Tag Archives: desmond soon

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

________________

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.”’

________________ 

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.

________________

…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

___________________

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.’

___________________

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.’

____________________

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

________________

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.

________________ 

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.’

________________

“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

_____________________

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.

_____________________

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.’

_____________________

“…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

_____________________

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!’

_____________________

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.

_____________________

“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 

________________

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.

_________________

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.’

_________________

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

___________________

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.

____________________

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.

___________________

…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

___________________

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.’

____________________

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.

____________________

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.

___________________

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.

1 June, Friday – Asking

Jun 1 – Memorial for St. Justin, martyr

He was born at the beginning of the second century in Nablus, in Samaria, of a pagan Greek family. He was an earnest seeker after truth, and studied many systems of philosophy before being led, through Platonism, to Christianity. While remaining a layman, he accepted the duty of making the truth known and travelled from place to place, proclaiming the gospel. In 151, he travelled from Ephesus to Rome, where he opened a school of philosophy and wrote defences and expositions of Christianity, which have survived to this day, and are the earliest known writings of their kind. In the persecution of 165, in the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, he was denounced as a Christian, arrested and beheaded. The transcript of his trial by the prefect of Rome, Rusticus, has also survived: it can be found in today’s Office of Readings.

Justin treats the Greek philosophy that he studied as mostly true, but incomplete. In contrast to the Hebrew tendency to view God as making revelations to them and to no-one else, he follows the parable of the Sower, and sees God as sowing the seed of wisdom throughout the world, to grow wherever the soil would receive it. When we dispute with people who disagree with us, we would do well to assume that they too are seeking wisdom, and have found truth of a kind. Since there is only one God and one Truth, it is our task not to contradict or belittle their achievement, but to show them how their strivings and searches are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. This is harder to do – not least, because we have to take the trouble to understand our own faith thoroughly – but it is ultimately more worthwhile.

– Universalis

________________

1 Peter 4:7-13

Everything will soon come to an end, so, to pray better, keep a calm and sober mind. Above all, never let your love for each other grow insincere, since love covers over many a sin. Welcome each other into your houses without grumbling. Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

My dear people, you must not think it unaccountable that you should be tested by fire. There is nothing extraordinary in what has happened to you. If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

________________

Mark 11:11-26

After he had been acclaimed by the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked all round him, but as it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree. ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’ he said. And his disciples heard him say this.

So they reached Jerusalem and he went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, ‘Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’ This came to the ears of the chief priests and the scribes, and they tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city.

Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. ‘Look, Rabbi,’ he said to Jesus, ‘the fig tree you cursed has withered away.’ Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself into the sea,” with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.’ But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your failings either.’

________________

…everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours.

If only life were so easy. That all we desire, wish for or hope will simply appear before us as long as we ask for it. “Give me a nice house. Give me a good job. Give me a good spouse. Give me a good family.” And ‘poof’, miraculously, we have it all.

Yeah, right.

Because the life we have here is a constant battle to achieve, acquire, attain and then hold on to. We seek happiness in what we have worked hard to acquire all our working life. Then when we ‘retire’ and have to declutter so that we can live more freely, we start to question ourself. We ask whether it was all worth the struggle. Whether at the end of it all, has our life come down to the four walls around us and the three square meals we can afford each day. Whether we will be remembered for what we had, instead of what we gave while we had friends and family to give to.

I want to be remembered for the heart I have, whatever people say it is – generous, giving, joyful, embracing, patient, etc. Mind you, I am still working on just being able to not judge others, so I am extremely far from my goal. Will I ever get there? Not on my own strength but by the grace of God.

Because events of the past few weeks have whittled me down to a blubbering mess at times. The feelings of hopelessness, of letting a loved one down, of not being able to fulfil my promise (especially after discerning His call to be a pillar of support) have left me questioning the very verse that I have been drawn to. Maybe I still cling on to the hope that somehow, during this period of doubt, He will truly provide. But should I dial back my expectations? Surely He will give me all that I ask. But hang on, St Mark writes “believe that you have it already” How do I ask for something that I already have?

I can’t see it. Not right now.

Maybe I need to stop asking and just keep praying in hope.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, I ask you to provide in my hour of need.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all that you will give to us.

30 May, Wednesday – Ransom Paid In Blood

30 May

________________

1 Peter 1:18-25

Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ; who, though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God.

You have been obedient to the truth and purified your souls until you can love like brothers, in sincerity; let your love for each other be real and from the heart – your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God. All flesh is grass and its glory like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. What is this word? It is the Good News that has been brought to you.

________________

Mark 10:32-45

The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

________________

..so that you would have faith and hope in God.

Dealing with loss can be rather traumatic. The death of a loved one, or having to let go of a beloved pet; losing a large business deal or losing one’s job; even having to let go of something that means a lot due to circumstances beyond one’s control. It has been an emotional few weeks for me as we deal with loss and the consequences of it. Never have I felt so helpless, so powerless to do anything except to just be present. Even then, I fear that I am too weak to be of any use or support. If only I had something to give, then everything will be alright. But in spite of our prayers, He has been quiet. At least from our perspective.

Today’s first reading reminds us that ‘the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ’ At times like this I truly wonder if His sacrifice, which was meant to save us from this earthly ‘prison’, was in vain. Surely Christ gave up His life for us so that we could enjoy (note the operative word here) a life that He meant for us to have? We didn’t work so hard for so long in order to have to give up the fruits of our labour.

What gives us hope is revealed later on as Peter writes, ‘The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. What is this word? It is the Good News that has been brought to you.’ So all that we know (the material life) will eventually wither and die, leaving us what Christ has delivered in the form of the Good News. And we cling on to the word of God, by going to daily mass and receiving communion; by going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and unburdening ourselves to Him; by recognising that He continues to pour out His graces into our lives and our hearts, in spite of our shortcomings or how we treat Him.

I don’t know for how long we will struggle but at some point, I know that He will take over completely. For now, we plod on in our mortal form, dealing with the gamut of negative emotions that come with loss. Perhaps this is a lesson for us to truly appreciate Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, a ransom paid in blood. I am reminded of a line in a song that always brings tears to my eyes – ‘…that a man would give his life for a friend’. Who else can proudly proclaim to another that his God sacrificed himself on a cross in order to save the world?

Brothers and sisters, we have just celebrated Pentecost and acknowledged the coming of the Holy Spirit. Whatever is going on in our lives right now, let us recognise that we are a chosen people, specially anointed to reflect His love and graces to others around us. In spite of all that we go through.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for courage, to learn how to die to ourselves and our desires so that you will be able to use us to build your kingdom. Help us to glorify you in all we say and do.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your being the constant help in our lives.