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2 September, Sunday – God Save Our Church

2 September 2018

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2.6-8

Moses said to the people: ‘Now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God just as I lay them down for you. Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate to the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.” And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?’

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James 1:17-18.21-22.27

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

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Mark 7:1-8.14-15.21-23

The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:

This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.

You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

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You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

These are extremely tough times for our Catholic Church today. More specifically, I am speaking about the recent sex scandal news that broke within the American Catholic diocese, this August 2018. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a Grand Jury report on one of the broadest-ever investigations into Catholic clerical sex abuse of minors in the United States. More than 300 priests have been credibly accused of child sex abuse by more than 1,000 victims, with cases known to stretch all the way back to 1947. Worldwide, Catholics have been shaking in sorrow, outrage, disbelief, and also, indignation.

With a quick web search, one can find numerous reports, commentaries and discussions arising on this news. One of the appalling ways this has divided the church is a very aggressive blame-game from various “camps”, investigative exposé on the alarming ecclesial infighting within Vatican, and many calls for pinning the proverbial tail on the donkey Pope(s) and their Secretaries of State and closest aides. Many are seeking justice for these crimes of covering up the sex abuses cases, for the playing of musical chairs of sullied priests to different Archdioceses in the US.

Yet, to all these commentaries, camps and voices, I ask this:

Where are the ears to listen gently to the victims’ stories – many of which have been smothered for decades? Where is the bleeding heart to ache with compassion for the trauma and wounds suffered by the wounded and their loved ones? The wounds inflicted by the sex predator, are subsequently further burdened by persons in power who have told them to remain silent, who would cover-up and feign peace. Now, these wounds are repeatedly being ripped apart because the scandal is actually not entirely about the ‘cover-up’ – but that they happened at all in the first place. Instead, the wounds of the wounded are not being given the proportionate space for their pain and reality.

For years, many young children, young adults, men and women, were being sexually tormented and abused by the men of God who were ordained to shepherd and guide them. Theirs are no theoretical abuse. Theirs are real human lives ripped apart by the sins of others. They are now older and aged. They and their stories deserve to be given the dignity of care. To allow the more salacious Vatican’s political scandals to overshadow this, is to further drive into obscurity the true painful stories of Mike McDonnell, Robert, Carolyn… By our priority of concerns, we may actually hinder the wounded and vulnerable from finding healing and communion with God and our community.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14).

Are we inadvertently flooding the forum with chaotic debates about the state of the Church’s politics and drowning out the cries for mercy and compassion from the wounded? Should Jesus be standing in the temple courtyard today, I imagine that he would overturn the tables and say the same: “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:16) Some of us have been too heatedly distracted by the debates in our public fora – filling our minds with the latest news, trading opinions and commentaries. These can hinder us as a Church from truly grieving and repenting for the wounded.

Perhaps some of us are still reeling from shock and shame that our beloved Church has hidden so much filth and sin. But it is now time for us to act in spirit and with action. Let us sit with these wounded and listen to their stories; not make a spectacle of their pain. Shall we pray for and with them? We need to remember the victims and hold their pain gently in our prayers and intercessions. As the larger laity and clergy, we must seek to understand and how and where we have disabled the disenfranchised and vulnerable from speaking up. How have we casually brushed aside some curious or suspicious account by someone who was too afraid to speak bravely? If we were not able to discern well before, let us not waste time in discerning now with sincere wisdom. To ask: how can I, from here on, be part of a movement to prevent future abuses of power and the vulnerable within our community?

“Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.” (James: 1:27)

The Church must remain Christ-like through this ordeal. Us, the church laity, are Christ’s hands and feet. Only we can go places and touch lives that, at this point, are hurting and alienated from the very institution that is expected to serve and protect its flock. While we mobilise ourselves to petition for accountability and justice within the Church, we must mobilise more fervently to pray for healing and to reach out to heal each other.

I know my reflection today treads on divisive ground. But hear me out, for today’s Scripture readings speak to the heart of this great sin and debacle that is corroding our Church. Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms:

Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’ (Mark 7:15, 21-23)

“Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” (James 1:21-22)

Let us be rightly moved and outraged to compassionate action. If you have an hour this week, please join me in either one of these dedications: To devote a Mass for the healing and restoration of all the victims (known and unreported); to pray the Rosary to our Holy Mother to gather her children and to bind up the wounds of God’s people and the Church; to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration to sit with our Lord and to sit with our brothers and sisters as we remember the tragedy that is innocence lost, lives and relationships broken, dreams shattered. I believe that it is in thoughtfully sitting with this immense grief of our larger family, that we as Church can move forward into healing and reparation.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to our Lord and Saviour Jesus, to touch our hearts in compassion for the real wounded faces and lives among us. We seek His wisdom and His heart of justice and mercy as we navigate our understanding of righteousness and grief in this troubled history of our Church.

Thanksgiving: I thank you God for humbling me and challenging me to look into the pain and reality of those who have been wounded. I know there can be nothing greater than bringing your love and healing to them, in any way I can.

31 March, Saturday – Easter Vigil

31 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, together with our regular contributors, we welcome back Steven and Rebecca, as well as guest contributor Kristel. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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God’s Creations

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all.

The first reading brings us back to the beginning of time, how God created the world out of nothing. For me, being in nature is one of the most basic, yet greatest reminders of God’s amazing creation.

I had the opportunity to climb Mount Rinjani a couple years ago. It is known to be a difficult hike, but one that is well-rewarded with beautiful views. I thought I had trained hard and prepared well for it, but we cannot always predict and plan everything to the detail; especially when dealing with the elements, we just have to go with the flow and adapt to the best of our abilities, and trust in God’s plan.

It was a very humbling but edifying experience for me. I was one with nature during that 3-day hike – camping outdoors, no toilets nor showers, no electricity. Amidst all that simplicity, you learn to appreciate the little things even more. The guides and porters whose livelihoods depend on this mountain were like superheroes to me. Their loads and responsibilities were far greater than ours, yet they carried it all so effortlessly. They were completely selfless and generous, and their primary concern was just making sure we were well taken care of, and helping us reach the summit.

By God’s grace, I made it to the top. Standing at 3,726 metres, my breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of this mountain. Basking in all that glorious majesticness, you can only marvel at how amazing God’s creation is. This was 100 per cent nature, nothing man-made about it. I was completely overwhelmed and filled with wonderment and gratitude.

But I had also struggled a lot, especially while trying to summit; without the help of these guides I probably might not have made it. At one part of the journey, one of them saw I was shivering and took off his jacket for me, leaving himself with just a thin long-sleeved shirt and a blanket in the freezing temperatures. He had selflessly insisted, “If you are okay, then I am okay.” These are moments when I see Jesus in people, and a great lesson for me to try and be like Jesus to others too.

The beauty that surrounded me in the mountains was not just in the amazing views, but also in the people. This is exactly God’s creation, the earth and mankind. I was initially worried that I was not prepared enough for the hike or that I was not fit enough, but God had sent me these angels to guide me and carry me. We often fear that we are not good enough. But we are God’s creation, and He has a plan set out for each and every one of us. We just have to trust in Him. And no matter what, we are always enough for God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we will grow in faith and learn to place our trust in You. We pray that we will always be appreciative of all the little things, and never take anything for granted.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for all your wondrous creations, the beautiful earth and all its creatures you have entrusted unto us.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsorial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Journey Mercies

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

We will never understand God’s ways. I was on a snowboarding trip recently and was riding really well. Really well until I attempted to jump off a ramp and sufferred a nasty fall which kept me out of action for the next few days. That was the first time that I had ever gotten injured; I had made it through National Service and a lifetime of sports and physical activity without any such incidents.

During my recovery, I had plenty of time to reflect on what God was trying to teach me through this experience. Was I overconfident? Probably. Had I taken my good health and fitness for granted? Quite likely so. Was I prideful with regard to my snowboarding ability? Yes I was. Was there a good outcome to all of this? Absolutely. Upon reflection, it dawned on me that God was showing me my limits, and teaching me how to act in a sensible and deliberate way. I believe that God was protecting me from further injury as I was planning to attempt even more reckless runs and jumps during our trip.

My injury also provided an opportunity for God’s love to be manifested through others as my friends took care of me and nursed me back to health. Allowing others to care for me and letting God work through their hands gave me a deep sense of peace and contentment in spite of my weakness. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God shows his greatest power.

This Holy Week, let us recall Jesus’ immense suffering and sacrifices for us as we go through our own trials in life. May we always see the good in every situation, and bloom powerfully beyond our wildest imagination.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Heavenly God, we pray that you will give us strength in our weakness and hope for our futures.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Jesus, for the instruments of your love scattered all around us. May we never lose sight of your unwavering care.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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The Desert Journey Is Really Hard

The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians

In preparing the reflection for today, I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus, which was released in 2014. For 90 odd years, Hollywood has produced various movies depicting Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to free the Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Over the years, CGI and animation techniques have improved. I was reading up on the technicalities of how this scene was created over the years. Can you believe that in a 1923 version, the effects were made by 2 slabs of jello?!

Today, as I read the verse and watch the film, what stood out for me was when the Israelites lamented and blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. Though life in slavery was intolerable, but faced with dark clouds, a tumultuous way ahead and with no rainbow in sight, they felt that being in Egypt was better. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Like us today, the Israelites saw and felt with their own human eyes and hearts, and they were afraid and unsure of what was ahead of them. ‘It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’

Slavery was bad but the eating was good. Who can blame them? They were in slavery for 400 years. They may have been so numb to the hardship that they simply gave up. As the saying goes, ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ We can get so comfortable with our pain and fears that we are too paralyzed to move on. Or are we so cosy in our comfort zone that we never think about making things better? Yes, change is never easy, change is not fun, change is downright scary but in this case, there is a ‘guaranteed return on investment’ — God’s promise.

I ponder on my life — my own journey to the Promised Land, I recognize that even as I make the journey forward, many a time I cast an eye back and wonder if I should have left my ‘Egypt’. I have often questioned if life would have been different had I stayed there. Things would not have been great but perhaps, it won’t be as dry and painful as it is now. The journey ahead to my Promised Land is certainly no shady, tree-lined boulevard either. The desert journey to get there is truly hard. And hearing the homily last weekend by my parish priest kept bringing home the message about dying to self – the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life.

And so I plod onwards on my journey, dying each day to myself, and looking ahead to God’s covenant with us.

As we await the coming of Easter in just a few moments dear brothers and sisters, draw strength from knowing that though things maybe a bit bleak now in your lives, though you may not understand why God has led you to where you are in your life journey today, know that God is with us and for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, getting through the pain of the cross is possible only by going hand in hand with You. As you lead us out of the parched dryness of our own deserts, give us the courage to not look back, and the hope to keep moving forward. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for clearing the way ahead of us and leading us to where we are today. We may not understand your ways, but we trust that it is the better way.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsorial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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You Are Never Alone

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

 My baby has just hit a developmental leap. His level of awareness of his surroundings has surged and he now realizes there are things, situations, and sounds he feels afraid of. One of the major changes to him now is the awareness that I have left the room or space that he is in. This separation anxiety can strike even when he awakes suddenly from a nap. So he cries with an urgency that shocked me initially.

I began to reassure him of my presence by calling his name, speaking to him, and popping in his line of sight as I buzzed around the house doing my chores. I found myself telling him “You are not alone my darling” every now and then.

As I said this to him, I reflected on the readings today. In it, God tells his people in Isaiah that He is ever with them.

“I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back.

In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you.

But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.”

Being a mother to my son has been a humbling journey and a process of unlearning the old ways I thought about love. As imperfect humans, we cannot help but operate on the duality of rewards and punishments, giving and withholding. I unconsciously love this way sometimes. But with my beloved son, there is never any withholding of my love and tenderness. Even in my exhaustion; my frustration with decoding his cranky and clingy needs; the external stressors of work-family balance, with God’s grace, I still manage to find the energy to attend to him. Even if it should mean forgoing my own needs, my me-time, or delaying my rest. What more of our heavenly Father who is perfect and all Love?

“my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken…”

Of course, this cannot be a one-time lesson in love. Many of us have been loved imperfectly in our lives and relationships. We have been angered, hurt and short-changed of our affections. But deep within us, I believe we all have a ‘dark memory’ of how perfect love feels like and should be. This subconscious awareness is the seed that triggers our lifelong search for what we call ‘true love’. Perhaps, like me, you have found human relationships tried and wanting. Perhaps, you are still trying to forgive and mend, or forget broken relationships. Maybe you think you have waited too long to be loved properly and are on the verge of giving up. Maybe you feel too broken to hope for more.

Do take heart that there will always be onward growth in your life. This is God’s promise to his sullied ‘bride’ Israel. God’s pity over his people is his great sorrow and sympathy for the mistakes you and I have made in our search for love and fulfilment. And His swift and immediate action is forgiveness and redemption.

Just as I will never leave my baby’s side, just as he is constantly on my mind as I buzz about the house doing a million things for the family… God is whispering gently to you “You are never alone my beloved.” Every now and then, He checks in on you by calling out your name, sending angels to encourage and journey with you, tugging you into his embrace with a longing and ache that you find impossible to be filled by the world’s distractions. This is your Abba Father who says, “Come back to me: I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the courage and grace to love myself as you have loved me.

Thanksgiving: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me. In my ignorance I have neglected you, but you never forget me.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Fully connected to God

Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live

We live in a world where internet connectivity is important. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable for a person to own a phone without mobile internet. We look for places with strong wifi signals and for each other to be in touch with one another. I remember once when my friends were totally completely clueless as to what to do when the hotel which they were living in did not have wifi. If we, who are so dependent on internet connectivity, can become so clueless in its absence, that means as Christians, we need to be in constant communion with God to be sure of what he desires of us.

Being in connection with God means that we need to be in constant communication with God. Just as data is often sent between a mobile phone user and his friends, we also need to communicate with God in prayer. The Church has a huge treasury of prayer which we can tap on to be in connection with God. Be it through quiet meditation, the use of Scripture to encounter God, or the use of song to bring ourselves to union with God, there is an important need for us to find the most suitable way to be with God and then continue.

This also requires us to be part of a community where we get to live out our lives in joy and happiness. Community living allows us to discover what it means to appreciate our faith as we journey with each other to discover what the will of God is for us. As we continue to reflect on our Easter Vigil readings, let us discover the great plan which God has for us in the Scripture readings and allow it to unfold in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for us to remain connected to you in prayer and in worship as we enter into the wonderful love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We pray for those who continue to share the faith with others.

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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsorial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Growing Old In A Foreign Country

…why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country…

 It’s been a long time since I last contributed to Oxygen. Last summer, my family and I moved back to New York after having lived in Hong Kong for over a decade. The journey has been long and oftentimes arduous. There has been an endless list of ‘to dos’ which, whenever one task is completed, a few more emerge. We’ve had to tie up many loose ends while trying to find new routines to follow. There have been many goodbyes and farewells said while trying to amalgamate into a new community. For my kids especially – they’ve had to start over in a new school while trying to navigate in an entirely foreign system. The list can go on and on… but the truth is…

My absence from writing has less to do about my life circumstances and more to do about my spiritual condition. I concluded that of all the things that have been going on with my life, contributing to Oxygen required me to sacrifice the most. I had grown tired of committing the time and energy to preparing the devotionals. I no longer wanted to be held to writing deadlines. I didn’t want to be accountable for studying and then interpreting scripture. Even more so, I didn’t want to write about standards and values that I myself could never live up to. I simply just don’t like to write. And so, I opted for the path of least resistance. I quit.

While I’ve found myself with more free time, that ‘freedom’ has come at a price. I’ve ended up devoting less time to God’s Word and have become a lot more anxious about the future. I’ve become more pre-occupied with the decisions and actions needed to be taken. And even bitter when things haven’t gone my way. It has been tiring and I’ve grown weary.

In the second passage from today, we read an excerpt from David’s song of praise to God. David’s passionate declaration of his love towards God was grounded on his view as to who God was to him… “my rock, my fortress and my deliverer… in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2) Despite being under siege by his enemies and on the verge of defeat, David turned towards God to ask for deliverance from his troubles… “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” (Psalm 18:4-6). And so God, in His infinite mercy, responded. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19)

A few weeks ago, I felt a desire to catch up on some old Oxygen contributions. Upon loading up the website, I came across the call for volunteer writers for this upcoming Holy Week. Maybe this was God reaching down from on high and taking hold of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for forgiveness for all the times we’ve turned our backs to You. May the Holy Spirit guide us according to Your will.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for Your great mercy. As we journey through this life, may we see that we are all living in a foreign country and that Your kingdom will be our eternal home — made possible not on our works, but through the sacrifice of Jesus.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsorial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Protect His Kingdom

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

When I read this passage, one of the first things I noticed was how God isn’t asking Ezekiel to ‘watch’ over His people. Rather, He is commanding Ezekiel to do it and protect the faiths and lives of Israel’s people. “Be their watchman”, He orders.

To put things into perspective, we need to understand that back in those days, watchmen were sentinels, posted along the outermost walls of a city. They were tasked with keeping an eye out for enemies both within and outside the city. Without them, a kingdom would fall into the hands of her enemies, her people’s lives ended or they would be forced into slavery. Basically, lives will be completely ruined.

We know that God has told us to defend his kingdom.

But what does this mean for us, the modern-day layman who doesn’t belong to an armed force? What enemies are we keeping an eye out for? What kingdom are we trying to protect?

The answer — We are in charge of keeping watch over the kingdom of God. This kingdom is the one that lies in our soul.

Our enemy — sin

Our weapon — The Word of God.

I try to make it a point to read the Bible every day. For me, it is how God talks to me and lets me know which turnings to take along the path He leads me. Not only does reading and hearing His word keep me from straying (too) far from that road, but it is also the best form of defence against the spiritual warfare we face everyday. The ways of the world are such that it is okay to tell white lies to save your back, promiscuity is perfectly normal, forgive but don’t forget, the list goes on and on.

It’s not enough to just read it though. We have to practice what we read and pray as well, just like Jesus commanded in Matthew 26:41 (NIV)

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate Easter tomorrow, let us begin anew our journey towards God. Let us rebuild and strengthen our defences against sin. Let us pray we never fall asleep as we keep watch over God’s Kingdom that dwells in our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: God, our holy Father, give us the strength and the willpower to stay awake to protect and defend your Kingdom against the evils of the world.

Thanksgiving: We thank you God, for the season of Lent, which has made our spirits stronger and brought us closer to You and to your son Jesus.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsorial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Images of God

Death has no power over him anymore

There is a saying that a person is ‘a chip off the old block’ if their behaviour and, sometimes, even physical resemblance is similar to their parents. Indeed, the way people behave can sometimes tell us a lot about their upbringing and the company they hang around with. Similarly, as Christians who have experienced the death of the Lord on Good Friday, we also get to experience the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

The joy of being an Easter people means that we get to live in confidence that the sufferings which we go through on Good Friday, whilst tremendous and seemingly overwhelming, are actually nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrection which we will go through. All of us are going through or have been through suffering. Be it through the challenges we face at work, being a caregiver to a loved one, or even the financial problems, these things overwhelm us and make us realise how challenging it is to stay sane amidst these problems. We must remember that there is a reward to be seen at the end of the suffering, and this is how we enter into the life of Jesus more closely.

Just as Jesus went through much suffering when He was alive, we also have to go through suffering on this world. Yet, the suffering of this world will allow us to appreciate the joy which the Resurrection will bring to us once the suffering is relieved. The Epistle reminds us of the need to stay strong on our task and to never lose sight of our heavenly goal – which is to return to heavenly union with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you let us see that our problems are slight and that you will take care of us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who bring hope to this world.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

27 September, Wednesday – Only by God

Sep 27 – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

  • Patron Saints Index

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Ezra 9:5-9

At the evening sacrifice I, Ezra, came out of my stupor and falling on my knees, with my garment and cloak torn, I stretched out my hands to the Lord my God, and said:

‘My God, I am ashamed, I blush to lift my face to you, my God. For our crimes have increased, until they are higher than our heads, and our sin has piled up to heaven. From the days of our ancestors until now our guilt has been great; on account of our crimes we, our kings and our priests, were given into the power of the kings of other countries, given to the sword, to captivity, to pillage and to shame, as is the case today. But now, suddenly, the Lord our God by his favour has left us a remnant and granted us a refuge in his holy place; this is how our God has cheered our eyes and given us a little respite in our slavery. For we are slaves; but God has not forgotten us in our slavery; he has shown us kindness in the eyes of the kings of Persia, obtaining permission for us to rebuild the Temple of our God and restore its ruins, and he has found us safety and shelter in Judah and in Jerusalem.’

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Luke 9:1-6

Jesus called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leave, let it be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the Good News and healing everywhere.

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Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and let none of you take a spare tunic.

Every now and then, I slip into a false notion of self-sufficiency. The illusion of self-sufficiency comes surreptitiously, like a thief in the night; it veils my eyes with the cloak of control, bolsters my pride, and steals my peace. My family’s recent move into a rented apartment has been fraught with several problems – one of them is a water-damaged and mouldy row of kitchen cabinets. How I wish things could be solved quickly and at my convenience. Yet I am at the ‘mercy’ of a landlord who is biding time with and shrugging off the delays as the contractor’s fault. We can make no headway on the rectification works, and God knows… I am due to deliver our first child in less than two months!

I have lost sleep and my temper over the incompetence of the landlord and workers. I have fretted about whether the carpenter schedule will clash with the sudden early delivery of our baby. A dozen ‘what ifs’ about the lack of preparedness of our new home has wrecked havoc on my peace and patience. I have lost count of the number of times I have wanted to pick up hammer, screw-driver, or drill, in order to help get things moving along!

Meanwhile, at the back of my mind, I cannot help but be constantly reminded of an image of a pregnant Mother Mary calmly stroking her swollen belly and praying, “Let Your will be done O Lord.” It feels like such a sting to my state of being – making me uncomfortable with how vexed I truly feel. I know I can do better at this point in trusting God.

This is the situation that the disciples probably found themselves in as they moved from town to town, proclaiming the Good News and healing people across villages. Jesus had instructed them to take nothing for their nomadic journey. They were to focus solely on doing the work of God and relying exclusively on the mercy and hospitality of the townsfolk they came to serve. Obviously, the help and hospitality they would receive was by the grace of God.

Frankly, I find it hard to be at the ‘mercy’ of anyone’s choice to help me. Whatever I can do, I’ll do it myself. That has been my life’s motto – and for me, this independence makes me feel good, capable, and in control. But this is not to be in my current state and season in life.

Being heavily pregnant, I no longer can lift a heavy mattress to change the sheets. I can barely complete vacuuming or mopping the floor at home without panting and feeling faint. I have to rely on my husband for some household chores which I quite enjoy doing. And I have to wait upon the tardy lack of urgency of an unsympathetic landlord to repair the kitchen cabinets!

I have been humbled to wait for others to help me, to be patient with another’s timeline, and to also trust and rely on God to pull my family through this difficult housing situation. We have indeed done all we can within our ability – and the rest is truly up to God.

I am learning this age-old truth in new ways these days. I take heart that I am not alone in this journey of rediscovering my persistent weaknesses. It is at this juncture that I realize I am in need of God’s grace and help – because I have neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money, nor tunic.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, please help me to remain patient and humble as I wait upon the resolution of this difficult situation that I face now.

Thanksgiving: We thank God for the gift of hospitality, love, and kindness that we receive from the people we meet. May we not take these instances for granted.

26 September, Tuesday – On behalf of us sinners

Sep 26 – Memorial for Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs (not used in 2010)

Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians who accepted no payment. Their charity brought many to Christ. Although they were tortured during the persecutions of Diocletian, the two suffered no injury.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Ezra 6:7-8,12,14-20

King Darius wrote to the satrap of Transeuphrates and his colleagues: ‘Leave the high commissioner of Judah and the elders of the Jews to work on this Temple of God; they are to rebuild this Temple of God on its ancient site. This, I decree, is how you must assist the elders of the Jews in the reconstruction of this Temple of God: the expenses of these people are to be paid, promptly and without fail, from the royal revenue – that is, from the tribute of Transeuphrates. May the God who causes his name to live there overthrow any king or people who dares to defy this and destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem! I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed to the letter!’

The elders of the Jews prospered with their building, inspired by Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building in accordance with the order of the God of Israel and the order of Cyrus and of Darius. This Temple was finished on the twenty-third day of the month of Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The Israelites – the priests, the Levites and the remainder of the exiles – joyfully dedicated this Temple of God; for the dedication of this Temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs and, as a sacrifice for sin for the whole of Israel, twelve he-goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they installed the priests according to their orders in the service of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is written in the Book of Moses.

The exiles celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

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Luke 8:19-21

The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

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‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

 How is it that one man should die for the sins of many in order that they may be saved? How is it that one man could atone for the failures and the iniquities of all of humanity, past and present? Who is capable of representing every man, woman, child? If you or I were guilty of a crime, dare we consider scapegoating one person for the crime or travesty?

Frankly, the first reading today stumbled me. And the gospel passage always makes me wonder why Jesus would sound so distant and disrespectful of Mary his mother. At the same time, it is often this passage that some Protestants use to argue that Jesus had disowned his mother and hints that he had other siblings (brothers). Hence Mary had children other than Jesus, thus it diminishing the importance she plays in Jesus’ life and questions her honored place in the Catholic faith. However, we know that the word ‘brothers’ could mean kinsmen or cousins in its proper historical context. At the same time, we have another account in the Gospel of Mark that relates his family had thought Jesus’ ministry was out of hand and had arrived to take him home (Mk 3:28-35)

As I pondered deeper on these scriptures, I realized that I was challenged by the concept of claiming my brethren, a community, fellow Christians, and my fellow kinsfolk. The point is not that Jesus had disowned his flesh and blood family. Taken together, the first reading and gospel passage reveals that Christ came to unite all of us humanity into a large family of God’s people. It is a truly difficult concept. Because no matter how we slice the pie, we still cannot help but see ourselves as belonging to one particular group of society or church community.

Very naturally, we want to protect our own kind, we desire loyalty, we want to identify with someone or some group. But these are ultimately superficial divisions, and amorphous structures that our life experiences, culture, race, society, and upbringing place upon us. These are not set in stone and the reality is, we are truly one under the love of God.

In the first reading of Ezra, we are told: The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

This image prefigures God’s plan for the whole of humanity. That He, Creator of all the world and human race, should fashion from perfect love, one Man, His Only Begotten Son, as a sacrificial lamb to be condemned to death on cruel cross for all of humanity’s sins. No sin too small or great that Christ’s blood could not cleanse and purify. No wound so hidden that God’s love and mercy could not heal and restore. Jesus did not come to serve only his kinsmen, not only the ones who love him or love God and put His Word into practice. He came for all of us, even the ones we deem unworthy of redemption.

Grace is freely given. However, it is true that there are some amongst us who may continue to choose to spurn God’s grace and love. Yet, you and I are challenged today to still think of them as our brethren and our larger family, whom God loves unconditionally.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of mercy for our brothers and sisters who have yet to come to know God.

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the many prayers that must have been said for me while I was still a wandering prodigal daughter.

25 September, Monday – Entitlement

25 September 2017

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Ezra 1:1-6

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord that was spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: ‘Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel – he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, wherever he lives, be helped by the people of that place with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, as well as voluntary offerings for the Temple of God which is in Jerusalem.”’

Then the heads of families of Judah and of Benjamin, the priests and the Levites, in fact all whose spirit had been roused by God, prepared to go and rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem; and all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.

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Luke 8:16-18

Jesus said to the crowds:

‘No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed. No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light. So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.’

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… for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.

God’s many gifts are given to each of us and meant for us to share with the world. This is the crux of the readings today. How often do we think about our gifts and talents as something that should be put to use for the good of others first, before we ourselves reap the benefits? I guess I’m guilty of often thinking: me first, then when I have time and the chance, I will share or contribute.

I know it isn’t easy to constantly think beyond myself or even to encompass the concerns of a larger community above my own needs. Jesus tells the crowds that when one possesses a coveted lit lamp in the midst of a deep darkness, the most important thing is to put it on a lamp-stand for all to see the light when they come in.

Have you have known someone who would probably snuff out the lamp once they are done with their use of it? I can think of some people I have met in life who might actually do so! Or even keep the lamp solely for their personal use.

Therein lies the question of ‘how entitled do I think I am to the gifts and talents I have?’ The reality today is that we are often told ‘to each his own’, ‘you’ve earned it!’, ‘some are just more equal than others’, and  ‘you can have control over your destiny/path/identity/dreams.’ In each of these overwhelmingly common refrains lurks a sense of selfishness and entitlement of the individual. Self-help books today abound with similar themes of ‘me, myself, and I’.

Likewise, the first reading today shows us the strength and resilience of community, of sharing in resources, skills, and talents amongst the different families of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites. Everyone of them were roused by the Holy Spirit to come together, bringing the light of their strongest skill sets and valuables, to help rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem – ‘all their neighbours gave them every assistance with silver, gold, goods, cattle, quantities of costly gifts and with voluntary offerings of every kind.’

This light of God could be manifest in our worship, our churches, our work, our families, our time and resources, etc. The important thing for us to remember is that we are only stewards of these manifold gifts from God, and how we use them for the good of others, is what pleases God more than how well we enrich and entrench ourselves in the system of power, benefits, rewards.

God alone knows, and sees into the hearts of all He created. May He find in us clean and pure hearts desiring to serve and share His gifts of which we are guardians and stewards.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to see beyond my immediate comfort and benefit to consider serving your people humbly and generously.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people who have made it their life’s call to serve others and bring God’s light to the world.

24 September, Sunday – The Upside-down World of a Generous God

24 September 2017

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Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

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Philippians 1:20-24,27

Christ will be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more; but then again, if living in this body means doing work which is having good results – I do not know what I should choose. I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake.

Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

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Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

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My ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.

Nobody likes to be last. Whether it is to be the last to join a group project, the last to complete a piece of work, or the last in a race. If we were the last to join an established group of people, some of us may feel awkward and lost amidst the already comfortable dynamics and conversation. And especially if we were the first few to kick-start a group or a project but ended up finishing close to last or doing the worst among every one else, that feeling would surely stink.

I imagine that the gospel passage today is often a huge stumbling block for many people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven (and its logic) to the system of work and payment agreement between this particular vineyard owner and his workers.

The reward for all was always intended to be the same. This is the law of a truly fair and just God. He had laid out the plan from the beginning. Each one of us who are made in His image are loved as much as the other, and share in an equal dignity among others.

Hence, whether you or I came first or late or last to the eternal banquet, we are served exactly the same portion and food, and given the same treatment – love and mercy. However, when we look out at the world through our limited and human perspective of scarcity, it is inevitable that we think the ones who struck the deal the vineyard owner first deserve the best compensation for their long and hard service. Interestingly, these first-comers were actually not short-changed, for they indeed received the wages that was agreed upon. It was only upon realizing that the latecomers received the same dues as them too, that their satisfaction was challenged and their joy diminished. They were also upset that the latecomers were paid first! It appears that fairness to them was that the latecomers should be paid later and lesser!

Let us think about the one denarius daily wage as if it were paid in terms of a meal or food at the end of the work day. In these terms, it seems the first group felt entitled to a complete meal at the banquet, whereas the later group should only be distributed the remnants of the meal!

God invites us today to open our hearts to his logic of justice and generosity. He does not reward first-comers to the faith better for our long years of service and faith – we have already had our reward in communion with Him! Likewise, he does not reward the late-comers better, in some twist of unfairness and indulgence.

“Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”

He rewards all the same with his boundless mercy and love, for it is communion that he desires with each and every soul. The dignity and worth of every single person was formed one and the same by One God who is Creator above all.

May we participate in expressing the generosity of God’s love to all who come to Him, no matter if they joined the family at birth, through marriage, in mid-life, or at deathbed. Even if a hardcore sinner or criminal should have spent all his/her life indulging in all manner of debauchery, only to repent late in life, may we give thanks and rejoice with our Heavenly Father who embraces the younger prodigal son, “he was once lost, but now is found.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to cultivate a heart of mercy and generosity to embrace and love our neighbour.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for receiving and loving us all equally no matter when we return to your fold.

27 May, Saturday – Praying for Joy

27 May 2017

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Acts 18:23-28

Paul came down to Antioch, where he spent a short time before continuing his journey through the Galatian country and then through Phrygia, encouraging all the followers.

An Alexandrian Jew named Apollos now arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, with a sound knowledge of the scriptures, and yet, though he had been given instruction in the Way of the Lord and preached with great spiritual earnestness and was accurate in all the details he taught about Jesus, he had only experienced the baptism of John. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak boldly in the synagogue, they took an interest in him and gave him further instruction about the Way.

When Apollos thought of crossing over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote asking the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived there he was able by God’s grace to help the believers considerably by the energetic way he refuted the Jews in public and demonstrated from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

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John 16:23-28

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
anything you ask for from the Father he will grant in my name.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.
Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.
I have been telling you all this in metaphors,
the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in metaphors;
but tell you about the Father in plain words.
When that day comes you will ask in my name;
and I do not say that I shall pray to the Father for you,
because the Father himself loves you for loving me
and believing that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world
and now I leave the world to go to the Father.’

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Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.

How do we reconcile the line of scripture above that Jesus tells his disciples, with the knowledge of all our unanswered prayers?

When I was much younger, I prayed for many things. I prayed to God about big things like granting us world peace (seriously), taking away world hunger, saving children who suffered without family, home, and love.

I prayed also about personal things like having peace in the family and for my parents to argue less, for friendships to stand the test of time and change. As you can guess, not everything has been answered – not even fully, and certainly not in the way I had hoped they would be resolved.

As I grew older, I learnt that God does not answer prayers like one answers a phone call. When I read scripture like this, I cannot help but imagine the helpless confusion of a new believer (as many in those biblical times would have been when Jesus first spoke this), and what this promise might mean: “Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.”

What does this mean for a gentile convert who had never so much as learnt to pray to God through the name of Jesus Christ? Ask and you will receive?? What is that? To answer this confusion with the persuasion that “You need to have faith in God” would be shallow and incomplete. We must not assume that once someone professes belief in God, that they would automatically know how to pray, and how to feel about or experience prayer.

For me, the greatest comfort I have found in prayer, in the innocence of my actual and spiritual childhood, is to ponder and marvel at the very fact that I have a Heavenly Father and a friend in Jesus Christ, to whom I can speak to, confide in and petition for all my big and little cares and concerns. This is a special privilege of having a God who loves me so personally, that I can confidently ask and talk with Him, and receive His attention.

Truly, whether or not our prayers are answered in the way we imagined (or at all), let us learn from the simplicity of a child who is confident that when she calls out to Daddy, he is always and already there. The joy of a child is always complete; because she knows that her outstretched hand will always be met with her father’s confident and protective hand.

May we ponder this sacred truth — what we receive by our prayers is not always an answer, but it is certainly the love and presence of God with us, through Christ our Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit our Advocate.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Teach me Lord, to pray with simplicity and innocence, such that simply being present with you will bring me the fullness of joy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for leaving us a channel of reaching out to you and receiving your love and attention.

24 May, Wednesday – The Importance of being a Child

24 May 2017

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Acts 17:15,22-18:1

Paul’s escort took him as far as Athens, and went back with instructions for Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as they could.

So Paul stood before the whole Council of the Areopagus and made this speech:
‘Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.

‘Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shrines made by human hands. Nor is he dependent on anything that human hands can do for him, since he can never be in need of anything; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone. From one single stock he not only created the whole human race so that they could occupy the entire earth, but he decreed how long each nation should flourish and what the boundaries of its territory should be. And he did this so that all nations might seek the deity and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. Yet in fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist, as indeed some of your own writers have said:

“We are all his children.”

‘Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

‘God overlooked that sort of thing when men were ignorant, but now he is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because he has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged, and judged in righteousness, and he has appointed a man to be the judge. And God has publicly proved this by raising this man from the dead.’

At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’

After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

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John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.’

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Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

It can be said that we begin to age the moment we are born.

As we grow in age, stature and knowledge, we slowly begin to lose the child-like wisdom of the idea of eternity. An adult is really no wiser than a child in the eyes of God.

A baby, an infant, already knows God. This moment can be revealed so clearly when you stare deep into the eyes of a baby and watch them gaze back, or afar, in a sort of glazed wonderment and serenity. Have you seen that look before? We never say, “Babies have a ‘stoned’ look” when we catch those glassy-eyed gazes of theirs. I believe it is because we intuit that they are not actually staring blankly, but discovering and uncovering something mysterious, awesome, and amazing through their newly-realized gift of sight. This wonderment and innocent gaze is truly the eye with which we need to know our God as Creator and Father.

When Paul sees a sacred altar in Athens inscribed with “To An Unknown God”, he tells the Athenians: “Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it… Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth… it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone.”

I appreciate that Paul does not trash the Athenians’ way of pagan life and numerous sacred monuments from the get-go. Instead, he uses what they already seem to know dimly, to point them towards the Truth and Light of God. We surely can note from Paul’s way of sharing the faith and existence of God. We need to refrain from putting down, denigrating, nor mocking the beliefs (or lack of belief) of others.

I would like to suggest that Paul’s acknowledgement that the altar to the Unknown God connected with the One True God reveals three important things to us.

First — a great humility. Coming from his moral ‘high horse’ of before, his fall triggers a deep conversion to humility in connecting with the other, to people different from him.

Second — a deep wisdom. His sight was not obscured by (self) righteousness, and so his gaze penetrated the mere appearances of a possibly pagan altar to see deeper truths beyond the Athenians’ ignorance.

Third — a child-like simplicity in seeing and connecting with others. He sees their innocence and appeals to this innocence that is shared by all of God’s children by pointing out to them that the One True God is “the one whom you already worship without knowing it.” He alludes to their heritage and tradition of writers who had already written: “We are all his children.”

Indeed, to know God might come more from a purity of heart and soul, and an emptying out of a whole baggage of misconceptions, presumptions, and pride. It is to return to not just a spiritual childhood, but also a return to the wide-eyed wonderment of a baby who looks out into the world for the very first few days and months!

When we do this very simple but intentional exercise of emptying out our subconscious and unconscious ‘gold, silver, or stone’ of images, ideology or preconceptions that we have constructed out of hardened life experiences, we will more readily invite the Holy Spirit to burn a new fire of joy and love in our hearts. Indeed, it is not easy to be a child of God!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, help us to become child-like and youthful again in our gaze and ways – to love and give to others as God has loved and given to us.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the gentleness of those who point our dimly-lit vision towards the Truth, Way and Light of Christ – and challenge us to humility and innocence again.

23 May, Tuesday – Outside my comfort zone

23 May 2017

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Acts 16:22-34

The crowd joined in and showed their hostility to Paul and Silas, so the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be flogged. They were given many lashes and then thrown into prison, and the gaoler was told to keep a close watch on them. So, following his instructions, he threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Late that night Paul and Silas were praying and singing God’s praises, while the other prisoners listened. Suddenly there was an earthquake that shook the prison to its foundations. All the doors flew open and the chains fell from all the prisoners.

When the gaoler woke and saw the doors wide open he drew his sword and was about to commit suicide, presuming that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Don’t do yourself any harm; we are all here.’ The gaoler called for lights, then rushed in, threw himself trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, and escorted them out, saying, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

They told him, ‘Become a believer in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and your household too.’ Then they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all his family. Late as it was, he took them to wash their wounds, and was baptised then and there with all his household. Afterwards he took them home and gave them a meal, and the whole family celebrated their conversion to belief in God.

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John 16:5-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Now I am going to the one who sent me.
Not one of you has asked, “Where are you going?”
Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this.
Still, I must tell you the truth:
it is for your own good that I am going
because unless I go,
the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I do go,
I will send him to you.
And when he comes,
he will show the world how wrong it was,
about sin,
and about who was in the right,
and about judgement:
about sin: proved by their refusal to believe in me;
about who was in the right: proved by my going to the Father and your seeing me no more;
about judgement: proved by the prince of this world being already condemned.’

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Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you.

As I write this reflection, I am sitting in a wooden cabin library, connected to the rest of the outside world by a sole source of internet in order to send this out to the Oxygen editorial team for posting on our website.

These past three days have been an adventure and exercise in the extraordinary for my husband and I. We are at a conference called ‘Architecture, Culture, Spirituality’ in Maine, USA – out on a far tip of Deer Isle facing the North Atlantic Ocean. This is a completely remote and back-to-nature setting where we sleep in unheated wooden cabins poised on the slopes of a mountain facing a serene body of water. This all sounds so incredibly relaxing, but frankly, I spent my first night here, pregnant and sleepless, even though I could have been lulled to sleep with the constant gentle lapping of waves upon rocks.

We experienced an unexpected storm upon arrival that saw a full day of rains, and 0 degree Celsius nighttime temperatures. Without a warm room, some mindless scrolling through my phone’s newsfeeds and chat groups, I felt completely miserable shivering under 3 layers of blankets. I whined even though I knew it would not help.

However, it was in this moment that I became acutely aware of how I had taken my creature comforts for granted, how blessed I have always been! My thoughts went out to the many homeless men and women I saw sleeping on the sidewalks around the city and around the Harvard University campus. In that kind of cold, how could anyone have a night’s rest, even if they were bundled up in the warmest of sleeping bags? They were at the mercy of the elements. As I shivered in my bed, I prayed to offer up my own discomfort and misery for those I recalled – that in a way, our solidarity with them could be somehow redemptive.

In this way, I recognize the Holy Spirit had come to dwell with us in our cabin. Though we were not the warmer for it, we knew that our momentary suffering was meaningful simply because we were able to see beyond its material appearance and enjoin it to a transcendent suffering that is larger than us.

The gospel account of John reveals to us this same truth. Jesus told his disciples that the Advocate would come to dwell with them – but first, he had to leave them. In reality, it was really the disciples who had to first let go of their familiarity and comfort of holding on to the resurrected Christ in the form of Jesus, their mortal friend and teacher, before they would be ready to accept and receive the transfigured form of God’s love that would be given to them through the Holy Spirit.

All of us experience certain material or emotional comforts that we may not recognize and be willing to forsake. But following Christ, claiming this Christian faith requires of us to attempt a radical way of re-seeing and re-experiencing the mundane aspects of our daily lives. Just as the prison guard in the first reading risked his life, livelihood and entire household to embrace the faith that Paul and Silas proclaimed, are we willing to be challenged to a radical way of living and seeing which God may be asking of us? What if this entails an entire change of plan, environment, lifestyle, or level of comfort?

Even if it is a radical way of perceiving a short term suffering or trial, or a long-drawn struggle, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to help us transform our experiences for a vision that transcends the finitude of our reality and constraints. What really touched me in the first reading was the complete turnabout of the prison guard who, with his new eyes of faith and charity, humbly washed their wounds, sought baptism, and received Paul and Silas into his household to share a celebratory meal as fellow Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray that I can commit to greater acts of warmth and charity in the face of the many suffering men and women whom I witness in the city. I pray that the Holy Spirit gives me the courage and wisdom to act with love and compassion.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for these gifted moments when the scales fall off our eyes and we can see and experience humbly, the graces and blessings God has already poured into our lives.

21 May, Sunday – Uber Evangelisation

May 21 – Saint Christopher Magallanes and his Companions

Cristóbal Magallanes Jara was born in the state of Jalisco, in Mexico, in 1869. He was ordained priest at the age of 30 and became parish priest of his home town of Totatiche. He took a special interest in the evangelization of the local indigenous Huichol people and founded a mission for them. When government persecution of the Catholic Church began and the seminaries were closed, he opened a small local ‘auxiliary seminary.’ He wrote and preached against armed rebellion but was falsely accused of promoting the Cristero rebellion. He was arrested on 21 May 1927 while on the way to celebrate Mass at a farm. He was executed without a trial, but not before giving his remaining possessions to his executioners and giving them absolution.

With him are celebrated 24 other Mexican martyrs of the early 20th century.

-Universalis

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Acts 8:5-8,14-17

Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

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1 Peter 3:15-18

Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring. And if it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

Why, Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life.

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John 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth
whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him,
because he is with you, he is in you.
I will not leave you orphans;
I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me,
because I live and you will live.
On that day you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.
Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

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The Father will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth

In the past few months of living in Boston, I have had several encounters with Uber drivers who ventured into conversations with me about my faith. This is the strangest thing to experience coming from Singapore, where the topics of conversation in taxis tend to range from politics to the rough economy, or how bad other road users are. My encounters have all happened when I am traveling to church for Mass.

In this city and country where topics of faith and religion tend to be highly polarizing for casual conversation, and with a declining church-going population, I believe that my destination fascinates the Uber drivers I ride with. It is usually this information that sparks off these anointed conversations.

During one ride, my driver shared about his period of depression in trying to get back to regular work after his back surgery. He shared of his struggle to believe that God cared about his difficulties. As I listened, I silently prayed that I would have the wisdom to respond with charity. I empathized as I had undergone a back surgery years ago that put me out of work for several months. From the memory of my own struggle and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I was able to speak some words of hope. I encouraged him to keep on trusting in God’s goodness and timing in his recovery. As I got out of the car outside the church, he said to me, “Will you please say a prayer for me inside?” I assured him I would, and we wished each other well. When I settled in the pews, I prayed for him.

On Good Shepherd Sunday evening, I rode with another driver who, upon hearing I was heading to church asked me, while pointing at the building, “Is this a Catholic church? So are you Catholic?” In the brief minute it took for us to reach, he shared that he had lost count of when he last entered a church. It was one of my tired and distracted days, but a part of me tried to find the right words to say to this friendly man. As we turned into the car porch, he joked, “Oh I am sure if I were to go inside, the priest would feel something strange and know, and he would ask me to get out.” In a split second, I was caught unprepared to welcome this man back into the fold.

With only the wit and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I assured him otherwise. “No, that will not happen. Well, if that were the case, then a lot of people would have to get out too!” The both of us burst out laughing. In that brief moment – it is both a mystery and wonder – the fullness of God’s mercy and forgiveness was somehow shared in that tentative joke. Because almost immediately, he muttered in a moment of private reverie that he knew, that He does not keep score for what had been committed the day before – “tomorrow is a new day”.

I wonder if I had spoken enough of my Lord’s goodness. If I had, in Peter’s words, “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” (1 Peter 3:15). While I do not know exactly how each of these conversations has touched them, I am humbled by the knowledge that the Holy Spirit had been with us in the car and inspiring me with just the right words in the right way, to help point these fellow pilgrims back to God.

I whole-heartedly believe that our strongest witness for God’s existence and goodness is our deep-seated Christian joy. Even if our evangelization may be confined to two obscure minutes in a car journey, it is our palpable joy, hope, openness, and lack of taking petty offences that point towards God’s wide mercy. Mercy and welcome is what almost every weary fellow traveller needs to hear most today.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Holy Spirit, anoint me with wisdom and wit, joy and welcome, to share the reason for my faith when the opportunity arises. Please make me a channel of your peace, love and mercy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for these privileged moments of being a laborer in your vineyard. Thank you for being the reason for my great joy and renewed life.