiveness)…

How often do we remember to be generous in forgiveness for ourselves and our own waywardness? Are we generous in giving ourselves time to truly rest, to freely play, to connect with the family and friends God has given to us in a deeply meaningful way? Or have we been distracted by the lesser but shinier things of this world?

Lent is a season for repentance. But it does not stop there. We repent because of love not fear. This Lent, try loving yourself (not in a selfish, prideful way) in all the parts of you within that feel unlovely – your sins, your imperfections, your bad temper, your insecurities. Believe that you are loved and wanted very much by your Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I seek God’s grace and mercy that I may see all my loveliness and to love my unloveliness, the way God sees me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the chance to repent and return to you.

17 March, Sunday – New Romance

17 March 2019

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Genesis 15:5-12,17-18

Taking Abram outside, the Lord said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can.’ ‘Such will be your descendants,’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.

  ‘I am the Lord’ he said to him ‘who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to make you heir to this land.’ ‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘how am I to know that I shall inherit it?’ He said to him, ‘Get me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.’ He brought him all these, cut them in half and put half on one side and half facing it on the other; but the birds he did not cut in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcases but Abram drove them off.

  When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, there appeared a smoking furnace and a firebrand that went between the halves. That day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram in these terms:

‘To your descendants I give this land,

from the wadi of Egypt to the Great River.’

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Philippians 3:17-4:1

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

  So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

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Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.

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… do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. 

How often do we assume that we already know someone very well just because we have known them for long? As the saying goes, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Abraham was already 99 years old when God promised him a child and descendants so many that they would outnumber the stars in the sky. As faithful a man of God that Abraham was, I believe he experienced seasons of doubt, moments of questions. Even curiosity, at the far-out promises God was fond of making. I suppose that is why he could not help but ask, “‘My Lord, how am I to know that I shall inherit [this land]?’

God was not offended. Instead, he generously offered Abram a visible sign of his covenant in spectacularly consuming his burnt offerings. Likewise in the gospel passage today, God presented Peter, John, and James with the Transfiguration of Jesus in order that they might commit this spectacular event to long-term memory, that Jesus was the Messiah and that they should obey him. We often label these as ‘mountain-top experiences’ precisely because God plucks us out from the banality of our daily business and reveals a magnificent and eternal truth to us – that His promises are true and His Word is life.

From my personal experiences, I can tell you that even these ‘mountain-top experiences’ can become old. We can be desensitised to such an amazing ‘spiritual display’ if we presume to know that God would speak to us in the same way every time.

I made a 3-day personal silent retreat recently. Although I had a routine of making this a yearly affair, I had not done one in past the two years. However, I had clear memories of how past retreats had been for me, and subconsciously expected to experience a similarly intimate, connected, and restful time. I had expected God to re-create my spiritual encounters with inspiring visions and impart messages to enlighten me on my next steps in life. Reality turned out far from history.

While I spent many hours praying and resting at the foot of the Blessed Sacrament, I received little in the way of inspiring visions and images which used to energise me. I was frustrated and disappointed. I thought: Wow, it sure looks like the early days of courtship with God is over, and we’ve moved on to the boring ‘married life’ stage of ‘no surprises’ and ‘no anniversary celebrations’. Haha!

It was only at my final morning before leaving the retreat house, that I realised a better truth. God did speak to me – He was present with me throughout my retreat in a completely different way. It was I who was out of sync with my new normal of spiritual and mental state. So much had changed in my life over the past few years! I got married, I became a mother, and I am now also a caregiver to my husband. God knew what I needed! He gave me REST – lots and lots of it. I didn’t get powerful visions because I didn’t need those. But I sure slept and napped with abandon like a wee newborn – no chores, child, or caregiving that demanded my energy and attention. I was able to SIT, GAZE, SING at the feet of Jesus. Just me and my Lord in the chapel.

God was showing me that ‘boring’ can also be beautiful. And this time, I experienced God romancing me in a completely new way. He says: I am right there in the eye of your storm; I am right there cradling you in your ‘Snooze’ button; I am always with you. Stay with me and I will show you.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray for all who feel tepid in their relationship with our Heavenly Father. Trust that He is wooing you, trust that He is the one waiting for your unrequited love. Let your guard down, let Him in.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for always romancing me in new ways, for winning me back to yourself, for never letting me go. 

23 February, Saturday – Faith in spite of Fear

23 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:1-7

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by one word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

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Mark 9:2-13

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

What is the weight of faith without being challenged or tested in the midst of fear and hardship? Life is certainly fraught with difficulties, trials, and sufferings. The weight of our faith can only be ‘measured’ by how much trust we place in the Lord – in spite of all that runs contrary.

But alas! Faith is a gift that is both given freely, but must first be sought out by the receiver. We who receive the gift of faith must first desire to seek and find and cherish. This is the essence of today’s scripture readings. In Hebrews we are reminded of the many Fathers of Faith who not only had faith, but held steadfast to their trust and reliance on God in the face of evidence that questioned whether God exists or was faithful to the promises He makes. With faith, we believe there is always more than meets the eye, that God is ultimately in control and He sees, knows, acknowledges, and blesses.

My husband has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia, just at the cusp of our family relocating to another country for a new job. We were literally grounded. It has been a harrowing time for us and our families – and I cannot imagine how we would have managed in this whirlpool without our faith in God. The scripture readings today hit very close to my heart – like a mirror held up, asking, “How much faith do you have in the Lord?”

Sometimes, it seems that faith feels like a double-edged sword. In times of certain hardships, my faith had kept me afloat and steered my direction towards God. Those were times I had managed to grab on to Jesus’ staff with both hands and said, “Lord, guide me.”

Yet in other times, my reality is absolute chaos. Like now, when cancer strikes the family. We were without a roof over our heads, with our household belongings sailing as ship cargo, my little baby and I bouncing between grandparents’ homes, while my husband was bed-bound in hospital for weeks. In those moments, I wondered aloud many times, “Where are you, Lord? Is this a crazy joke?!” My world crumbled and I felt my circumstances were throwing us under the bus repeatedly, I could not seem to reconcile our painful reality with a good God. We were scared, suffering, and dealing with the grief of our lives being ripped apart from normalcy.

Still, we tried our level best and plodded on with a spark of faith which felt so tiny like the mere glow of a firefly in a dark, deep cave. The rough days and the hard moments come in choppy waves. At the same time, with one foot in front of the other, in spite of the fear and darkness, God led us into the light.

Indeed, like the scriptures today, our faith allowed us to trust in the “existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”. By God’s grace and merciful healing, my husband has been responding well to chemotherapy and it is amazing to realise how this period has not only brought my husband and I in deeper union in our marriage. It has also bestowed untold depths and texture to my husband’s faith life and relationship with Jesus. With God, everything is possible! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Abba Father, I pray for healing for my husband and all who are suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. I pray you bind up their wounds and bind up their hearts and homes that are shaken with fear and sorrow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the gift of faith that you first bestowed upon us which allowed us to hope for realities that at present seemed dim.

20 February, Wednesday – Talk is Cheap

20 February 2019

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Genesis 8:6-13,20-22

At the end of forty days Noah opened the porthole he had made in the ark and he sent out the raven. This went off, and flew back and forth until the waters dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove, to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth. The dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, again he sent out the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there it was with a new olive-branch in its beak. So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days he sent out the dove, and now it returned to him no more.

  It was in the six hundred and first year of Noah’s life, in the first month and on the first of the month, that the water dried up from the earth. Noah lifted back the hatch of the ark and looked out. The surface of the ground was dry!

  Noah built an altar for the Lord, and choosing from all the clean animals and all the clean birds he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The Lord smelt the appeasing fragrance and said to himself, ‘Never again will I curse the earth because of man, because his heart contrives evil from his infancy. Never again will I strike down every living thing as I have done.

‘As long as earth lasts,
sowing and reaping,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
shall cease no more.’

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Mark 8:22-26

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida, and some people brought to him a blind man whom they begged him to touch. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Then putting spittle on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ The man, who was beginning to see, replied, ‘I can see people; they look like trees to me, but they are walking about.’ Then he laid his hands on the man’s eyes again and he saw clearly; he was cured, and he could see everything plainly and distinctly. And Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

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A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.

I feel that God has decoded a mystery to me in the scripture readings today – that there is more than one component to having faith in God. The words of the Responsorial Psalm stuck with me – ‘A thanksgiving sacrifice I make to you, O Lord.’ These words describe a very strong and intentional action on my part which is far greater than the lip service of simply giving thanks. Yes, our God is not a calculative ‘quid pro quo’ God. At the same time, we are called to fully contemplate the weight of our thanksgiving. How grateful am I, really, when I sometimes just absentmindedly exclaim ‘Thanks be to God!’ in messages with friends when I hear or share good news that happened in our lives?

Having faith in God is an ongoing process that goes beyond merely professing and confessing believe in Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I often hear of comparisons of the Catholic Church’s practice of infant baptism versus a protestant understanding of water baptism as an adult, that the former is done unthinkingly (“the baby cannot choose”), whilst the latter is one made consentingly (“I know why I am being baptised”). I would suggest that baptism is an ongoing an iterative process that requires persistence of profession of our faith in God; constant surrender on to the will of God; and, the desire to make very real sacrifices in our daily lives to God. This means that, the initial baptism of water is only the first layer of faith. A baptism of fire (and perhaps, several) is always par for the course of being and becoming Christian.

The gospel of Jesus healing the blind man twice today is echoed by the Old Testament Genesis passage of Noah releasing not one, but two birds; and for each bird, not once but twice. Why is this so? Jesus performed many miracles and healed many people in the bible with just once word, one touch, one gesture. Why is this account of Jesus laying hands on the blind mind twice necessary for us? One way we can understand this is to query the depth of the blind man’s faith – that requires a further deepening. There is another way to decipher this account. The first instance of healing was a healing of a physical nature – the blind man could now see, although he could only see imperceptibly humans looking like trees. The second instance of healing cured the man spiritually. He could finally ‘see everything plainly and distinctly’. It was then Jesus sent him home and instructed him not to go back into the village.

What a strange order!

Indeed, God knows us better than we even know ourselves. Jesus healing of blindness included an ongoing medication for the blind man – stay away from your old influences, sacrifice your old associations or pleasures, break from the pattern of your old habits and evils. This is the potion of ‘thanksgiving sacrifice’ in which we are called to ‘make’ to God. We make a decision henceforth because of our faith in Christ. Thus our faith is an active, performative, sacrificial one. And not one of shallow, perfunctory lip service made effortlessly and unthinkingly!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage, the conviction, and the determination to make our individual ‘thanksgiving sacrifices’ to God.

Thanksgiving: Today or tomorrow, I will make my act of service as a love sacrifice to God by going beyond my comfort zone to be loving and kind to someone who has hurt me.

15 December, Saturday – Entering into Relationship

15 December

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.’

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.