Tag Archives: debbie loo

14 March, Saturday – Put Bitterness and Comparisons to Death

Dear Readers, we are sorry for the delay in sending out today’s Oxygen. 
We wish you a blessed weekend. In the midst of this pandemic of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), us at OXYGEN pray for all of you to be healthy and positive. Let us keep vigilant with personal hygiene, be mindful of the many vulnerable persons (the young and elderly, those with unseen comorbidity illnesses), and keep an open mind towards members of other ethnic communities with open hearts to empathise how each of us are enduring unique challenges in this ‘lock-down’ and ‘social-distancing’ climate that we are in. Many church communities around the world have started limiting or suspending religious services and the Mass to reduce the risk of wider community transmission. During this season of Lent, we recognise this as a common-passion with our fellow Christians who have long been facing religious persecution around the world.

Let us be united in our prayer for each other, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

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14 March

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

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

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

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found

Bitterness in the midst of a life of faith. Whoever said that a life of faith is anything like a bed of roses? Whoever told us that the blessedness of Christians should only be a life of endless rewards and few challenges, or only the obviously surmountable ones?

Do you happen to be in the midst of such a bitter season now? You are not alone. I am here in the ditches with you. In fact, I have been here for quite a while it seems. This desert and wilderness we speak of in Lent – I am far-too familiar with this god-forsaken landscape.

The parable of the lost son is also the story of the prodigal father. It is also a story of the bitter, jealous, and petty elder son. The Great Wilderness we read about in this parable is a harsh landscape that all three of them experienced. The wilderness the younger son was lost in, is also the wilderness of loss that the sorrowful alienated father experienced, and it is also the wilderness of bitterness that the elder son was stewing in.

I hope to take us all through a few meditations on each of these characters.

The father
The division of the property between his two sons must have long hurt the father before the younger one set off for his life of debauchery. How many of us have felt the sting of being a rejected, disrespected parent? How many of us have felt the pain of a child who expresses “I am done!” with the family and leaves home, or seems to turn his/her back on the lessons and upbringing you have given? Sometimes we can never understand the choices our children make, try as we might. They may have forsaken our love and provision for a life so antithetical to ours and it hurts. Particularly, if their choices clearly bring real physical and emotional pain to themselves. However, the gift of understanding is also not lost to us parents – we only need to seek. Perhaps we have chasms in our memories that reveal our real foibles as parents too, where we have actually inflicted wounds on our children. Wounds that they still grief about as grown-ups. We pray to God to reveal the truth to us and grant us humility and forgiveness. 

The lost younger son

Some of us are the lost younger son. We may have lived a life of abundance and love in the house of our parents. Yet, we cannot explain why we crave the approval of the world and desire to try the ‘forbidden’ experiences that life outside of boring harmony has brought us. Perhaps we have been wounded very deeply by the very flawed persons our parents are, and experience a sort of internal rejection for the flawed people we feel we have inevitably become. We reject our present life and we want to claim ownership for our choices. We want to choose experiences that we have been denied of, or we sometimes choose paths that hurt us, thinking we could hurt the ones who have hurt us.

Maybe you are on the verge of turning home. You have been pricked by a dull sensation (and you hate to call it conscience, or a hardened heart), and you realise with age and experience (maybe even starting a family of your own) that parenting is seriously confounding and challenging work. You realise that maybe your parents didn’t know better back then. Perhaps, you still hate them because you have found that you are repeating some of their mistakes, against every fibre of your more enlightened self – and finally, you start to empathise with them. We pray to God for the grace of forgiveness and repentance.

The elder son
Are we the older child in the family who has grown up feeling side-lined, or felt we experienced unfair treatment when compared with our siblings? Do we feel that we had harsher punishments or have more was expected just because “you are older”? This has invariably led to strained relationships with your parents or other siblings. Perhaps when you were younger and had less of a ‘voice’ you were unable to make these feelings known. Yet as you have grown older, you cannot help but be triggered with bitterness over history and have no way of being released from this unhappiness. We pray for the grace of empathy, forgiveness, and for joy to be free from resentment. 

In this sense, we have all been estranged in one way or another, from the people we love the most (or should love the most). These are the relationships we first learn how to love and be loved from: our parents and siblings. And this why they are also the relationships that cause the first and greatest hurts that we ever experience in life.

There are no easy answers to resolve these longstanding wounds, but I am sure we all desire to be free from these difficult emotions. I truly believe the way forward for many of us is to break the ‘vicious cycles’ of familial and intergenerational wounds. We either work hard to heal from these, or we risk bringing these unconsciously into our future relationships and families. The first step is a great desire to heal, the further steps are a persevering willingness to keep on walking the path of healing no matter how challenging. Even if we don’t see immediate results. We are healing the past in order to build the future and a more beautiful legacy of love and freedom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  We are all on this journey to heal. We pray to God to grant us wisdom to see the truth, courage to respond to the call to change, and deep joy for the journey.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of understanding and empathy. It helps me to see how our lives are intertwined, and so it is with love and pain. Thank you for being our God of endless redemption.

11 March, Wednesday – Contentment with my Portion

11 March

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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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Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant

Comparison is an easy exercise to slip into the moment I start to feel dissatisfied with my lot in life. I am compare what I now have with the best case scenario in my mind, or how it appears others may not struggle as much as I do. In these past couple of years, my family has encountered two life-threatening illnesses and moved homes and countries more than three times. I have also gone through a real stripping of my own identity as to whether I am to become a stay home mother or a working mother, or somewhere in between – and I battle with the accompanying rollercoaster understanding of my self-worth with each choice.

The Gospel readings of Matthew today reveal to me the great illusion we can often make out of the choices we have in life – the illusion that we have control over our lives are when we are able to choose the things we like or dislike. But is our control over these things really all that it is cut out to be? What happens when things just ‘happen to us’? Like in the case of a tragedy in the family or loss of job.

I have often ‘bargained’ with God for the things I would rather happen. But in this reading, I hear His answer to me: ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?… you shall drink my cup, but as for the 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’ (Matt 20:22-23). How easy it is to hypothetically cherry-pick our successes and tribulations.

In other words, I only have a very finite and incomplete understanding of the will of God when I try to dictate my ‘foresight scenarios’ to Him. I see it from my human point of view, which is very tiny and flawed, especially in accepting my portion with humility. Certainly, like the mother of Zebedee’s sons, I would rather choose the better portions for my loved ones – that they would not have to suffer grave illnesses and I would rather not suffer the challenges I face. The portion of the underdog constantly fighting fires is a very exhausting place to be. Like the other ten disciples, I have found myself asking God if my ‘hour of triumph’ over my setbacks will ever come and when?

Jesus replied to them: ‘Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matt 20:26)

If you are also struggling with your flaws, accepting and rolling with your hardships, and believing in the larger meaning of what you are going through, know that you are absolutely not alone. You have a fellow companion in me. We are not alone. I know that I have still much to grow in my faith in God. Let us trust that our suffering and trials are of service to God in this far bigger tapestry of God’s plan for our life. Not just in our limited lifetime, but in the legacies of our family, our children and children’s children. What matters more, is how we have chosen to stay the course of our faith and how we live in contentment and humility.

Christ came to serve God through each very present moment of serving his fellow man – the disciples who followed him and the multitude who sought healing for him. I desire to grow in understanding of my self-worth within God’s plan. A self-worth which is not tied to the elevation of my career status, praise for my works, or even how ‘put-together’ a person or woman I am, in the eyes of this world.

Instead, I am enough. It is enough that I am alive. It is enough that I am loved by my family. It is enough that I can serve the very domestic needs of my family. It is enough that I am here today, wherever that I am. It is enough that I am trying to grow each day. It is enough to be a child of God and infinitely loved.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: May we pray daily for the grace of contentment for our portion in life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father for making me, me.

8 January, Wednesday – How is Love Perfected?

7 Jan – Wednesday after the Epiphany

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1 John 4:11-18

My dear people,
since God has loved us so much,
we too should love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
but as long as we love one another
God will live in us
and his love will be complete in us.
We can know that we are living in him
and he is living in us
because he lets us share his Spirit.
We ourselves saw and we testify
that the Father sent his Son
as saviour of the world.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in him, and he in God.
We ourselves have known and put our faith in
God’s love towards ourselves.
God is love
and anyone who lives in love lives in God,
and God lives in him.
Love will come to its perfection in us
when we can face the day of Judgement without fear;
because even in this world
we have become as he is.
In love there can be no fear,
but fear is driven out by perfect love:
because to fear is to expect punishment,
and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love.

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Mark 6:45-52

After the five thousand had eaten and were filled, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the crowd away. After saying goodbye to them he went off into the hills to pray. When evening came, the boat was far out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. He could see they were worn out with rowing, for the wind was against them; and about the fourth watch of the night he came towards them, walking on the lake. He was going to pass them by, but when they saw him walking on the lake they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they had all seen him and were terrified. But he at once spoke to them, and said, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind dropped. They were utterly and completely dumbfounded, because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.

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…as long as we love one another God will live in us and his love will be complete in us.

It is human and expected to have short-term memory. Many of us truly struggle to remember and believe that we are so fully, completely, and unconditionally loved by God. We all need constant reminders. This inevitably happens because the bulk of our earthly human experiences of love are tinged with disappointments, conditions, and unmet expectations. Sometimes, we are also blinded by our pre-existing wounds from receiving love from those around us, as their best intentions may appear jarring to our senses and comfort zones. We judge the imperfection of their love-efforts, more than perceiving the goodness of their heart-intentions.

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” (Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen)

In today’s scripture passages, the early disciples themselves admitted that none of them had ever seen God. This utter humility and honesty that they lacked hard evidence for their faith, did not dampen their conviction to love each other as faithfully as Jesus had commanded them to do.

This reminds me of how I often may not like certain persons I come across in my life, and yet, I recognise that God had allowed for our paths to cross because I am to learn something very valuable from our interactions and the mutual-journeying. Indeed, although I am not called to like every single person I encounter, but I am called to love my neighbour as I love myself. This is only possible when we ask for the grace of God to see as perfectly as He does… the inherent goodness and dignity of each soul as loved by the Creator.

“We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves. God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him. Love will come to its perfection in us when we can face the day of Judgement without fear; because even in this world we have become as he is.” (1 John 3-4)

How then are we taught to love perfectly like God does, since our human nature is so imperfect? The person of Jesus is the ‘gold standard’ of perfect love – love purified by the emptying of one’s Self in self-sacrifice. Jesus’s love for us is so perfect that it is purely free from self-love, self-gratification, and self-preservation. As for us, we share in this gift of love through the rays of trials and tribulations, the purification of living with a difficult family member, the suffering of illnesses, the hardship of financial instability or even joblessness. We need the courage that our faith in Jesus can bring us through each of these storms. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” Each of these can be a sanctifying beam to burn off the dross of self-love and self-gratification and self-preservation. Only if we bravely allow it to.

How can I seek God’s will today and allow Him to perfect His love in, and through me? How can I draw closer to God and allow His will to sanctify my soul?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, indeed sometimes the challenges we face are truly insurmountable. Help us to trust that your perfect love is both the safe boat to travel in, and the safe harbour to return to. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God for always guiding us through our trials even while we could not fathom His merciful hand in each situation.

 

29 Dec, Sunday – Pilgrims Searching for Love and Home

29 Dec 2019 – Feast of the Holy Family

[Let us adore Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.]

The feast of the Holy Family offers the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of family life. Every family and community share the perplexing, frustrating, demanding challenge Luke described. Put most simply, Mary and Joseph faced the difficult discovery that Jesus was not going along with them every step of the way. It is a real story of a family conflict and is symbolic of all kinds of relationships.

We know what it is like when family members do not go along with us on the journey. When Mary and Joseph confronted Jesus in the Temple, they confronted the fact that he would have to discover his own path in life. No matter what they might hope for him, he did not belong to them.

The story reminds us that love is rooted in profound reverence for the mystery of the other. Such reverence cultivates profound respect for the other’s mysterious freedom. In that, we learn to desire that the other will become who they are meant to be rather than what we would have them be.

Excerpt taken from: Feast of the Holy Family: The Mystery of Love (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/scripture-life/feast-holy-family-mystery-love) 

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Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children,
  and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
  he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
  he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
  he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
  do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
  do not despise him in your health and strength;
for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
  but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Colossians 3:12-21 

Family life in the Lord 

You are God’s chosen race his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful. 

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Wives give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.

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Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The Flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

 I called my son out of Egypt.
After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

 

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

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May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts… Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

I was prepared to write my reflection on this Feast day more than a week ago but I could not put words to my thoughts as I was facing struggles of my own in my family. I was dumbfounded to be assigned this specific day, and while I knew intellectually, that God had a message for me in here, it took some wresting within for me to finally sit down to listen to Him.

We are Pilgrims

In three days, my family would be collecting a new set of keys to our rental apartment. We had been praying to find a new home in Singapore after moving back from Hong Kong. By the new year, this would be the fifth house that I will setting up home in, notwithstanding the many interim roofs we have temporarily rested our heavy-laden bodies to rest in. All these moves were made within the span of three years, over three countries. Some of them are moves related to jobs, while some were a result of grave illnesses within our families that required us to either ‘stay-put’ or ‘return-home’.

Whenever I behold the idea of packing up house again, I am seized with anxiety first, and then sadness for the home my family will soon be leaving behind. All the memories and efforts to dream up and personalise a blank space…must be let go. As my two-year old son is old enough to remember our various homes, I have been met with puzzling questions of “where is mummy-daddy house?” or “is this mummy-daddy house?” or “let’s go home!” even if ‘home’ is just a room for one week. I have held up hopes of stability as well as shed many tears for each of these homes. God knows that my heart aches for a place to sink roots in.

In the face of so much impermanence and instability, it is my faith that holds my fragile emotions together – however imperfectly. I humbly and wistfully recognise that my little family of three walks a shared path with the Holy Family. This is a realisation that struck me after I spent two successive Christmases accompanying a loved one in hospital over a cancer diagnosis – one with my husband and one with my mother. Surely Mary and Joseph must have struggled with the question of “not again, God?” when each time an angel forewarned them to “hasten and pack up, for you must leave this place.” Even if they had great faith, each blow of news and the logistics of being on the move must have been daunting – with a donkey or not.

How do we understand these difficult times? In my experience, I realise my efforts at understanding always fall short. The greater the effort I make, the more my heart and mind are fixated on the framework I have, and my framework is always too human, too limited, and too impatient. I perceive the things that have to be done and the answers I am seeking to be resolved in hours and days… but God is not limited by my perception of time. God’s plan exists in the dimension of eternity.

This is why the words of the prophets are never accepted in the present and can only be understood looking backwards: “He will be called a Nazarene.” This is why Herod and his son would fail to locate the Holy Family. God’s plan would still be carried out because God is above and beyond our human manipulations and frantic calculations.

I am learning to accept my family’s pilgrim state, as well as to embrace this sojourn of often being ‘homeless’ and always seeking a resting place, because I recognise this as an invitation from God to be very, very close to His chosen family – Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The privilege of too much earthly stability and permanence can turn out to be a grave distraction from seeking and desiring Eternal truths. Truths that will save our souls.

In Search for Love and Home

What are we really seeking in our lives? In the face of diagnoses of inexplicable illnesses, our fragile mortality, the sudden loss of a young life, the loss of a home, we realise how helpless and incapable we really are to make anything of true value happen without God’s grace. Evidently, we are human and not God. This is the ultimate truth that will strike at the heart of even the most stubbornly atheistic amidst us. Why does God permit this to happen to those whom He loves? Is this the kind of God whom I should place my hopes and trust in?

Our answers to this question will depend very much of what we understand about love, and ultimately the nature of God. For God is Love in its most perfect sense – more perfect, more profound, and vastly more giving than our minds can conceive. As St Thomas Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of another.” Just as a parent would discipline a young child for the child’s own good, even if it involves certain pain or deprivation, so it is even more evident that God our loving Heavenly Father would desire the same for each of us in relation to our souls. We have a Father who suffers with us.

We need only look to the suffering person of Christ to understand the extent of God’s sacrificial love for us mankind. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). A God who would give the gift of His own self, to be born as flesh in the infant Jesus, and Himself choose to take on the sins of others and die on the cross for this purpose, in order to bring us into eternal communion with Him in heaven… who could this God be?

In the face of all earthly suffering and our perplexing unanswered questions, let us look to these images: the vagrant and obedient Holy Family, Christ the pilgrim boy and mocked messiah, and Christ the suffering saviour, who, with his wounds, points us to His Father – who is also our most loving Father. How beautiful it is to truly and intimately know this God who suffers alongside me, and who loves me so.

In Him all of our journeys end. With Him lies our final, eternal, most perfect Home.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Pray with me please, dear friends, as I journey with the ones I love on the difficult paths of pain and healing. Pray for the grace to see our lives as God sees, for consolation that will be tangible, for hope that will carry us beyond the physical senses. Pray for hope and an increase in faith. As we pray, I believe that many among us who need these words shall also be healed.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks and delight in joyful praise for each and every day we are given. To live, to love, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to mend and heal, to laugh and breathe deeply. The best and only life we have is right now. Let us give thanks with a grateful heart.

17 July, Wednesday –

17 July 2019

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Exodus 3:1-6,9-12

Moses was looking after the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, priest of Midian. He led his flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush. Moses looked; there was the bush blazing but it was not being burnt up. ‘I must go and look at this strange sight,’ Moses said, ‘and see why the bush is not burnt.’

Now the Lord saw him go forward to look, and God called to him from the middle of the bush. ‘Moses, Moses!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ Moses answered. ‘Come no nearer,’ he said. ‘Take off your shoes, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,’ he said, ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

And the Lord said, ‘The cry of the sons of Israel has come to me, and I have witnessed the way in which the Egyptians oppress them, so come, I send you to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel, my people, out of Egypt.’
Moses said to God, ‘Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ ‘I shall be with you,’ was the answer ‘and this is the sign by which you shall know that it is I who have sent you… After you have led the people out of Egypt, you are to offer worship to God on this mountain.’

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Matthew 11:25-27

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

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(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:

Thanksgiving:

16 July, Tuesday – Every Turning Point Happens ‘Now’

16 July 2019

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Exodus 2:1-15

There was a man of the tribe of Levi who had taken a woman of Levi as his wife. She conceived and gave birth to a son and, seeing what a fine child he was, she kept him hidden for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him; coating it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child inside and laid it among the reeds at the river’s edge. His sister stood some distance away to see what would happen to him.

Now Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the river, and the girls attending her were walking along by the riverside. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and looked, and saw a baby boy, crying; and she was sorry for him. ‘This is a child of one of the Hebrews’ she said. Then the child’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and find you a nurse among the Hebrew women to suckle the child for you?’ ‘Yes, go’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her; and the girl went off to find the baby’s own mother. To her the daughter of Pharaoh said, ‘Take this child away and suckle it for me. I will see you are paid.’ So the woman took the child and suckled it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter who treated him like a son; she named him Moses because, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

Moses, a man by now, set out at this time to visit his countrymen, and he saw what a hard life they were having; and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. Looking round he could see no one in sight, so he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. On the following day he came back, and there were two Hebrews, fighting. He said to the man who was in the wrong, ‘What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?’ ‘And who appointed you’ the man retorted, ‘to be prince over us, and judge? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses was frightened. ‘Clearly that business has come to light’ he thought. When Pharaoh heard of the matter he would have killed Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian.

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Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent.

Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’

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Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains 

Saying “Sorry” is not an easy thing to do. Saying “Sorry” and meaning it from a deeply contrite heart is an even tougher task. I am someone who needs a ‘cooling off period’ before I can apologise and mean it. I know it sounds strange to admit this, but I’d like to think that I am not the only one who struggles with this.

We apologise for various reasons. Sometimes the word “I’m sorry” rolls off our tongues because we are trying hard to diffuse tense situations. Or sometimes it is merely an approximation for “I am afraid so”, or to express embarrassment, or regret for causing others an inconvenience. Obviously, I am not referring to those situations. Even so, some may already have trouble with that.

I am talking about the gut-wrenching, jaw-gritting, eye-rolling, sideways-glancing kind of apologies. Yep. Those sickening moments where ego is like parasitic worm winding its way in the tummy and Contrition and Justification are like the warring states of your heart and mind.

Jesus warns us of this in the Gospel passage today. He is chastising the towns of Chorazin. Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their stubborn unrepentance. In his wrath, he warns them that even those states that appear most evil (Tyre and Sidon) would sooner repent and be spared on Judgement Day than them! Interestingly, the First Reading today of Exodus relates the story of Moses’ birth and adoption into his Egyptian family. It draws the brief arc of Moses’ life until the point of his grievous sin of killing another Egyptian and burying the dead fella’ in the sand. Yes, Moses’ one of God’s chosen prophets was a murderer. But the reading stops us short with Moses deciding to flee and go into hiding after fearing his crime had been known. We know that Moses repented in the end.

But Moses himself did not know that he would eventually repent and believe in God’s redemption enough to turn around and serve Him.

The truth is, all of us are often at this turning point that Moses was in. This ‘inflexion point’ of our choice to turn away from sin and turn towards our Saviour. This is the purpose of the free will we are given. We are given the space to choose – and choose, we must. God does not accept fence-sitters into His kingdom.

In the daily tussle between Contrition and Justification for the sins and wrongs we have chosen to do in our lives, we need to be aware that in order to turn towards God, we need to turn away from sin and temptation. It can be something so simple (yet gut-twisting) as choosing to turn away from reacting with anger by spouting vicious words at the person triggering us.

Let us seek God in every moment, while we are still poor in spirit and struggling with our imperfections, so that we may draw on His strength to restore our weary and sinful hearts.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace and resolve to turn away from my human ego in order that I can turn towards your redeeming love and to seek reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: We appreciate all the people who have taught us to withhold from sinning by their humility in conflict.

15 July, Monday – Divisions in the Family

15 July – Memorial for St. Bonaventure, bishop, religious, doctor

St. Bonavenure (1221-1274) entered the Franciscan Order when he was 22. At the age of 35, he was chosen General of his Order and restored a perfect calm where peace had been disturbed by internal dissensions. He did much for his Order and composed The Life of St. Francis. He also assisted at the translation of the relics of St. Anthony of Padua.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=169

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Exodus 1:8-14,22

There came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies. They might take arms against us and so escape out of the country.’

Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. The Egyptians forced the sons of Israel into slavery, and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and with brick, all kinds of work in the fields; they forced on them every kind of labour.
Pharaoh then gave his subjects this command: ‘Throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, but let all the girls live.’

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Matthew 10:34-11:1

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.

Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.

‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.

‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.

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Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword 

This is a hard verse to read if we do not understand the context in which Christ spoke this to his disciples. I believe that many of us may have the experience of divisions happening within the family. The nature of human relationships is already fraught with differences and mundane annoyances, so why would Jesus mention the obvious that He has “come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…”? Isn’t Jesus’ other name the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6 and John 14:27)? If so, how could he advocate violence and discord?

Firstly, the mention of ‘a sword’ refers to a spiritual sword, in the spiritual sense. Jesus is aware of the resistance and conflict that will come up against those who choose to follow him. He is speaking to his disciples who have already left home, family, and town, to take this winding journey with him across the plains and deserts to preach the Gospel and ministers to all who came to listen to him. By now, they would not only have experienced rejection from new communities, but they would have already been judged by their families for their insanity or disloyalty to their tribes. In this address, Jesus is acknowledging their sacrifice and also reminding them of the cross they would have to constantly pick up.

As I reflect on the misunderstandings I have encountered within my family and friendships of how and why I have chosen to follow God, to be a Christian, I feel that these words of Christ are balm to my soul. I do not see him advocating violence with a physical sword, but I see that He is affirming what I have already known – that the peace He brings to me, is a peace between myself and God. And that choosing Him would entail henceforth a division between the lens I view the world, and the way my ‘tribe’ views it. I have chosen this path to follow Him. And I can only choose for myself – this is absolutely clear.

For those who reject God, and the only way of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6), they will find themselves perpetually at war with God. Jesus acknowledges the earthly implications of such a divergence in spiritual ‘routes’ that we take from our families and loved ones. As the first reading of Exodus relates to us the persecutions the Israelites faced from the Jews, in our time today we may see arguments, aggravations, or abuse and torture, from people who reject all those who choose to follow Christ. It may even devolve to making life very hard for believers to practise their faith, to pray, to worship, etc. I have heard stories of children and typically wives, who face the wrath of their fathers or husbands if they want to attend church services or be baptised. Some even do so in secret to avoid ‘getting in trouble’ – “A  man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

However, those who come to Him in repentance will find themselves at peace with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Some may reject Christ because they do not yet understand. Ignorance may be their temporary reason. However, we know that some ultimately choose blindness over enlightenment, stubbornness over obedience. These are the ones we, as Christians, ought to pray doubly hard for.

We do not know the hour or the day when they may meet their Maker. Neither do we know the hour or the day when they would believe. I have seen miracles happen in the lives and families of friends, and from anecdotal accounts – I pray the same for the ones in my family who are still wrestling immensely hard with letting God into their lives.

Whom among your family are you called to pray for today?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Jesus our Lord and Saviour, I pray for my earthly family who do not yet know you and the promise of Eternal life and love and restoration and peace that you offer. I seek the mercy from your Sacred Heart to touch them and move them to open their hearts a crack so that your Holy Spirit may enter.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for all the promising and uplifting conversion stories I hear. They shine a light unto my path when I am tempted to lose patience and fervour in your promises.

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.