Tag Archives: desmond soon

9 October, Tuesday – Being Still In His Presence

9 October

Memorial for Sts. Denis, Bishop, and Companions, Martyrs; Memorial for St. John Leonardi, Priest

Denis (d. 258) was a missionary to Paris, and its first bishop. His success roused the ire of local pagans, and he was imprisoned by the Roman governor. He was martyred in the persecutions of Valerius with Sts. Eleutherius and Rusticus. Legends have grown up around his torture and death including one that has his body carrying his severed head some distance from his execution site. St. Genevieve built a basilica over his grave. His feast was added to the Roman calendar in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V, though it has been celebrated since 800.

– Patron Saint Index

John Leonardi (1541–1609) was the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca. He was born in Lucca, Tuscany in 1541 and ordained a priest in 1572. He first dedicated himself to the Christian formation of young people in his parish of Lucca. Then he founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

In 1574, he founded a community charged to deepen faith and devotion; this foundation occurred as part of the movement known as the Counter-Reformation. He worked with this community to spread the devotion to the Virgin Mary, to the Forty Hours and to frequent Communion.

This foundation received approval from Pope Paul V in 1614. He took his work to Rome where he became friends with St. Philip Neri who held him in high regard for his qualities of firmness and judgement and entrusted him to delicate works such as the reform of the Benedictan congregation of Montevergine.

He then founded with J. Vives the seminary of the Propagation of the Faith. He died in 1609, dedicated himself to his brothers suffering from the influenza epidemic that was raging in Rome at that time.
The final Rule of his community was published in 1851. Two houses of the Clerks of the Mother of God were opened when he died; three others were opened during the 17th century. He was beatified in 1861 and canonised in 1938.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Galatians 1:13-24

You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.

Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord, and I swear before God that what I have just written is the literal truth. After that I went to Syria and Cilicia, and was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judaea, who had heard nothing except that their one-time persecutor was now preaching the faith he had previously tried to destroy; and they gave glory to God for me.

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Luke 10:38-42

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

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“It is Mary who has chosen the better part.”

I will be heading off tonight on a Marian pilgrimage in Europe, accompanied by my other half and some 30-odd parishioners, led by a priest friend. We had decided on this faith pilgrimage a few months back and I cannot wait to board the plane for Paris.

God truly has a wicked sense of humour because I was actually planning another Camino this year. My last one in 2016 had been life-changing and I had been craving another walk along the Camino Frances (this time, from the very start). But I believe that the Lord wants me to learn to be obedient to Mother Mary and to discern what she has to say to me – just like how Mary in the gospel sat at the foot of Jesus and focused on Him.

Indeed, I have been discerning how my call to serve God may be taking a slightly different path, especially since I have been relatively ‘low key’ this year. I have found greater joy in doing more contemplative retreats, even praising Him with more contemplative songs and playing my violin. And at the last 4th Saturday healing service at CSC, even though the worship was less intense, it certainly helped me connect better with Jesus as He walked among us that evening. Even my spiritual director has advised me to just let the Lord speak, either directly or via Mother Mary, as embark on this pilgrimage.

I have learnt to listen a lot better over the past 2 years or so since I did my Camino. I hardly speak at meetings unless my opinion is asked for, and I find that my takeaways from such meetings tend to be deeper and, for the most part, pretty spot on. So I am relishing the time away from home and work, even though I am not relishing the large group and all the requisite dynamics that may result. I know that I just have to be still and to soak in His presence so that I can contemplate on my next steps, especially in ministry.

Brothers and sisters, there will be times when God calls on us to just sit by his feet and to listen to what He has to say to us. We do not need to be ‘on the go’ in ministry all the time, especially when there are others around who are equally capable or more than willing to offer their precious time and effort. Sometimes, we just need to be still and rest in His presence.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you continue to carry us on your shoulders, especially when we struggle to find meaning and are deaf to your words of love. We pray that you always keep faith in us and give us the desire to hear your whisper each day.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your steadfast love and for your faith in each and every one of us.

8 October, Monday – To Give Or Not To Give?

8 October

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Galatians 1:6-12

I am astonished at the promptness with which you have turned away from the one who called you and have decided to follow a different version of the Good News. Not that there can be more than one Good News; it is merely that some troublemakers among you want to change the Good News of Christ; and let me warn you that if anyone preaches a version of the Good News different from the one we have already preached to you, whether it be ourselves or an angel from heaven, he is to be condemned. I am only repeating what we told you before: if anyone preaches a version of the Good News different from the one you have already heard, he is to be condemned. So now whom am I trying to please – man, or God? Would you say it is men’s approval I am looking for? If I still wanted that, I should not be what I am – a servant of Christ.

The fact is, brothers, and I want you to realise this, the Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

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Luke 10:25-37

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’

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“Go, and do the same yourself.”

The story of the Good Samaritan is one of those ones where I find myself wondering, “What would I do if I had come across the man lying on the road?” In this day and age, I am sure there are many of us who know of friends, or even family, who are in some form of trouble. Have we stepped forward to offer help or have we been too ‘shy’ to even assume that these people who are in distress would need our help?

I have been journeying with an old friend off an on for the past two years and it has indeed been a tough road. Because any offer of help or piece of advice seems to be met with either a counter solution (which the person feels will lead nowhere). It is almost as if this person just wants to continue to be engulfed in this downward spiral. It got to a point where I started to avoid responding to the text messages.

So when Jesus tells us to “Go, and do the same yourself”, I find myself questioning how far I should go in order to help my friend. Another ministry friend advised me to make sure I kept my distance and not get too involved in order to protect myself from any harm. And while I comprehend the logic of that approach, I find myself asking if I am truly being Christ-like if I become so ‘calculative’ in reaching out to help. Surely, when we take pity on someone else, we should go all out to ensure that our efforts result in a positive and fruitful outcome.

Then I look at my ministry head. I have remarked more than once to my other half that we are blessed to have someone who has a huge heart. Someone who will go the extra mile and spend hours chatting with ministry members who are having issues with others or who some of us find ‘difficult’ to accept. All this, while juggling four teenage children and a high-flying corporate job. Whenever I see the way she gives of herself, I ask myself if I could ever have half of her generous heart. And whether that is what Christ means when he asks of us to go and do the same as the Samaritan — basically to give without counting the cost.

For Jesus, there is no zero sum game when it comes to reaching out and giving to others. He gave in spite of our sinfulness and He paid the price of his life in order to save us. Many of us give what we can, but how many of us are willing to give our all? In giving to others, are we truly giving from our heart? Or are we doing it in order to ‘earn’ some credits?

Brothers and sisters, God knows our heart and our every motive/agenda in our interactions with our family, friends, colleagues and strangers. Should we be looking for the approval of men or should we seek peace and joy from God?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear God, help us to look deep within our hearts and to weed out all ulterior motives we may have in our giving to others.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for being our ever-generous and giving Father.

20 August, Monday – Time vs Money

August 20 – Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

He was born near Dijon, in France, in 1090, of a noble family. In 1112 he joined the new monastery at Cîteaux. This had been founded fourteen years before, in a bid to reject the laxity and riches of the Benedictine Order (as exemplified by great monasteries such as Cluny) and to return to a primitive poverty and austerity of life.

Bernard arrived at Cîteaux with four of his five brothers and two dozen friends. Within three years he had been sent out to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, in Champagne, where he remained abbot for the rest of his life. By the time of his death, the Cistercian Order had grown from one house to 343, of which 68 were daughter houses of Clairvaux itself.

Bernard was a man of great holiness and wisdom, and although he was often in very poor health, he was active in many of the great public debates of the time. He strongly opposed the luxurious lives of some of the clergy, and fought against the persecution of the Jews. He was also a prolific writer, of an inspiring rather than a technical kind.

– Universalis

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Ezekiel 24:15-24

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows, ‘Son of man, I am about to deprive you suddenly of the delight of your eyes. But you are not to lament, not to weep, not to let your tears run down. Groan in silence, do not go into mourning for the dead, knot your turban round your head, put your sandals on your feet, do not cover your beard, do not eat common bread.’ I told this to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening, and the next morning I did as I had been ordered.

The people then said to me, ‘Are you not going to explain what meaning these actions have for us?’

I replied, ‘The word of the Lord has been addressed to me as follows, “Say to the House of Israel: The Lord says this. I am about to profane my sanctuary, the pride of your strength, the delight of your eyes, the passion of your souls. Those of your sons and daughters whom you have left behind will fall by the sword. And you are to do as I have done; you must not cover your beards or eat common bread; you must keep your turbans on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you must not lament or weep. You shall waste away owing to your sins and groan among yourselves. Ezekiel is to be a sign for you. You are to do just as he has done. And when this happens, you will learn that I am the Lord.”’

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Matthew 19:16-22

There was a man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said, ‘Which?’ ‘These:’ Jesus replied ‘You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

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…sell what you own, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

I recently discovered Carousell and have started to list items for sale at very affordable prices. In case you misunderstand, I am not selling all of my possessions but rather, trying to clear up some of the clutter in my room; especially those unopened presents or door gifts from attending golf tournaments. Of course, I could easily have transported all the items to the Salvation Army but I just wanted to see how much some of these items could fetch.

While I can relate to the young man in today’s gospel, I wonder how much he possessed and whether he was sad at the prospect of selling everything or sad at the prospect of having to give what he collected to the poor. For me, the exhortation consists of two things: not only does Jesus ask the man to abandon his current lifestyle, He also asked him to give away all the money to the poor.

Brother and sisters, I for one would probably struggle, just as the young man did, to give all my possessions away. At this point, I think I have only reached the stage of abandoning my previous lifestyle (and not totally at that) in my walk with Christ, which alone can be a rather challenging affair. And while I have not much in terms of money to give, I try as far as possible to give of my time and effort in service within His vineyard. In other words, the ‘currency’ I am using is time rather than money.

So rather than focus on the material dimension, because not all of us are millionaires, perhaps we should all reflect on how much time we waste on the weekends window shopping, trawling the internet and just lazing the time away when we could be devoting ourselves to serving our Father in church, in a ministry or anywhere else that needs our time and effort.

What this means then is that our ‘treasure in heaven’ can be measured using time rather than riches. For what good is all the gold and precious gems on earth when we are going to be busy praising and worshipping the Lord in the heavenly kingdom?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to be mindful of every second in the day that we waste on trivial matters rather than focussing on your plan for us. And that we learn to spend more time in your vineyard toiling away so that others can produce the fruits of our labour.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the time spent with us in adoration and in prayer.

11 Aug, Saturday – Faith Opens Doors

11 Aug – Memorial for St. Clare, virgin, religious founder

Clare (1194-1253) loved music and well-composed sermons. She was humble, merciful, charming, optimistic, and chivalrous. She would get up late at night to tuck in her sisters who’’d kicked off their covers. She daily meditated on the Passion. When she learned of the Franciscan martyrs in Morrocco in 1221, she tried to go there to give her own life for God, but was restrained. Once, when her convent was about to be attacked, she displayed the Sacrament in a monstrace at the convent gates and prayed before it. The attackers left.

Toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would be displayed on the wall of her cell; thus her patronage of television.

– Patron Saint Index

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Habakkuk 1:12-2:4

Are not you, from ancient times the Lord,
my God, my Holy One, who never dies?
O Lord, you have made this people an instrument of justice,
set it firm as a rock in order to punish.

Your eyes are too pure to rest on wickedness,
you cannot look on at tyranny.
Why do you look on while men are treacherous,
and stay silent while the evil man swallows a better man than he?

You treat mankind like fishes in the sea,
like creeping, masterless things.

A people, these, who catch all on their hook,
who draw them with their net,
in their dragnet gather them,
and so, triumphantly, rejoice.

At this, they offer a sacrifice to their net,
and burn incense to their dragnet,
for providing them with luxury
and lavish food.

Are they then to empty their net unceasingly,
slaughtering nations without pity?

I will stand on my watchtower,
and take up my post on my battlements,
watching to see what he will say to me,
what answer he will make to my complaints.

Then the Lord answered and said,
‘Write the vision down,
inscribe it on tablets
to be easily read,
since this vision is for its own time only:
eager for its own fulfilment, it does not deceive;
if it comes slowly, wait,
for come it will, without fail.

‘See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,
but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.’

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Matthew 17:14-20

A man came up to Jesus and went down on his knees before him. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘take pity on my son: he is a lunatic and in a wretched state; he is always falling into the fire or into the water. I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.’ ‘Faithless and perverse generation!’ Jesus said in reply ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And when Jesus rebuked it the devil came out of the boy who was cured from that moment.

Then the disciples came privately to Jesus. ‘Why were we unable to cast it out? they asked. He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible for you.’

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Nothing will be impossible for you

A few years ago, a ministry friend told me that she would like me to play the violin at her wedding mass. She was so insistent and would not take ‘No’ for an answer, despite my exhortations that I had not touched a violin for more than 35 years. She simply looked me in the eye and told me to ‘have faith’ and that everything would be fine.

From those first tentative strokes of the bow, I have now come to realise that when God calls one to fulfil a talent He has given, there is no running away from the times when you will be called upon to exercise that God-given talent.

Yes, I took some refresher lessons and stumbled through some difficult classical pieces. But as I practised with the band in my ministry, what I have discovered is that I can actually ‘play by ear’; something i never knew I could do. So at praise and worship sessions now, I pick up on the first note and just play away. People have come up to me and said that they see the joy in my playing and I just smile and acknowledge that it is God who is doing the playing. I am merely His instrument.

I have also played at a few retreats where the songs were more contemplative and have felt the retreatants’ struggles and sorrows through the music. I have even fallen to my knees in tears after an adoration session, where I was encouraged to play on after the choir had stopped singing. As the blessed sacrament went past me towards the sacristy, I could feel Jesus smiling upon me and giving me a pat of encouragement. It was truly a wondrous feeling and further affirmed my new-found faith in my God-given abilities.

At times, I wonder what ever possessed B to approach me all those years ago. I can only surmise that God prompted her to help me unlock the talent i had hidden away after 1979. Brothers and sisters, each of us has a God-given talent that He is waiting for us to exercise. One way to tell if it is from Him is if the fruits are life giving and if others get to enjoy it. My other half has had her passion for art reawakened and her pieces have already touched hearts. Where it takes her, only God will know but I know there is joy, hope and peace in her paintings.

So B, if you are reading this, you are my eternal spiritual benefactor. And I will always cherish that moment when you came up to me and asked, “Can you play at my wedding?”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our talents are your gifts. Help us to exercise them fruitfully so that they may give life to those around us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for the artists, caregivers, chefs, dancers, educators, entertainers, formators, healers, musicians, parents, poets, priests, relief workers, singers, teachers and anyone who exercises a talent.

10 August, Friday – Serving God

Aug 10 – Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Lawrence was a third-century archdeacon of Rome, a distributor of alms, and “keeper of the treasures of the Church” in a time when Christianity was outlawed. On 6 August 258, by decree of Emperor Valerian, Pope St. Sixtus II and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence as the ranking Church official in Rome.

While in prison awaiting execution, Sixtus reassured Lawrence that he was not being left behind; they would be reunited in four days. Lawrence saw this time as an opportunity to disperse the material wealth of the church before the Roman authorities could lay their hands on it.

On Aug 10, Lawrence was commanded to appear for his execution, and to bring along the treasure with which he had been entrusted by the pope. When he arrived, the archdeacon was accompanied by a multitude of Rome’s crippled, blind, sick, and indigent. He announced that these were the true treasures of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

Lawrence’s care for the poor, the ill, and the neglected have led to his patronage of them. His work to save the material wealth of the Church, including the documents, brought librarians and those in related fields to see him as a patron, and to ask for his intercession. And his incredible strength and courage when being grilled to death led to his patronage of cooks and those who work in or supply things to the kitchen. The meteor shower that follows the passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet was known in the middle ages as the “burning tears of St. Lawrence” because they appear at the same time as Lawrence’s feast.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one.

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John 12:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.’

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“If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.”

It is an oft-heard gripe that there are barely enough priests in our diocese in order for us to be a missionary and evangelistic church. And so it falls on the laity to help our shepherds advance the cause and be the face of Christ to all who come on Sunday for mass, and to those who encounter us at our various worship sessions, during talks, seminars, retreats, wakes, wedding and even funerals.

Over the years, I have met a variety of non-believers who are either amazed at our faith, or seem quite skeptical that we believe in a god who perished so brutally at our own hands. I must admit, it took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that we revere someone who we ourselves condemned to death by our own sinful nature.

Perhaps that’s why we have no qualms yelling at the person who cuts us off on the road, or turning a blind eye to the elderly cleaner hunched over a trolley, trying his/her best to scrape by with the little they earn. What about the colleague we put down yesterday, or the ministry member we rolled our eyes at during a recent meeting?

And yet, God continues to have faith in us. He continues to sustain us and egg us on, in spite of our unworthiness and our sinfulness. Brothers and sisters, any CEO worth his/her salt would have terminated us right away if we were ‘found out’. At the very least, we would be summoned for a dressing down or issued a warning letter to get us to ‘buck up’. On the contrary, our heavenly Father just allows us to get on with our lives. He gives us the free will to make our own choices, to the best of our ability. We choose how we want to labour in His vineyard. We set conditions. We expect returns. Then we complain and gripe about the state of our church.

It is during these trying times that God truly reveals His splendour and love for each nd every one of us. “I am the good shepherd, says the Lord. I know my own sheep and my own know me.” (Jn 10:14) and “…he is our help and our shield.” (Ps 33:20). So when Jesus exhorts his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest”, we should know that it is God who is going to give us all the strength and the tools to carry out our mission here on earth. A mission unique to each and every one of us which requires discernment, a steadfast faith and total trust in Him in order for us to fulfil HIs plan for us. Yes brothers and sisters, we are all here to fulfil God’s plan (not the other way around) and so, we have to ask ourselves if we are allowing Him to work in our hearts.

Or are we being too prideful, obstinate and unfeeling in our daily interactions, especially in our parish and ministry ‘work’ that we are missing the forest for the trees?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we want to serve you with all our heart. Give us the courage to do the work that you have planned for us so that we may carry it out faithfully and in humility.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for trusting in us and for your everlasting faith in us.

9 August, Thursday – Man-Managed or God-Guided?

Aug 9 – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 31:31-34 

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

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Matthew 16:13-23

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

From that time Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

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“…the way you think is not God’s way but man’s”

For a long while now, I have been questioning myself and plagued with self-doubt, wondering if my intentions where I am serving in ministry are guided by the spirit or some other motive. I have also been dealing with a wave of crises at work where I have had to rely on my wits and judgement, having had no precedence to follow.

In dealing with the various crises at work, I naturally had to deal with other colleagues as well as report in to senior management periodically. In the end, I learned that in such situations, while common sense usually prevails, as long as we all have a heart for our students and/or an aggrieved party, the outcome should turn out well. We could apply rational thinking to every decision and hope for the best but where emotions are involved, being able to have a sense of perspective taken from various points of view will help calm the situation and allow everyone involved a chance to resolve matters amicably. Typically man’s way of thinking.

So while the last few weeks have been quite draining, I have managed to emerge from relative darkness with a stronger faith in God and in those who serve Him. Just a few weekends ago, I had the good fortune to have been asked by a brother friend to help him in a facilitation for a group of communion ministers. Without hesitation, I said ‘Yes’, even though that Saturday was also 4th Saturday at the centre where I serve. Admittedly, I was also keen because Nick had originally asked my other half to borrow some of her very recent paintings for the reflection session.

I had always wanted to see him ‘at work’ and though we didn’t stay for the entire session, I left with a better sense of what he meant when he says he is truly doing God’s work. Because as we spent 30 minutes discussing and prepping during the lunch break prior to the session, He took over. As we prayed and asked the spirit to fill us and be present, I ended up doing a 5-minute opening prayer and then singing (instead of accompanying Nick on the violin). But it was obvious that the Spirit was working because the sharings by those being ministered to were genuine and heartfelt (with some tears included). This was certainly a God-anointed moment and I savoured it quietly from the back of the auditorium.

Brothers and sisters, when we are thrust into situations that require quick decisions, our natural instinct is to trust our gut or to put up defences and work on past assumptions/experiences. Perhaps we need to take a new tack and just spend a few minutes in prayer before diving back into the situation so that we allow God to work his magic and guide us to making a resolution that is centred upon Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a greater sense of perspective. That we are able to distinguish between what is yours and what our human desires tell us to act on each day. We ask for you to always speak to our hearts and to help us discern your plan for all of us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for always being there with us in our moments of crisis.

8 August, Wednesday – Faith In Times Of Crisis

Aug 8 – Memorial for St. Dominic, priest, religious founder

Dominic (1170-1221) was born of wealthy Spanish nobility, and was the son of Blessed Joan of Aza. Joan had difficulty conceiving and prayed at the shrine of St. Dominic of Silos who had a tradition of patronage of that problem. When she became pregnant, she named the child in honour of the saint. While pregnant, Joan had a vision that her unborn child was a dog who would set the world on fire with a torch it carried in its mouth. A dog with a torch in its mouth became a symbol for the Order he founded, the Dominicans. At Dominic’s baptism, Joan saw a star shining from his chest, which became another of his symbols in art, and led to his patronage of astronomy.

Dominic was a priest who worked for clerical reform. He had a life-long apostolate among heretics, especially Albigensians, and especially in France. He founded the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans) in 1215, a group who lived a simple, austere life. He also founded an order or nuns dedicated to the care of young girls.

At one point, Dominic became discouraged at the progress of his mission; no matter how much he worked, heresies remained. But he received a vision from Our Lady who showed him a wreath of roses, representing the rosary. She told him to say the rosary daily, teach it to all who would listen, and eventually the true faith would win out. Dominic is often credited with the invention of the rosary; it actually pre-dates him, but he certainly spread devotion to it, and used it to strengthen his own spiritual life.

Legend says that Dominic received a vision of a beggar who, like Dominic, would do great things for the Faith. Dominic met the beggar the next day. He embraced him and said, “You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us.” The beggar was St. Francis of Assisi.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 31:1-7

I will be the God of all the clans of Israel – it is the Lord who speaks – they shall be my people.

The Lord says this:
They have found pardon in the wilderness,
those who have survived the sword.
Israel is marching to his rest.
The Lord has appeared to him from afar:
I have loved you with an everlasting love,
so I am constant in my affection for you.
I build you once more; you shall be rebuilt,
virgin of Israel.
Adorned once more, and with your tambourines,
you will go out dancing gaily.
You will plant vineyards once more
on the mountains of Samaria
the planters have done their planting: they will gather the fruit.
Yes, a day will come when the watchmen shout
on the mountains of Ephraim,
‘Up! Let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God!’

For the Lord says this:
Shout with joy for Jacob!
Hail the chief of nations!
Proclaim! Praise! Shout:
‘The Lord has saved his people,
the remnant of Israel!’

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Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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“Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

It has been about three months since my other half returned from a retreat in Australia. Since then, she has had to deal with pretty crucial changes in her life and, in the process, emerged from a crisis of faith. I could only stand by and offer however much support I could (at times, frustrated at my own self) and to just be there for her.

What has amazed me all this time is how her faith in God has inspired her to do art (painting), which I never knew she had done in college. From her first tentative piece, she has miraculously produced 6 pieces to date; the last one at my request. And it is pretty obvious to me that God has given her this special talent because each piece radiates joy, hope and peace; at least that is what I get out of looking at her snapshots as she paints them.

Two Saturdays ago, a friend who does life coaching invited her to a facilitation session for a group of communion ministers, because he wanted to use her humble pieces for the audience to reflect on. In typical fashion, she ‘pooh-poohed’ my obvious excitement as I offered to drive her to the church where the session was happening. In my mind, someone else was recognizing her talent as an artist!

During the 2-hour session, her paintings opened up conversations among the 15 or so people and my heart swelled with pride. Truly, her faith in God, in spite of her trying circumstances, had enabled her to produce art that ‘spoke’ to others and helped them open up deep-seated feelings which reflected the various seasons in their ministry lives. As I stole glances at her while the people were sharing their innermost feelings about each painting, I could see her tearing up. But unlike months ago when she was shedding tears of despair, I could see that these were tears of joy.

Brothers and sisters, God never abandons us, especially when we are going through a time of desolation in our lives. In fact, it is we who question his existence and doubt His presence, leading us into a downward spiral of despair. I have learnt that in our darkest times, we need to just be quiet and listen out for His voice – whether it is in the encouraging word of a loved one, a touch from a stranger, or a revelation that leads to a whole new journey for us. So don’t despair if you are experiencing a crisis of faith now. He will lead you out eventually.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you continue to carry us on your shoulders, especially when we struggle to find meaning and are deaf to your words of love. We pray that you always keep faith in us and give us the desire to hear your whisper each day.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your steadfast love and for your faith in each and every one of us.

10 July, Tuesday – Wither Art Thou?

10 Jul 

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Hosea 8:4-7,11-13

Thus says the Lord:

They have set up kings, but not with my consent,
and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.
Out of their own silver and gold they have made idols,
which are doomed to destruction.
I spurn your calf, Samaria,
my anger blazes against it.
(How long will it be before they purge themselves of this,
the sons of Israel?)
A workman made the thing,
this cannot be God!
Yes, the calf of Samaria shall go up in flames.
They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind;
their wheat will yield no ear,
the ear will yield no flour,
or, if it does, foreigners will swallow it.

Ephraim has built altar after altar,
they have only served him as occasion for sin.
Were I to write out the thousand precepts of my Law for him,
they would be paid no more attention than those of a stranger.
They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice!
They love meat; right, let them eat it!
The Lord takes no pleasure in these.
He is now going to remember their iniquity
and punish their sins;
they will have to go back to Egypt.

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Matthew 9:32-37

A man was brought to Jesus, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

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The harvest is rich but the labourers are few…

It is an oft-heard gripe that there are barely enough priests in our diocese in order for us to be a missionary and evangelistic church. And so it falls on the laity to help our shepherds advance the cause and be the face of Christ to all who come on Sunday for mass, and to those who encounter us at our various worship sessions, during talks, seminars, retreats, wakes, weddings and even funerals.

Over the years, I have met a variety of non-believers who are either amazed at our faith, or seem quite skeptical that we believe in a god who perished so brutally at our own hands. I must admit, it took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that we revere someone who we ourselves condemned to death by our own sinful nature.

Perhaps that’s why we have no qualms yelling at the person who cuts us off on the road, or turning a blind eye to the elderly cleaner hunched over a trolley, trying his/her best to scrape by with the little they earn. What about the colleague we put down yesterday, or the ministry member we rolled our eyes at during a recent meeting?

And yet, God continues to have faith in us. He continues to sustain us and egg us on, in spite of our unworthiness and our sinfulness. Brothers and sisters, any CEO worth his/her salt would have terminated us right away if we were ‘found out’. At the very least, we would be summoned for a dressing down or issued a warning letter to get us to ‘buck up’. On the contrary, our heavenly Father just allows us to get on with our lives. He gives us the free will to make our own choices, to the best of our ability. We choose how we want to labour in His vineyard. We set conditions. We expect returns. Then we complain and gripe about the state of our church.

It is during these trying times that God truly reveals His splendour and love for each and every one of us. “I am the good shepherd, says the Lord. I know my own sheep and my own know me.” (Jn 10:14) and “…he is our help and our shield.” (Ps 33:20). So when Jesus exhorts his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest”, we should know that it is God who is going to give us all the strength and the tools to carry out our mission here on earth. A mission unique to each and every one of us which requires discernment, a steadfast faith and total trust in Him in order for us to fulfil His plan for us. Yes brothers and sisters, we are all here to fulfil God’s plan (not the other way around) and so, we have to ask ourselves if we are allowing Him to work in our hearts.

Or are we being too prideful, obstinate and unfeeling in our daily interactions, especially in our parish and ministry ‘work’ that we are missing the forest for the trees?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for a greater sense of perspective. That we are able to distinguish between what is yours and what our human desires tell us to act on each day. We ask for you to always speak to our hearts and to help us discern your plan for all of us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your steadfast love and for your faith in each and every one of us.

9 July, Monday – Healing Touch

Jul 9 – Memorial for St. Augustine Zhao Rong, priest, & companions

Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.

The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (87) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or labourers, ranging from nine years of age to 72. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.

The 33 foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese solider who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine was baptized and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was martyred in 1815.

Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000.

http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1914

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Hosea 2:16,17-18,21-22

It is the Lord who speaks:

I am going to lure her
and lead her out into the wilderness
and speak to her heart.
I am going to give her back her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a gateway of hope.
There she will respond to me as she did when she was young,
as she did when she came out of the land of Egypt.

When that day comes – it is the Lord who speaks –
she will call me, ‘My husband’,
no longer will she call me, ‘My Baal.’
I will betroth you to myself for ever,
betroth you with integrity and justice,
with tenderness and love;
I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness,
and you will come to know the Lord.

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Matthew 9:18-26

While Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’ Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the woman was well again.

When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.

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…your faith has restored you to health.

If only I had just a smidgen of the faith which the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak had, perhaps my spiritual life would not be so topsy-turvy. I have been struggling of late, not attending daily mass (not even bothering to try) and struggling to lead worship during our weekly practice sessions whenever I am assigned to do it. Just last week, there was even a fleeting thought of taking a sabbatical just to see where it would lead me.

But then I managed to catch myself and say ‘No’. I told myself that for whatever spiritual dryness I am going through now, all the Lord wants in my state is for me to desire to be restored to health. Then I ask, “Whose cloak am I going to touch?” After all, Jesus no longer walks the earth. Or does He?

At a recent Friday growth service at CSC, I was on the violin during communion and we sang ‘O God You Search Me’. As I began the intro to the hymn, I could feel His presence among the congregation and as I switched from verse to chorus and back, improvising the tune along the way, I started to tear up. As the spirit led and as the choir ended the song, our worship leader encouraged me to keep playing. I closed my eyes and kept on going. Then, as He walked past me back out of the auditorium, I felt Him reaching out to me. When I eventually stopped, I fell to my knees and started to cry. It was then that I knew Jesus indeed had been present with us as we all partook of His flesh. That night, I left the centre with an unmistakeable glow in my heart – one of joy. However, since then, I have been struggling to find it again.

Perhaps I have been letting work wear me down; perhaps it is those around me, who I have been finding tiresome and a chore to be with. Or perhaps I have simply lost the passion and zeal for His word. Then last week after another practice, I asked 3 of my ministry members out for a drink so that we could let our hair down and enjoy some fellowship. The 90 minutes we had together were some of the most real and intense sharings I had heard in a long while and, amidst the stories of hardship and personal challenges, I found hope and joy as we encouraged each other along our respective faith journeys.

Brothers and sisters, we all struggle at various points in our life. During those times, aside from spending time in the adoration room with Christ, who do you have that you can rely on to pour out your woes and to ‘touch their cloak’? Conversely, are you someone whose cloak a loved one wants to touch? Are we there for our fellow brothers and sisters when they need some form of healing? As we search for Christ in our lives, how can we be Christ to others?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, help us to desire You when we find ourselves drying up spiritually or tempted by sin. Let us not succumb to the snares of the evil one.

Thanksgiving: We thank you, Lord, for being a constant presence in our lives.

8 July, Sunday – Strength In Adversity

8 July

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Ezekiel 17:22-24

The spirit came into me and made me stand up, and I heard the Lord speaking to me. He said, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to the rebels who have turned against me. Till now they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me. The sons are defiant and obstinate; I am sending you to them, to say, “The Lord says this.” Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’

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2 Corinthians 12:7-10

In view of the extraordinary nature of these revelations, to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me and stop me from getting too proud! About this thing, I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me, but he has said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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For it is when I am weak that I am strong

I have never been one that had to be strong for others. For much of my life, I have only had to be strong for myself, as I had been blessed with very independent parents who didn’t have to rely on me. And I do not have any children to care for, save for a nephew and niece.

Recently though, I have had to stand firm in the face of adversity, both from professional and personal points of view. The professional part has not been easy but neither has it been draining; it is the strength I have had to summon to face the storms on a personal front that has been wearing me down. Looking back, I can also tie it back to the fact that I stopped trying to go for daily morning mass as I have not been sleeping very well. So it has been a bit of a vicious cycle, leading to what many may term ‘spiritual dryness’. I still find joy in ministry though, and look forward to serving at CSC, as well as editing and uploading these reflections. But I have started to feel more worn out and more spiritually drained.

Last weekend, nearly 300 of us attended a community retreat at CSC for ministry members. Towards the end of the first day after dinner, we played an interesting game of affirmation the organisers called ‘Back Biting’. Basically, each member got a sheet of blank paper which we had to clip behind our backs and then all of us were given 10 minutes to go around writing positive things on each other’s backs. At the end of the ‘backbiting’ period, we were asked to sit down and to slowly digest what others had written about us. Needless to say, I was totally floored as I read my paper and tears started to stream down my face. I guess over the past few weeks, I had been filled with self-doubt and inadequacy. I had been beating myself up when in actual fact, people saw me very differently.

Indeed, brothers and sisters, it is when we are at our weakest that God shows us how strong He is. I never knew I had it in me to lead a discipleship group, let alone have a go at leading praise and worship. But ultimately, it is all about surrendering our weaknesses to God. Because all he asks is that we remain open to His graces and that we remain faithful to Him. I know that on the odd morning I manage to make it for 6.30 am mass, that entire day just seems to ‘float’ by, with nary a harsh word/thought and with everything running smoothly (especially when I am asked to lead worship at practice).

So if you are feeling inadequate or are filled with self-doubt as you stand before your storm, know that He is always with you, strengthening and moulding you in His image and likeness. He is filling you up with all that He knows you need to get through whatever season of difficulty you are facing at the moment. And in the end, the light will shine again in your heart.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for courage to stand firm in the face of adversity and for the faith that You will lift us up and shine your light in us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for showing us how strong we can be even as we fall down.