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26 May, Friday – Wisdom in Silence

26 May 2017

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Acts 18:9-18

At Corinth one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city that no one will even attempt to hurt you.’ So Paul stayed there preaching the word of God among them for eighteen months.

But, while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a concerted attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. ‘We accuse this man’ they said ‘of persuading people to worship God in a way that breaks the Law.’ Before Paul could open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘Listen, you Jews. If this were a misdemeanour or a crime, I would not hesitate to attend to you; but if it is only quibbles about words and names, and about your own Law, then you must deal with it yourselves-I have no intention of making legal decisions about things like that.’ Then he sent them out of the court, and at once they all turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue president, and beat him in front of the court house. Gallio refused to take any notice at all.

After staying on for some time, Paul took leave of the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut off, because of a vow he had made.

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John 16:20-23

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
you will be weeping and wailing
while the world will rejoice;
you will be sorrowful,
but your sorrow will turn to joy.
A woman in childbirth suffers,
because her time has come;
but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering
in her joy that a man has been born into the world.
So it is with you: you are sad now,
but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy,
and that joy no one shall take from you.
When that day comes,
you will not ask me any questions.’

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Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you.

So often we look up to great orators, charismatic leaders and speakers, and admire them for their gift of inspiring and persuading with commanding speeches. Rarely do we celebrate the ones who know when silence is instead the greatest gift needed for the moment. I know I do.

In the first reading today, the Lord tells Paul, one of our greatest evangelists and one whom we know for his wonderful letters, to not be afraid to allow himself to be silenced. When I first read that, I misunderstood that God had asked him to not allow himself to be silenced. It is so much easier to think that must be the case when it comes to defending one’s faith and evangelizing God.
Instead, we see Paul completely quiet in this episode of accusation by the Jews who plotted to bring him down in front of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Paul had no chance to retort, as before he could open his mouth to defend or explain himself, Gallio silenced not only him, but also the Jews who accused him.

Sometimes silence is wiser than speaking, listening more healing than words, quietness more empowering than ideas. This can happen in all sorts of settings – from official and professional situations, to private and personal moments.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, ‘somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.’ I have lost count of the many times when my silence and humble observation has saved me, and when my brashness or confidence has cost me belated anxiety and anguish.

At the same time, we would do well to seek the gift of wise silence from God, and to exercise more silence in our spiritual journey. I noticed that when I am out of sorts and not at peace with myself, my prayers become anxious chatters bouncing off the inner walls of my head. I may think that I have spent time in prayer, but actually I had been gratifying my inner voice and justifications, instead of being truly present to the Lord.

Again, Nouwen cautions us, “the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing – that demands real effort.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We seek the gift of silence, and the gift of wisdom, to know when to practice this powerful instrument of peace.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for listening to my chattering noise, and revealing to me that your gentle silence is often the greatest gift I need in my prayer.

22 May, Monday – Faith – Relationship – Love – Charity

May 22 – Memorial for St. Rita of Cascia, Religious

Rita (1386-1457) was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti, a couple known as the Peacemakers of Jesus; they had Rita late in life. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was 12, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s abuses for 18 years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of St. Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

She was confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything. Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Among the other areas, Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 16:11-15

Sailing from Troas we made a straight run for Samothrace; the next day for Neapolis, and from there for Philippi, a Roman colony and the principal city of that particular district of Macedonia. After a few days in this city we went along the river outside the gates as it was the sabbath and this was a customary place for prayer. We sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting. One of these women was called Lydia, a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptised she sent us an invitation: ‘If you really think me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said ‘come and stay with us’; and she would take no refusal.

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John 15:26-16:4

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘When the Advocate comes,
whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father,
he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the outset.

‘I have told you all this that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you
will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
They will do these things
because they have never known
either the Father or myself.
But I have told you all this,
so that when the time for it comes
you may remember that I told you.’

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… will think he is doing a holy duty for God. They have never known either the Father or myself.

How will we know if we truly believe in God and in Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son? It is not only by faith that we will hear, see, and believe. It is more enduringly known through the cultivation of relationships. The scriptures today reveal to us that faith in God, to claim to know God, is to therefore conduct myself in a particular way.

It is the way of love and charity.

In the first reading of Acts 16: 11-15, we read of Lydia, a devout woman, who was open to listening and hearing about the Lord through the sharings of Paul. While the account summarises her conversion, as the work of the Lord who ‘opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying’, we know that it was not merely that of speeding down a one-way street. In her reception of the gift of faith, we witness that she responded in two ways. First, she and her household requested to be baptized. That was the first step in choosing to be a follower of Christ.

However, she goes on to send an invitation to Paul and Peter and the other disciples, extending her generous hospitality to them to visit and stay with her household – knowing that they were all pilgrims and simply living from hand-to-mouth and traveling on from place to place.

This openness to love and participate in loving is one very important aspect of being and becoming truly Christian. We may be Christians by birth or by choice (later in life), but to ‘become’ true Christians is a humbling, ongoing process that requires intention, child-like trust, and a constant effort to be charitable.

Not all of us have grown up witnessing examples of hospitality, generosity, or effusive acts of warmth and love within our families. So it should come as no surprise, that becoming all of these qualities does not come naturally for some. But we can learn to be, and desire to become. This is a grace freely given by God, and which we should always seek the Holy Spirit for the courage and inspiration to be so.

In this same vein, Jesus tells his disciples that they will encounter people of all kinds who may claim to believe in God, yet commit sins or behave in ways that completely oppose the love and charity and sacrifice that Christ came to demonstrate. Jesus says that these people do exist, and will walk amongst us, but it will be possible to see through their works and actions that “they have never known either the Father or Christ”.

How do we reconcile these encounters with our own choice to remain Christ-like? Well, Jesus reminds us that we have His example and His Holy Spirit has been sent to us to be our Advocate and Paraclete. The Holy Spirit is the friend we can call upon for help and wisdom in these times.

When we struggle with being loving and charitable, when we tussle with the desire to just retaliate at the ones who do us wrong or commit grave sins, may we remember that Jesus has provided us with the Holy Spirit to impart us wisdom and truth to know how to respond in a way that all men may know we are truly Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to the Holy Spirit for help in all times of need, for divine wisdom and courage in our daily affairs.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the people around me who have demonstrated to me the conviction of being Christian through their generosity and charity, even in the face of difficulties.

24 March, Friday – To listen is to love

24 March 2017

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Hosea 14:2-10
The Lord says this:
Israel, come back to the Lord your God;
your iniquity was the cause of your downfall.
Provide yourself with words
and come back to the Lord.
Say to him, ‘Take all iniquity away
so that we may have happiness again
and offer you our words of praise.
Assyria cannot save us,
we will not ride horses any more,
or say, “Our God!” to what our own hands have made,
for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
– I will heal their disloyalty,
I will love them with all my heart,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will fall like dew on Israel.
He shall bloom like the lily,
and thrust out roots like the poplar,
his shoots will spread far;
he will have the beauty of the olive
and the fragrance of Lebanon.
They will come back to live in my shade;
they will grow corn that flourishes,
they will cultivate vines
as renowned as the wine of Helbon.
What has Ephraim to do with idols any more
when it is I who hear his prayer and care for him?
I am like a cypress ever green,
all your fruitfulness comes from me.
Let the wise man understand these words.
Let the intelligent man grasp their meaning.
For the ways of the Lord are straight,
and virtuous men walk in them,
but sinners stumble.
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Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.
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I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart… it is I who hear his prayer and care for him.

There seems to be a common thread in the readings all week – that of listening to God. It got me wondering why we are constantly being reminded to listen, and why this call is so relevant even today.

What are we listening out for?

When we are told to listen or pay attention, does our reflex guide us into a defensive stance, anticipating a scolding or rebuke? This can happen in many relationships (between couples, parent-child, work) where familiarity has sadly bred contempt. Some may even experience this reaction towards the commands of God. Perhaps this is set up by previous experiences of hurt and disappointment, maybe we have grown up hearing more often the wrathful stories of a punishing God, that it is hard to imagine hearing anything sweet and soothing when told to pay attention and listen.

In the first reading of Hosea today, God is speaking tenderly to his people who have turned from him in disloyalty. We get a glimpse of our image of God when we read these words and recognize our interior reactions. Does it feel hard to visualize a loving God? Do you read with some distance and a little disbelief? Are you moved and comforted deeply by the assurances of God who says: I will love you with all my heart? To truly listen without judgment and defense, is to genuinely allow our hearts to connect with the one who speaks.

What are you listening out for when God is trying to speak His love to you? Will you let Him have the space and time to tell you how much He cares for you?

To listen is to heal

Sometimes we don’t really listen. We just hear what we think is being spoken. So if a wife tells her husband, “I wish you wouldn’t spend so much time watching TV/on your mobile phone/out with friends,” he may hear “she’s nitpicking on me and telling me how to spend my precious leisure time,” instead of “I wish you would spend more time connecting with me.”

When we read God’s words in scripture: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations (Eze 14:6, 1 Jn 5:12, etc), we may think we hear His booming and fearsome voice commanding us to give up everything and turn to Him. The responsibility to listen intentionally and openly lies with the listener. Sometimes it is easier to hear the literal words when it coincides with our presumptions about someone or the nature of the relationship. But to listen humbly is to heal relationships, and to heal the false impressions we might have of the other.

Do I listen carefully to God’s merciful and deep love for me that is layered beneath all of His commandments and laws? Do I give God the space to be Himself in our relationship, instead of imposing my own ideas and defenses upon His words?

Only when we listen, can we speak wisely.

In yesterday’s gospel reading (Lk 11:14-23), we witnessed the crowds testing and challenging Jesus’ authority and words. They asked questions to cast doubt, with no intention of listening to the Living Word. However, the scribe today listened intently to Jesus’ answer that the greatest commandment to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength… and to love your neighbour as yourself.’ He was therefore able to respond wisely that to follow this commandment, was ‘far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ The scribe understood the deeper meaning of the law of love, which underpinned all the Laws. It is only when we listen, that we can speak wisely and with love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the patience to listen with humility and love. Grant me the restraint to withhold judgment and self-defenses.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the gift of those who have spent time truly listening to me and getting to know me for who I am.


23 March, Thursday – You become what you pay attention to

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 7:23-28

These were my orders: Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Follow right to the end the way that I mark out for you, and you will prosper. But they did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me, and turned their backs on me. From the day your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until today, day after day I have persistently sent you all my servants the prophets.
But they have not listened to me, have not paid attention; they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors. You may say all these words to them: they will not listen to you; you may call them: they will not answer. So tell them this, “Here is the nation that will not listen to the voice of the Lord its God nor take correction. Sincerity is no more, it has vanished from their mouths.”
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Luke 11:14-23
Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb; but when the devil had gone out the dumb man spoke, and the people were amazed. But some of them said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you.
So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.
‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.’
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He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Some of us have played a childhood game called ‘Broken Telephone’ whereby a chain of players are supposed to listen carefully, to pass on a message to the next player, and the winning team is the one who has managed to preserve the integrity of the original message from the start to the end of the chain. This game is hilarious when we realize the amplification of distortion that words can undergo. Often, the intermediate messages no longer make sense, yet, by the rules of the game, we cannot verify the original message with the first player and are compelled to pass whatever message we heard, on.

‘Follow right to the end the way that I mark out for you, and you will prosper’ (Jer 7:23). This is the command given by God to us, his people, through Jeremiah. Yet this is not an easy instruction to follow. In the world today, there are so many distractions and distortions to reality that can insidiously veer us off-track. Social media and the sheer variety of apps and platforms available to us, afford an illusion of a virtual community that is very real and, perhaps, even meaningful. Maybe they are. Maybe these virtual connections do enhance our personal lives and interactions with people when we do meet face-to-face. But out of the many hours we spend frittering away on these communication platforms, how often do we come away feeling genuinely and sincerely enriched, invigorated, and enlightened? Or do we register an irksome feeling that we’ve scrolled on just a bit too much on Instagram, Facebook, etc, when we glance up at the clock to suddenly realize an unknowing hour has passed?

I recently attended a talk by Tristan Harris (who was a Design Ethicist at Google) and came away with a greater awareness of how the entire set-up of social media platforms (Facebook, Google, Instagram, SnapChat, etc) are designed to influence consumers’ behaviours and induce addiction to these ‘windows’ onto the virtual world. These apps are cleverly designed to milk users’ ‘attention economy’ for profit. While he called for an ‘ethics of technology’ to guide the design of social media tools, he admitted that the forces that be in engineering boardrooms of the top Tech companies measured success by the numbers of users who get hooked on, and keep using these mediums. In his words, “Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in SF, aged 25–35) working at 3 companies”—Google, Apple, and Facebook—“had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention…”

However, the majority of the audiences at the talk were surprisingly unable to think outside the box of their fundamental reliance on their personal mobile devices and numerous virtual handles. Instead, their pressing questions went along the lines of: What new Apps can we design to help us manage our over-reliance on social media? How can we create innovative products that encourage a healthy use of our phones and personal devices?

Many of us are strikingly unable to hear the truth even if the truth were plain to see. Is the solution to addiction to replace it with another addiction? We may even shudder to consider our benign technological reliance as an addiction – we’d easily point to extremes of gambling, alcoholism, drugs and pornography as real addictions. We’d rather ours be mere incidental inconveniences, an inevitable symptom of our technological times, something we need not challenge at fundamental levels, but seek to address with minor palatable tweaks in our behaviours.

But they did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me, and turned their backs on me… they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors. You may say all these words to them: they will not listen to you; you may call them: they will not answer. (Jer 7:23-28)

I don’t have easy solutions for this ‘new normal’ we live in. Indeed, many of us will still use social media and be logged onto these virtual communities for a large portion of our jobs and our social lives. However, as Christians who desire to lead a balanced and ordered life, we will need to cultivate a keener sense of self-examination of our deeper intentions, motivations, and preoccupations.

We need to pray for wisdom and prudence, to listen closely to the Holy Spirit, seeking God’s grace to shed light on areas of our lives, which are in tenuous imbalance. Rather than unconsciously and unquestioningly surrendering our attention economy over to the new ‘opiate of the masses’ that is social media, let’s ask ourselves — how much more valuable to turn the attention of our hearts, mind, spirit over to prayer and communion with the Lord? Let us not dull our entire being to God’s gift of life by filling up on the fleeting euphoria of being ‘Liked’ on Facebook. More than this season of Lent, will you consciously turn your back to the world, to pay heed to Christ’s voice and follow Him? Harden not your hearts!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord help us open our eyes and wake up to this dullness of our hearts and minds. Help me not to surrender the gift of life and unique purposefulness of my existence over to mindless addictions. Help me to use my will wisely.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Christ who calls out everlastingly against the grain of the world. We give thanks for those who labour to challenge unjust structures and systems. We give thanks for the opportunity to make conscious and meaningful decisions to better our lives and help others fulfill their purpose.

21 March, Tuesday – Be Quiet, Let Me Love You

21 March 2017

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Daniel 3:25,34-43

Azariah stood in the heart of the fire, and he began to pray:

Oh! Do not abandon us for ever,
for the sake of your name;
do not repudiate your covenant,
do not withdraw your favour from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your friend,
of Isaac your servant,
and of Israel your holy one,
to whom you promised descendants as countless as the stars of heaven
and as the grains of sand on the seashore.
Lord, now we are the least of all the nations,
now we are despised throughout the world, today, because of our sins.
We have at this time no leader, no prophet, no prince,
no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense,
no place where we can offer you the first-fruits
and win your favour.

But may the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you
as holocausts of rams and bullocks,
as thousands of fattened lambs:
such let our sacrifice be to you today,
and may it be your will that we follow you wholeheartedly,
since those who put their trust in you will not be disappointed.
And now we put our whole heart into following you,
into fearing you and seeking your face once more.

Do not disappoint us;
treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle
and very merciful.
Grant us deliverance worthy of your wonderful deeds,
let your name win glory, Lord.

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Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.
‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt.

Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”

And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

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May the contrite soul, the humbled spirit be as acceptable to you as holocausts of rams and bullocks: such let our sacrifice be to you today.

How deep can my human love go for my husband? It is a question that goes hand-in-hand with: how deep does my forgiveness flow? Today’s readings shone a light on my tendency to practice conditional love and conditional forgiveness, chiefly to myself. This tendency is so natural to me, that I believe it will be a long and arduous process of tooling from God’s divine hand to shape me more into His Son’s image. How can I cooperate – better?

Lent had begun for me before Lent had even begun. This was the sentiment I had as this season drew near. By this I mean that I had entered a soul-wilderness that I did not welcome, no matter how much spiritual effort I put in (whether with fervor or bland duty). On the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, I walked past the large, shut wooden doors of my church and felt a longing to step in, as I thought about my Lenten plan to spend more time in Eucharistic Adoration. But I was on my way to a potluck, and so I made mental plans to find time on Friday morning to visit Jesus.

As I stepped out into the freezing Bostonian cold that night after the potluck, I was waylaid by a cheerful voice inviting me to “Pray? Light a candle? Or just step in and keep warm!” A tug in my heart told me to enter. So I walked through the narthex, down the nave, and caught my breath, as I saw our Lord’s True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament upon the altar.

Floating down the nave towards the front pews, I knelt, began to pray, and was filled with contrition. I was awestruck and disarmed, but also humbled and sorrowful over the distance (I realized) I had put between God and myself. Feeling ‘not good enough’ in my spiritual progress and the eradication of my flaws, I was alienated by my self-judgment. Thus flowed the thoughts in my head: bouncing between joy and surrender, and enumerating my petty trespasses before Christ. Until I felt a warm, steady voice say:

+ I am here for you.

“But I am not done with my list…”

+ Be quiet. Just let me love you.

And just like that, I fell silent and listened. These were waves. Waves upon waves, that flooded my need to speak. Even as I gasped for air to respond, His waves would not let me breathe. I simply had to give myself up and surrender to the love of Jesus flowing over me. I had to be quiet, so that I could be loved.

The contrite soul is itself the purest form of sacrifice God asks of any one of us who love Him. A humbled spirit is as worthy and pleasing to Him as any oblation, incense, or material sacrifice – as the Prophet Daniel says. This Lent, although we might have absent-mindedly selected ‘low-hanging fruit’ sacrifices or abstinences, there is an even greater value at this point to pause and enter into deeper examination of our spiritual health. A quietly contrite heart is the first portal by which we enter into true communion with Him.

God’s mercy is wider and deeper than any ocean. His waves of mercy are already offered to us, pressing onto the closed door of our hearts. We only need to unlatch this door through humble self-reflection – our contrite spirit will pry these door leaves wide open, allowing His forgiveness to gush in and cleanse our hearts. If you only let Him love you.

“There is a need for Christian forgiveness, which instills hope and trust without weakening the struggle against evil. There is a need to give and receive mercy. But we cannot forgive if we do not let God forgive us first, recognizing that it is we who are the object of his mercy. We will be ready to forgive the debts of others only if we become aware of the enormous debt that we ourselves have been forgiven.” (Pope St John Paul II, Angelus, Sunday, 29 March 1998)*

It happened to me that night — God’s invitation to shush my inner chatter, so that He could love me. By allowing myself to be forgiven, and accepting God’s grace, I could open the valves of my heart to more freely forgive others who have hurt me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for the gift of inner silence this Lent, in order to contemplate the gravity of forgiveness Christ’s sacrifice has wrought for us. We pray for the generosity of heart to receive forgiveness, in order that we may become channels of forgiveness to others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always leaving your light on for me.

*Source:http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/angelus/1998/documents/hf_jp-ii_ang_29031998.html

26 February, Saturday – A Sensitive Soul

26 February 2017

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Isaiah 49:14-15

Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.

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1 Corinthians 4:1-5

People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of his trust. Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you, or indeed any human tribunal, find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgement on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts. Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God.

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Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.

‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit to his span of life? And why worry about clothing? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never have to work or spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you, you men of little faith? So do not worry; do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.

Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

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I will not even pass judgment on myself.

Since the days of my youth, I have been told that I think too much. “You are over-thinking,” friends would say. I already knew from my childhood that I was a sensitive soul. Over time, I fought this description pretty hard, and soon, subconsciously had built a ‘sensible’ shell over my thoughts. If I did think too much, I was determined to reform those thoughts into wisecracks, profound insights, foresight, or even preemptive actions. Turn them to my advantage, not my Achilles’ heel, I reasoned.

It was in meeting St Thérèse of Lisieux during a quarter-life crisis that I found comfort in a kindred sensitive soul. Through the many relational and emotional afflictions, St Thérèse suffered a bout of religious scrupulosity as a teenager and believed it impossible to please God because of her many failures – perceived or otherwise. Her desire to please God burned so strongly that it produced a counteractive intense self-judgment of her humanness. As I read more about her, I realized that some of us who desire to love God more fully often reach a point of futility in our efforts. It is natural. This juncture usually comes after a season of extremely deep faith conversion, which turns a contrite soul completely to face the burning Sun. Repentance and holy grace then pours like a spring shower over the pruned heart, and what was once dry begins to plump up again with hope, joy, and rebirth.

Yet in order for us to grow more wholly, this season cannot remain and, as a loving Father, He might allow a drought of spiritual wilderness to visit such a soul. This can be the soul’s dark night (St John of the Cross), or a deeper realm of the interior castle (St Teresa of Avila) yet not crossed. These spiritual giants aside, this season is felt very much like abandonment or an intense period of acedia.

This is the Sunday before we enter into Lent, and how apt it is that I have finally come to recognize my own parched state of soul. A sensitive soul worries far too much about offending, considers far too seriously the thoughts of others, and thinks much too harshly of itself. It is a bind for which there is no neat remedy. This tends to be the fertile soil for weeds of perpetual self-judgment and discontentment.

Paul shares the neuroses of trying to be worthy Christians amidst society. In the 1 Corinthians (4:1-5) reading, we know that it will be difficult and our own standards are impossible to fulfill! “What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of [God’s] trust.” How is that possible? How can we, fickle humans, be capable of inspiring God’s trust in us? Paul acknowledges that he too has to consciously sidestep the murmurs of ‘any human tribunal.’ “I will not even pass judgment on myself [and, even if] my conscience does not reproach me at all, [it] does not prove that I am acquitted” for the Lord alone is judge of the secret intentions of men’s hearts.

As Jesus warns us in the gospel, this compulsive worrying over all aspects of life: sustenance, appearance, careers, even salvation, paralyses us all, especially more one afflicted with scruples. What if I choose career A over B, will God bless me if I end up making the wrong choice and it is not in His will? What if I unintentionally cause my friend to be jealous if I share this good news of mine? What if no matter how much good I do to try and please God, I may actually be choosing the lesser things? These questions might sound bizarre to most people, but St Thérèse would understand a soul who fundamentally desires to love God, yet stumbles through it trying to say “I choose all” to the hard things, in the path to sanctity.

Worry is not from God. It is a weakness that grace can redeem. Jesus simply tells his disciples to reorient their hearts, minds, and souls, onto the Father’s kingdom first and his righteousness first. Our definitions and GPS pin-drops for where his Kingdom is all fall short. God never forgets us even as we stumble. “In God alone is my soul at rest… he alone is my stronghold… trust him at all times. Pour out your hearts before him.” (Psalm 61). Ultimately, St Thérèse was resilient and faithful. No matter her despair at her own weaknesses, she poured herself evermore passionately into loving God with all her being. Her hard-fought choice was to reorient her soul towards remaining childlike in deep trust of the Father. Not to concern herself with how she would get to heaven, but to remain very small and surrendered, to love in her ‘little way’, and to allow the Child Jesus to pick her or leave her when he pleased. She held firmly to her loveliness in God’s eyes and embraced her vocation with a fiery spirit, turning her afflictions into flames of love.

Every seeming weakness within us can possess paradoxical strength and light, just as every seeming strength can prove to hide a profound darkness. We are made of many fleeting moments of fumbling and shining, and each moment is by no means a judgment of who we completely are. Self-compassion is a vital tonic for the sensitive soul.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust in your love for me, that I am always worthy of your love and trust and redemption.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many saints who struggled honestly and valiantly with their weaknesses, pointing for us the triumphant way to heaven by their heroic devotion to God.

24 December, Friday – Giving up your Son

24 December 2016

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2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:

‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And 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. 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. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

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Luke 1:67-79

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescue
and he has raised up for us a power for salvation
in the House of his servant David,
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant
the oath he swore
to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace.’

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I have been with you on all your expeditions

‘And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him…’ Which father will give up his child for a good that he cannot see, may not live to see, and can only have faith that there be a purpose in the sacrifice?

As I pondered the readings of the Gospel today, I dwelt in the scene of Zechariah bravely proclaiming by the power of the Holy Spirit, the awesome prophecy over not just the history and future of Jerusalem, but his very own son, John the Baptist. Zechariah and Elizabeth had yearned and prayed for a son until, finally, their prayers were answered in their old age. They had a great model couple before them, though they may not have expected to walk similar footsteps. The other aged father and son duo is Abraham and Issac from the Old Testament.

Abraham and Zechariah were both men of great and deep faith. Great, in the expanse and expense of how they were willing to offer up to God their lives and love. Deep, in the manner of certainty and substance with which they believed their hopes rested on. Even though Zechariah did not physically set up the altar and wood with which to sacrifice John on, his act of bringing John up in the way of the Lord and giving him up to that wilderness life to pave the way for Jesus was an extreme act of sacrifice and exercise in letting go. Both fathers and mothers had waited a long, long time for their dreams of progeny and continuity to be fulfilled, only to be told to offer up this beautiful gift.

It is in this vein that we begin to more fully comprehend the sacrifice of the Heavenly Father. Because it can be hard to imagine an abstract omnipotent and omniscient God actually sacrificing flesh and blood, we are given human examples to watch, walk with, and listen to.

Long before Jesus was born, a man and a woman gave up their versions and visions of married life for God’s greater purpose. Sometimes, we may take the ordinariness of their life before Jesus for granted. They did not know how or when, but they simply knew who they were doing it for. Mary and Joseph must have drawn from the lessons of their forebears to walk this challenging but life-giving road in to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph may not have expected their story and choice to bring Jesus to birth in that dingy soggy manger, to bear God’s greatest gift and salvation plan for all of humanity.

Our Salvation came through a choice to sacrifice. God made a choice too. May we each, as parent and child, ponder the magnitude of Mary’s fiat, Joseph’s silent but steady servantship, and God’s great sacrifice, in this beatific vision of the Nativity scene, where an extraordinarily ordinary baby was born. Ordinary, because we all experience the mystery and magic of birth. Yet, extraordinary because this little helpless baby came vulnerable, to reveal in us our need for a great Love that would die for us.

To find the courage in our lives to do the great and little things for God and our loved ones, is to remember this line which God spoke to David in our first reading: I have been with you on all your expeditions. God is Faithfulness and Love. And the evidence of this is the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God-is-with-us (Isaiah 7:14).

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: May we take time this Christmastide to dwell in the true reason for this day – Jesus who is ever with us on all of life’s journeys.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for entering my heart this Advent and gently preparing me to receive you.

23 December, Friday – A New Tribe is Here

Dec 23 – Memorial for St. John of Kanty, presbyter

John (1390-1473) was a Polish country lad. A brilliant student at the University of Krakow, Poland, he became a priest and professor of theology at the University of Krakow, where he was falsely accused and ousted by university rivals.

At the age of 41, he was assigned as parish priest at Olkusz, Bohemia. He took his position seriously, and was terrified of responsibility, but did his best. For a long time that wasn’t enough for his parishioners, but in the end he won their hearts. After several years in his parish, he returned to Krakow and taught Scripture for the rest of his life.

John was a serious, humble man, generous to a fault with the poor, sleeping little, eating no meat and little of anything else. He was a pilgrim to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When warned to look after his health, he pointed out that the early desert fathers lived long lives in conditions that had nothing to recommend them but the presence of God.

At the time of his death, John was so well loved that his veneration began immediately. For years his doctoral gown was worn by graduates receiving advanced degrees at the University of Krakow. He was declared patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737 by Pope Clement XII, 30 years before his final canonization.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Malachi 3:1-4,23-24

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.

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Luke 1:57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.

Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

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‘But no one in your family has that name.’

In this day and age when we may stumble upon the most innovative and brow-raising kids’ names, the magnitude of choosing a name for one’s child might be lost on some parents. Some name their children to help them stand out with un-pronounceable monikers; some choose names after their favourite soccer players or movie stars; some use names of beloved family members who have passed as a way of remembrance, while others may seek out a name whose virtues they hope their children will grow into. For whatever reasons, we know plainly that names do matter.

The angel Gabriel foretold two pregnancies – Mary’s and Elizabeth’s. To Mary he proclaimed: “For nothing will be impossible with God” when he shared that Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age. At the same time, it was the angel of the Lord who declared the names of these two special children to their fathers. The name John was revealed to Zechariah the priest; the name Jesus was revealed to Joseph the carpenter. What struck me in the readings today was the line ‘But no one in your family has that name.’

Tribes were the way ancient peoples sought protection, community, and identity. Although Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbours shared in her joy, they hesitated when she (as a mother) chose the name ‘John’ that came from neither hers nor Zechariah’s heritage – such that they had to summon Zechariah to verify. Only after Zechariah confirmed this as correct did he regain his speech. This account teaches us a few lessons.

The first — God can start a new tribe in you, right this very moment, at this very place. So trust in His promise and seek His will in your life. I recently had a conversation with some friends on our conversion and ‘reversion’ stories. Each of us were baptized either at birth, as a teen, or in adulthood. Although we had different cultural and faith backgrounds, we shared one important moment in common – the desire to receive God into our lives and the conscious decision to follow Him. As the Heavenly Father of all, God not only chose Jesus’ name, but also John’s, because he was anointed to pave the way for a new eternal tribe for Jesus. This is echoed in our first reading of Malachi.

Secondly — Do we believe that God can do the impossible for us, in us, and through us? Much of today’s self-help literature tells us “do not sell yourself short” when we put limitations on our abilities or potential to succeed. Perhaps. And yet that is still quite a self-centred view. As Christians, we might be guilty of ultimately selling God short. Do we draw Venn diagrams around the areas of our lives where we designate where God may work His wonders? As a priest, Zechariah should have known better than to question whether God could grant him and Elizabeth their longed-for child. Mary had her questions too, but her disposition of spirit was in complete surrender that she could say, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’

Last, but not least — our souls were created to glorify God. We look to Mary who praises ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior… Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.’ (Luke 1:46-47) May we never shy of allowing our souls to be like a clear piece of magnifying glass, that through our earnest seeking and listening, we reveal God’s glory to those among us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Grant us O Lord, a heart humble and trusting, brave and willing, to seek and do Your will.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Jesus, for calling me by name and for never letting me wander too far.

21 December, Wednesday – Wooed by God

Dec 21 – Memorial for St. Peter Canisius, priest, doctor of the Church

Peter (1521–1597) was the son of Jacob Canisius, a wealthy burgomeister, and Ægidia van Houweningen, who died shortly after Peter’s birth. He was educated in Cologne, Germany, where he studied art, civil law, and theology. He received a master’s degree by age 19. His closest friends at university were monks and clerics.

He joined the Jesuits on May 8, 1543 after attending a retreat conducted by Bl. Peter Faber. He taught at the University of Cologne, and helped found the first Jesuit house in the city. He was ordained in 1546. He was theologian of Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Bishop of Augsburg in 1547.

He travelled and worked with St. Ignatius of Loyola who was his spiritual director in Rome, Italy. He taught rhetoric in Messina, Sicily in 1548, preaching in Italian and Latin. He was doctor of theology in 1549. He began teaching theology and preaching at Ingolstadt, Germany in 1549, and was rector of the university the following year.

In 1552 he began teaching theology, and preaching in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, Austria. He was the royal court confessor even as he continued to work in hospitals and prisons. During Lent in 1553 he travelled to preach in abandoned parishes in Lower Austria.

During Mass one day, he received a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and ever after offered his work to the Sacred Heart. He led the Counter-Reformation in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland, and his work led to the return of Catholicism to Germany. His catechism went through 200 editions during his lifetime, and was translated into 12 languages. In some places catechisms were referred to as “Canisi”.

He attended the Diets of Augsburg (1555), Ratisbon (1556, 1557), and founded Jesuit colleges in Ingolstadt, Prague, Dilingen, and Fribourg. Everywhere he worked he became a noted preacher, and often worked with children, teaching them and hearing their confessions.

He represented Pope Paul IV at the imperial Diet of Pieternow. He addressed the Council of Trent on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He recommended St. Stanislaus Kostka for reception as a Jesuit. He was court preacher to Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria.

While in Fribourg, Switzerland, he received a message from the city’s patron saint, Nicholas of Myra, that he should stop travelling. Canisius spent the rest of his life there. He taught, preached, edited books, and worked to support the Catholic press and printers in many cities. His advice was sought by St. Francis de Sales, and by his friend St. Charles Borromeo. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Song of Songs 2:8-14

I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.

See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’

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Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come… for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.’

How many of us have been spoken to so gently before? Close your eyes for a moment as this writer asks us to picture:

See where he stands

Behind our wall.

He looks in at the window,

He peers through the lattice.

My initial response was to question: why this detail? But as I rested my gaze, not on ‘Why’ but ‘Who’, that I began to appreciate the tenderness of this moment. Some of us think of God as all-powerful, strong, and fearsome. Yet here is an image of a lover ‘like a young stag’, bounding over mountains with an unbridled joyful natural force – who pauses just before your house and does not barge in. Despite all that energy, the young stag chooses to wait with gentle invitation. Not too close that you would feel overwhelmed. Not too far that his gaze is uncertain. It is you whom He longingly and lovingly peers at through the window lattice.

Our Advent season of waiting promises us that this dream of love will come. The flutter-hope in our hearts will be answered. And the voice with which our Beloved calls to us will speak infinitely deeper to our souls than the passing pleasures of life’s material things.

I had the opportunity to witness to joy over Gaudate Sunday in this freezing Boston winter. My husband and I attended a Christmas concert put up by the Daughters of St Paul. It was a beautiful evening with their sweet voices and actions animating classic Christmas carols. I teared several times as I was moved deeply by their joy, unique talents, and beautiful personalities.

One sister was goofy; another had heaps of dancing grooves in her; some were gifted soloists or musicians, and others who completed the music with the fullness of their harmonies. God’s love flowed from these amazing women who had given their lives to Him and their mission of evangelizing Christ through books and media.

The night spoke to me at a far deeper level that I have only slowly come to unpack. I once considered if religious life was a path God was calling me to. I had recognized His voice from the window. I was filled with a mix of courage and confusion then. It took time and prayer to discern His loving words to me.

The knowledge that God calls us to life-giving choices in order to bring us to the fullness of life only melted into the sea of understanding in my heart this Christmas concert, when I saw the joy reflecting from the sisters’ radiant faces. One sister in particular, seemed to be the mirror to my soul. I recognised my own laughter in her eyes.

I understood, and I rested in peace and trust in my Beloved who continues to woo me from behind the windows; the mountains, valleys, and depths of trenches. He calls to my soul from everywhere and all the time. And every moment that His gaze rests upon me, He is filled with joy.

Perhaps, this is the sheer joy in the meeting between Jesus in Mary and John in Elizabeth. Our souls are made for so much love that only God can meet. In every station or vocation of our lives, we can experience a consummation of deep joy when our souls respond to the call of our Beloved. It is His Love that genuinely desires and pursues, patiently waits, honours, and dignifies us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you sent a vulnerable baby Jesus to earth to woo us from our hiding places. Help us to draw back our curtains and unlatch the door to receive You who has loved us with an everlasting love. 

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the gift of recognition. By this grace, we are able to perceive what our souls already know.

19 November, Saturday – From the depths of my heart

19 November

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Apocalypse 11: 4-12

I, John, heard a voice saying: ‘These, my two witnesses, are the two olive trees and the two lamps that stand before the Lord of the world. Fire can come from their mouths and consume their enemies if anyone tries to harm them; and if anybody does try to harm them he will certainly be killed in this way. They are able to lock up the sky so that it does not rain as long as they are prophesying; they are able to turn water into blood and strike the whole world with any plague as often as they like. When they have completed their witnessing, the beast that comes out of the Abyss is going to make war on them and overcome them and kill them.
Their corpses will lie in the main street of the Great City known by the symbolic names Sodom and Egypt, in which their Lord was crucified. Men out of every people, race, language and nation will stare at their corpses, for three-and-a-half days, not letting them be buried, and the people of the world will be glad about it and celebrate the event by giving presents to each other, because these two prophets have been a plague to the people of the world.’
After the three-and-a-half days, God breathed life into them and they stood up, and everybody who saw it happen was terrified; then they heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, ‘Come up here’, and while their enemies were watching, they went up to heaven in a cloud.

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Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
Some scribes then spoke up. ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.

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Jesus withdrew… to keep… from being crushed.

As I write this today, the depths of my heart echo a silent exhausted plea. Still, I will write – even as clarity evades me. My efforts are my offering that the first reading of Hebrews describes the high priests carrying out. More often than not, our present sacrifices and efforts may not bring swift reward or make sense. But it is possible to keep on offering ourselves upon the altar for a higher purpose. How can we keep on trusting in this greater reality?

The Gospel of Mark relates Jesus doing just this. Exhausted from offering himself to the multitudes by ministering to them, he withdraws to the lakeside. Despite his retreat, the crowds pursued him. So persistent were they, that he had to request a boat to float out to the lake’s heart – to create real physical distance between them and keep himself from being crushed. ‘Crushed’ by the needs and expectations of others. I can relate to this and Jesus feels so real in this picture. He created distance to seek communion and peace with God and within himself first, before reaching out to others. His reality was his divine Sonship. Even Jesus was humble enough to not have a Messiah complex. How about me?

Today, as you read this, I will be getting married. My sombre tone as I write this now, two weeks before, does not do my inner joy justice. Exhaustion does this to people. I had envisioned myself to be jubilant two weeks before the wedding, with smooth-sailing gears falling into precision pace. Yet plans seem cranking. I am excited about the day and our life ahead. Yet I am in need of a spiritual oasis to replenish my confidence, purpose, and ground my reality in discipleship.

I am learning something new every moment — about myself, and this vocation I am blessed with. Marriage is partnership and teamwork, a mutual self-giving. Just as man and wife give to each other, each must first encounter this Holy exchange with the Lord Himself. How does Jesus do this, spent as He was? Psalm 39 is where the puzzle of the three readings begin to fall into place.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.
You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I […]
My God, I delight in your law
in the depth of my heart.

Whose will do we think we carry out in our lives? The high priests of the Old Testament offered sacrifices and oblation day after day after day. Sounds about right for husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers the world over, doesn’t it? But these could never be perfect and complete – save for the redemptive ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Do I open my ears and heart? Do I seek to unite my will to that of our Lord?

As a single person, it is easier to steer the wheel of my will and wish others to get onboard. At comfortable points when flexibility is required of me, it is easier to ‘bend’ my will. But in being enjoined with another, the sacrifices for simplicity and harmony can be a painful flesh-struggle. It is humbling and bittersweet to be refined this way. As I approach my husband-to-be and our day of Holy Matrimony, I pray for the courage to keep on choosing to die to the false selves hidden within. I ask the Holy Spirit to clothe me in true wisdom and grace. May our Blessed Mother’s fiat and generosity inspire my open ears and heart to accept this priestly ministry of being a faithful Christian and wife. It will be hard work, but “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: We pray, in this last day of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, that our marriages and families be awash with mutual mercy and healing tenderness. With our wills united to Christ, may we never tire of trying again.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for your ultimate sacrifice in love. With the living proof of your Eucharist, I beseech you for the strength to love others with a prodigal generosity without seeking reward, save that of knowing I do your most holy will.