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20 April, Holy Saturday – Easter Vigil

20 April – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

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

Genesis 1:1-2:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.

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Origin Story

“God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.”

Today’s first reading harkens back to the Story of Creation.  It is fitting that as we contemplate the life, passion and crucifixion of Christ during the Easter Vigil, we are reminded of how it all began.

In comic book terminology, an origin story is a background narrative that informs readers of the identity and motivations of heroes and villains, and reveals the circumstances under which they gain their superhuman abilities.  Similarly, the Story of Creation in Genesis is a narrative of how nothing throughout the wide extent of nature has originated by chance but by the hands of the Creator.  From creating light and dividing light from darkness, God proceeds to tend to his creation by filling the earth with flora and fauna, before finally creating man in his own image.  It struck me how God methodically worked day by day – putting in the basics, seeing that it was good, before adding onto His creation.  God could have finished His work of creation at one go, yet He chose to phase it out.  This is perhaps telling of how He works in our lives as well.

Personally, this period of Lent has been a journey of searching and exploration.  There have been moments of darkness and doubt, akin to groping in the dark.  Each time I seem to gain some semblance of clarity, the goalpost would shift somewhat.  It feels like a never-ending journey where the GPS is constantly reconfigured to a changing destination.  While Carrie Underwood may have sung “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, this backseat driver wants to know where she is going!

Yet, we are reminded that God has a beautiful plan for each of us.  An ex-colleague contacted me out of the blue, and shared about his calling in long-term mission work.  He and his wife, already high-flyers in their own right, had secured their postgraduate scholarships and places in prestigious universities, so one can imagine how God’s calling truly upended their plans!  Magically, everything fell into place once they responded to the calling, and they are soon headed to Nepal.  Through his testimony, I am reminded that while God always has a plan, He usually gives just enough light to take the next step.

As we await the coming of the risen Christ, let us take heart that God our Creator has planned everything from the beginning, and continues to be with us even in our darkest moments.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: God, let us never forget that You are the wonderful Creator and that You make all things new.  Walk with us in our darkest moments, as we trust in Your plan for us.      

Thanksgiving: Father God, You sent Your Son to die for us so that we may have a personal relationship with You.  Thank You for Your gift of new life. 

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the mountain the Lord provides

In this passage, we read about Abraham’s obedience, even when God commanded him to offer up his beloved son, Isaac, as sacrifice.  It was revealed that God was in fact testing Abraham, and provided a ram caught by the horns in the bushes, which served as Isaac’s replacement.  In return, God blessed Abraham abundantly for his faithfulness.

It must have been a tremendous struggle for Abraham to say yes and follow through with God’s command.  Seeing that Abraham pleaded with God against the destruction of Sodom, I wonder if he had similarly begged God to let Isaac live.  Failing which, I wonder if Abraham had any “back-up” plan.  Did he consider fleeing with his family from the will of God?  Did he think about smuggling a sheep, or maybe a couple of turtle doves for his journey up the mountain of Moriah?  Since he made the journey with Isaac and two of his servants, wasn’t he tempted to use one of the servants to replace Isaac?  In the three-day journey, there would have been plenty of opportunities for Abraham to lose his nerve and not fulfil God’s will.  Yet Abraham stayed true to his word, and God, in his mercy, more than provided.

Abraham’s response brings to mind an anecdote from the book “With Open Hands”, Henri Nouwen’s book on prayer.  Nouwen narrates the story of a hysterical elderly woman bought to a psychiatric centre.  As her behaviour posed a danger to herself and others around her, the doctors had to take everything from her.  But there was one coin, her last possession, which she gripped in her fist and refused to surrender.  It was as though she would lose her very self in giving up the coin.  I am reminded of how often I try to will God to answer my prayers the way I want them.  I fear letting go of the present, preferring to stay within the comfort zone which I may not be fully satisfied with, rather than move towards a future which holds both uncertainty and promise.

Yes the fear is real.  But let us not be afraid, for God wants to enter our most intimate space.  He invites us to let go of what we are clinging onto so anxiously.  This was God’s test for Abraham, and this is His invitation to us today.  More than two thousand years ago, God sent his only Son as sacrifice to redeem us and provide for our salvation. If we are willing to surrender what little we have to God, we can also trust that His providence will prevail.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)

Prayer: Dear God, please help me discover that I am not what I own but what you want to give me – unconditional and everlasting love.      

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for Your providence.  Grant me the gift of faith to do Your will, so that I may be a visible sign of Your love.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Tools of the Trade

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name

Slippery socks in shifty shoes, buggy software, loose strings, and bent spatulas. Niggling things that get in the way of what we set out to do. When equipment fails and the tools that we trust let us down, nothing gets done. We feel discouraged, bemoan wasted opportunities and at worst, blame ourselves.

A pair of boots I owned was not giving me the stability that I needed on my snowboard. I tightened the laces, wore thicker socks, and strapped on my bindings as tightly as possible. But yet, my foot kept moving around. I was about to buy a different, stiffer pair but that’s when ingenuity struck. Taping a few pieces of foam around my heel locked my foot in place, and made all the difference.

Sometimes we can’t choose our gear; we have to play the hand that we’re dealt. But on most occasions, we do have more control than we think. Control to gear-up and face challenges head on. Control to make wise choices about the tools we use and the people on our team.

Just as Jesus picked his disciples, how David wielded his catapult, and how Christians grow in the word of God, we have to discern what best serves us in our struggle to live beautiful and bountiful lives.  We can pray, go for adoration, speak to wise friends, or trust our conscience. We will do and choose what work best, in pursuit of the greater glory of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: We ask for God to give us signs and symbols to light our paths.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for never forsaking us and for your perfect timing in all our life circumstances.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

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

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

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

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

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

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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What’s in a Name?

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name

Title-inflation is all the rage these days. CEOs, Directors, Leaders, and Transformationists abound on LinkedIn. While looking the part and crafting an image may be part of the traditional corporate battlefield, living up to those titles is the hardest component of personifying leadership.

Years ago when I had just started my career, a boss of mine once wisely said that he would have succeeded once the office could function without him. At the time I thought that it would be quite a quizzical use of money to pay a redudant employee. However, his words held true. Because of his demands for high standards, his sterling example, and his dedication to mentoring, our office was motivated to work hard and not let him down. He instilled a strong sense of mission in us and true enough, everything simply just worked regardless of whether he was around.

To be worthy of our names and to earn the respect of our flock, we need to do more than bestow ourselves with ranks or descriptors. We have to live our lives in ways worthy of emulation, and live for something bigger than ourselves. Jesus did just as such and is rightfully called our Lord.

I’ve been blessed to have had humble yet amazingly capable bosses who have shown me how heavy the mantle of leadership is. As I lead in, and out, of the workplace, I know that my title means nothing without hard work and Christian values underwriting my daily living. For all of you in positions of leadership (or with fancy titles), I ask that you consider how the title has shaped you, and how you will breathe renewed fervor into your roles.

Someone is surely watching, and waiting to be inspired.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Light in us, dear Lord, a fire of love for your people.

Thanksgiving: Thank you God for giving us Jesus as the perfect example of human existence.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

The favors of the Lord are not exhausted

How meaningful these words are, especially in knowing how often I ask God for the same thing… over and over and over again. Whether it is asking His forgiveness, the strength to ‘get through’, the ability to see and hear His guidance, or countless other repetitive prayers.

What peace I find in knowing that His favors do not run out. His favors are not measured out. His favors are not counted. His favors are not limited, even by my sins. His favors truly are inexhaustible…and as the verse continues, ‘…His mercies are not spent’.  He wants us to come to Him with everything and simply ASK. He wants to give us favor and His mercy.

If you are like me, then you have people in your life who you offer a ‘limit’ to –- a limit on YOUR time, a limit on YOUR compassion, a limit on YOUR love. These are the people who get on your nerves, the people who keep doing it wrong, the people who talk too much, or talk too much about things you don’t know or care about, or the people who don’t talk enough, and of course, the people who are not enough like you.

There is such favor in simply knowing HIS love and acceptance of us is not like ours –- He is not conditional. He never exhausts in loving us, despite our unloving nature. He never exhausts in wanting to be wholly with us, despite our hiding from Him. He never exhausts in calling us to Him, tarnished and sinful as we are, He has a place for us. Our true home is with Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Jesus, my desire is to walk in your footsteps, I know you have called me to love like You.  Help me to be limitless in my love for all those you allow in my space. Help me to look only for your face in all those I see.

Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for your inexhaustible favor, for your never ending mercies. Thank you for calling me, for loving me and for allowing me to return to you time and time again.

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SIXTH READING

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

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

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

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

Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us

Easter vigil is special for me this year, the familiar gospel story of Jesus’s resurrection taking on even greater meaning than usual. I have spent the first three months of 2019 fighting leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow that can be life-threatening if left untreated. By the grace of God, the disease has now gone into remission and a stem cell transplant that would provide a more lasting cure successfully carried out. All in time for Easter.

I will never forget how tough the journey was, or how desperately I clung on to God when the chemotherapy or radiotherapy gave rise to all sorts of side effects. The tougher the treatment, the harder I clung on to God. I have come to understand that there is very little that we can do when it comes to illnesses and disease. In fact, there is absolutely nothing we can do. I realised very early on in the treatment that only God could cure me, and that it was futile for me to do anything, except to trust in God and let Him heal me.

More importantly, I also came to see that the cancer was part of God’s plan for me. The suffering was not for nothing. Rather, in the depths of my suffering, I became closer to God through prayer. While illnesses and other unexpected circumstances can often take us by surprise, our response to such difficult times should not vary. Specifically, we should pray and cling every closer to our God. This is why the readings say that we are blessed, “for what pleases God is known to us”.

On this Easter vigil, let us draw closer to our God, the God who has gone to the cross for us and who will now arise from the tomb to save us. Let us love and praise Him as the gospels have taught us to. And should words fail us, I have often found it enough to just close my eyes and say: Jesus, I love You.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Dear Father, we pray that you will continue to grant Your mercy and comfort to all who are sick. We pray especially for all the little children who are stricken with cancer. We pray that You will show us, amid our physical suffering, that Your saving grace is enough to tide us through all hard times.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for healing and saving us, even when we are often unworthy. Thank you for giving us hope in our darkest hours, and life in the face of death.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

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

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

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

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

You shall be my people, and I will be your God

One of the most memorable times of a being a pet owner is when the owner chooses the name for the pet. To give a name to an animal means the individual is claiming ownership of the person. The readings of today look and remind us of how God is choosing to re-claim us as his children through the pouring of clean water over the people of Israel.

Sin has a way of making us ‘bone-dry’ – a lack of nourishment from the love of God. Indeed it is this issue which troubles a lot of people because they often feel that God is distant and they lack a sense of communication with God. Perhaps it will be good for us to consider what it is that is required from each one of us from God. Could it be a sense of entitlement where we expect God to demonstrate to us his existence? Continuing the analogy above, does the pet owner need to justify his existence to the pet?

Yet God’s ways are not our ways. He does not seek to demonstrate that he is the boss of our lives, but wants to be our father. A person who cares for us and shows us what it means to be loved. Indeed, God is love. This means that all of us can return to him without any fear of reprimand. The readings in the Easter Vigil remind us of the entire history of God’s love as written in the Bible. God wants us to love Him and he has already made the first step.

Brothers and sisters, what would be our response?

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Dear God, give us the grace to acknowledge our own shortcomings.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who continue to love us.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

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

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

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

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Dying to Self

When he died, he died, once for all, to sin

“Unless a grain of wheat shall fall upon the ground and die, it remains but a single grain with no life…”. So goes the lyrics of a popular traditional hymn, based on John 12:24. How does a grain ‘die’? Under the right conditions for germination, the cotyledons, or seed leaves, will gradually shrink as the nutrients inside are used up by the developing embryo.

So how should we die to ourselves so that we might have life? What is it that must be used up? In a recent homily, Archbishop William Goh spoke about how pride prevents us from dying to ourselves. The inability to forgive, the clinging on to the hurt and injustice done to oneself, the placing of self before others. These are signs of dysfunctional seed leaves. Without the expenditure of the nutrients, there can be no new life.

I am presently struggling with a self-imposed burden of hurt and disappointment. It is easy to say and think that I should let it go, but I do wonder if I really want to. Although the resulting feeling is a very unpleasant one, there is something oddly appealing about the thought that I am in the right and the person is in the wrong. To let go of the burden and try something called forgiveness seems to be giving out a signal that it is okay to be in the wrong. How can forgiveness help the person get better? What’s more, I sense a great need to protect myself from future episodes of the person’s wrongdoing that I am sure will bring me down a spiral of shock and disappointment again. But is this what dying to oneself is about? Using up my own precious emotional resources and risk hurting my well-being in the name of love for another? If so, this is a very challenging ‘yes’ to give to the Lord.

Following Christ entails a great deal of commitment to keep to the narrow path. Jesus’ teachings are demanding in that we are constantly challenged to make sacrifices and go against our natural instinct of self-preservation. As we celebrate the triumph of Jesus over sin and death this Easter, let us also pray for and seek the courage necessary to surrender our beings to God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer:  We pray for the grace and strength to love, in spite of ourselves.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many times when others forgave us for our iniquities.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

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

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

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

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

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Because He Lives

Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?

There is a certain blindness that is more debilitating than physical blindness – it is spiritual blindness. One could be staring at the same scene as other witnesses, at the same time, and have a completely different perspective. While that is normal, as Christ-believers, we have been graced with a spiritual lens to understand the difficult situations we find ourselves in.

What appears to be good, could turn for bad. What appears to be bad, could easily turn for good. It matters more that we pray for God’s grace to see the physical reality with eyes of eternity.

In the Gospel, the women were making their way to Jesus’ tomb to prepare his body for a burial ritual. But the empty tomb and bare stone on which Jesus’ body once lay, gravely shocked them. The angels who appeared were spiritual signposts pointing the women towards their memory of Christ’s prophetic words:

Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day?’ And they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6-7)

Then Peter rushes to the tomb to verify the women’s words. When he arrived, he looked on the ground and saw the evidence of this mystery – the unravelled binding cloths strewn on the ground. Unlike the other apostles who heard the same account by the women, Peter chose to believe what he heard.

With God, many incredulous realities in our daily lives can become a handle with which we hold on to His promise. I use the phrase ‘incredulous realities’ to refer to amazing miracles, as well as, devastating tragedies. As today’s Gospel passage goes, Christ’s death and disappearance of his body broke the hearts of the women. It also breaks them away from reality and ritual.

When we are broken down and broken apart, it definitely feels like a part of us has died. At the same time, with God in our hearts, and the fiery veil of the Holy Spirit, we can look at the mess before us, and still trust in the brilliant radiance of Christ’s resurrection. Lately, the ones I love and the people closest to me have repeatedly broken my heart with hurtful words and deeds. Many things are unresolved and reconciliation seems a far-off dream. But like the women were told, I choose to remember the many signposts God has given me of Christ redeeming life’s mess – and I will believe.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the wisdom to see past present pain into tomorrow’s victory, because you have risen and you have conquered sin and disappointment.

Thanksgiving: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, I know, He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

15 April, Saturday – Easter Vigil

15 April 2017 – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 5 from our writing team, along with 3 guest writers, Adele, Daryl and Cassandra have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

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

Genesis 1:1-2:2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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Exactly what you need to be

“Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”

In the run-up to Easter, there is the risk that we try to do too much and, in the process, lose sight of why we celebrate this spiritual season. We weigh ourselves down with so much of the ‘doing’ that we can’t find the time for ‘thinking’. Or ‘reflecting’. Or ‘praying’. Or ‘being’ with God.

Everything has its place in time. God could have created the world in an instant, yet He spread it out over 6 days, with a day of rest to reflect upon and appreciate all that was before him. Let’s take heed then and make this Vigil evening a time of thanksgiving for all that He has put in our lives – the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the friends, the foes, the blessings, the struggles, the triumphs and the disappointments. Everything in its proper place in time. This beautiful evening, let’s lay aside all of our ‘doing’ and focus on simply ‘being’ with God.

Lay down your cares. Right now, you are exactly where you need to be.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the awareness to appreciate the moments and the people in our lives, to not breeze past superficially, but fully breathe in the beauty of each.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the gifts and blessings that He has so generously showered upon us. May He give us the wisdom to be good stewards of them.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Abraham tested, faith tested

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. And the two of them went on together.

It seems that God is asking for an impossible sacrifice from Abraham, his only son. When God speaks His will for me in no uncertain terms, do I have the courage to obey Him, if it seems that there is a high personal price to pay? Do I have faith that His plans for me are the best ones? Do I understand that He loves me so lavishly and wholly, that what He asks of me, is most certainly for my good?

What is God asking me to give up?

When I am asked to give up something that I treasure, is my instinct to give generously and unquestioningly? Or do I harbor resentment towards God for this costly price of obedience? It is human nature to be ‘loss averse’, since behaviourial economics tell us that ‘losses loom larger than gains’, and the pain of losing something is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something of equivalent value. As a result, people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid a loss, but will be less motivated to take risks for acquiring equivalent gains.

In the reading of Genesis today, Abraham is tested to his limits when God asks for Isaac to be offered as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. I can only imagine the shock, grief and disbelief of a father, when Abraham spots the place that God had identified, and proceeds to build an altar, bind up Isaac, and prepares to take his knife to his only beloved son.

Why would a loving God ask this immense sacrifice of the people who love Him? Perhaps Abraham, in his heart, was hoping for a miracle, or an intervention?

I cannot begin to even imagine, the fear that Isaac might have felt, as his father led him into the isolation and desolation of the mountains. What might Isaac be thinking, as his own father bound him up, and appeared to be on the verge of killing him? Why did the passage not speak of any struggle on Isaac’s part? Why did he appear to accept his fate so calmly?

God’s lavish providence transcends our human understanding. What are the big and little ways that God is providing for you?

When I think back at the times where I experienced inexplicable, gut-wrenching losses, such as the painful breakdown of long cherished relationships and friendships, or sudden upheavals in my career that throw my livelihood into question, do I surrender to His providence? Or do I fight and cling on stubbornly to what I think I am entitled to and have painstakingly built, or hold on ever more tightly to the sand that is slipping through my fingers?

In my moments of extreme doubt, unhappiness and fear, I remember asking God, “What is Your purpose of taking this person, happiness or opportunity away from me? What is Your point of making me lose something so precious to me?” However, once the internal strife subsides, or when the initial shock wears off, when I can remain calm enough to consider the situation more clearly, like in Psalm 16, God will not “abandon me to Sheol, He cannot allow His faithful servant to see the abyss”, the final resolution or outcomes are often far better than what my human mind could previously imagine. Many times over, what God asks of me to give up is often replaced by His grace and provision beyond what I deserved. Like the angel that points out the ram that is meant to take Isaac’s place for the offering, God offers the best solutions to our challenges, only if we trust Him enough, to be open to His promptings.

Only when we trust God completely, can we fully welcome His love for us.

In Psalm 16:11, God “will teach me the path of life, unbounded joy in His presence, at His right hand delight forever”. When I let go of my human expectations of what my life ought to be like, how others should respond or reciprocate to my efforts, what my success is meant to be in worldly terms, or how God should grant me particular blessings, only then do I become open to rejoice in the abundance, delights and joys that God has already laid out for me. I would suffer a lot less heartache, anxiety and grief, when I choose to surrender completely to the circumstances that God has made for me to experience. Let us open our hearts and minds to God’s plan for our lives. For it is only in holding lightly, do we experience the magic of resting in our Father’s lavish love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Adele Khee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the humility and wisdom to discern Your will for me. Grant me the courage to obey You completely and trust in Your providence, especially when the costs seem impossible or unacceptable in my limited human understanding.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for Your divine providence, and Your care for the biggest concerns and smallest details of my life. I am grateful to You, Lord, for the people, circumstances and blessings that You have granted me, to help me become more like You.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Close Partnership with God

“Tell the sons of Israel to march on”

Over the last few years, my son has taken a fascination to ‘special abilities’. We have been asked, repeatedly over a period of time, whether we prefer to be able to slow time, or be in two places at one time or even to know what others are thinking.

Very often, we hope to be saved in a very tangible way by our God. Like a superhero, we imagine the day we would have our Lord pop up and rescue us from whatever we need to be rescued from.

I have always known the song “The Horse and Rider” of Psalm 15. In it, we read of how God defeated the Egyptians as the slaves crossed the Red Sea, about how God turned up like a superhero, coming to save the day.

In the 3rd reading today, we read that before the events of Psalm 15 happened, God gave Moses two instructions. Firstly, to “tell the sons of Israel to march on”, and secondly, for Moses to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the sea and part it.  God asked Moses to play his part so that God could play His!

Rather than having God swoop in and solve our problems, I believe God asks us to be active participants in the solution. He wants us to first begin the process, then let Him take over and do the rest. Rather than being passive in the whole process, I feel that God wants us to be collaborators; to work in partnership with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we will have the courage to collaborate with You; to take the first steps in allowing You to work within our lives.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father for working within our lives; for teaching us to take the first step in working closely with You.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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Strength in Commitment

“With great love will I take you back”

I remember attending the Marriage Preparation Course twenty years ago. One of the most memorable takeaways I remember is that love was not just an emotion; it was also a decision. Many older married couples counseled us, saying that beyond the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, making love work would take conscious decisions, which need to be made and reaffirmed time and again.

In the 4th reading today, we get a sense of the level of commitment our God has for us. The reading reminds us that whatever difficulties a wife may face with the husband, they return to the marital promise of being there for each other.

My wife and I have been married 20 years this year. Indeed, the advice and words from our elders came true during the years. Many friends have told me that both my wife and I are blessed to have a successful marriage. The truth is, however, that our marriage took very hard work, with many ups and downs along the way. Ultimately though, the decision was, for the both of us, we would work on our marriage no matter how hard it took.

Let us cling to this strong commitment that our God has for us and remember that whatever happens, He is there for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, help us to always remember that You are always there for us, loving us.

ThanksgivingThank You Lord, for the deep commitment You have given us. Thank You for being there for us, no matter what.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Jesus is waiting for you

Listen, that you may have life.

The end of 2016 wasn’t not easy going for me – spiritual dryness, praying was especially hard and I struggled to find meaning in my very existence. It was a time of sheer darkness. My God had abandoned me! So by January, I knew I needed to just get away from it all. To be completely alone, to come away from ‘life’ as I knew it.

I marked the beginning of Lent by spending a week away on a retreat. I had planned to go with a friend, but that friend pulled out due to work commitments. I found another willing companion but just days before, she too pulled out. Eventually I went alone. I have never before travelled on my own; work trips excluded. But the Lord planned that I would make this journey on my own. I needed this quiet time away but truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, learning from past experiences, nothing goes according to my plan. On previous silent retreats, I would list a slew of questions and our God of surprises would throw my list out of the window. Still, on the very first day, I wrote in my journal 4 objectives for my retreat. How typical of me to set ‘the agenda’ for this ‘meeting’. But even as I wrote in my book, I was thinking to myself “I bet none of these questions would be covered.”

On route to my destination, I was reading and came across this line which struck me. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? I had been worried about a situation I was facing and reading this was very comforting. Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money come! And so, my retreat began.

For some time, I kept questioning what my reason for being is – my vocation. I was convinced that the Lord was simply silent to that question. But during this time, when I shut out all my own thoughts and feelings, I heard it loud and clear — “Your vocation is not static. It moves and evolves”. It was like ‘wham!’ a lightning bolt, and it all became clear in my mind. While I was so busy wallowing in my self-constructed prison of darkness, the answer was as simple and clear as day, right before me and yet I never saw it. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.

God yearns to speak to us and lead us – we can choose to listen, or go our own merry way. He gives us free will. As for me, my head was so busy and noisy with my own thoughts and ways of fixing my problem that I practically shut out His voice. And of course, my way was not the best way. I found myself completely lost in a maze. Then like a spoilt child, I scream and throw a tantrum saying that God has abandoned me. It was only when I finally gave up, gave in and gave it all to Jesus that I heard Him. I acknowledged that it was I who walked away from Him, while all along, He never left my side. I came away from my vacation with Jesus refreshed, recharged, with a sense of hope and purpose. And yes, He did answer my questions this time!

So today, as we are just hours away from Easter, can we let ourselves out of the tomb of darkness? The darkness and pain that we are so accustomed to and walk out into the light?

Jesus is waiting just outside, my friends!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, teach us to silence our hearts and minds that we might hear you speaking. Teach us to seek you and call to you when we are lost and in need of your nourishment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for rejuvenating our souls. Your words are refreshing cool spring waters on a parched soul. Thank you for being our strength and comfort.


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SIXTH READING

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

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

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

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

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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To Listen is to Love

“Had you walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in enduring peace”

 I’ve heard it said many times before that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’m not so sure. For one it leaves me feeling foolish whenever I come across that mountain of bad decisions I’ve made in my life. What if I had done things differently or taken another path, would I be better off now? But then, what is better off? It would be what I perceived to be better off, maybe even what the world perceives to be ‘better off’.

But where would God fit into my life if I didn’t make bad decisions then beg for divine intervention? I might look back one day and say, if only I didn’t have it all together then God would have entered my life sooner. Much like the Israelites in slavery, did we ever find out what got them there in the first place? Then in being rescued, the journey took so long that while God was rescuing them, they wanted to abandon him again.

I think our journeys into the light are long and painful, filled with valleys and peaks so that we can stand tall at the end and say with true marvellous reverence, “My Lord and My God”.

How much more do we appreciate that which we fought so hard for, how much more do we appreciate the airport we land in when the flight was 24 hours long with 3 connections, when we find the place of wisdom and enter into her treasuries where we find peace, we can truly appreciate being there and dwelling there.

Our history is blessed, it had led us to where we are now, with all our failings and misdeeds. We have been called out of slavery and into everlasting life. Hindsight works for some, not so for others, but for me, I’m blessed to be able to look back at the journey that I am still on, in fact, and boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, he is strong and if I let him, he will carry me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: The path to you is narrow and filled with dangers; but you, my Saviour, can bring me home. Grant me that trust and reliance on you my Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for my blessed history. Let me gain wisdom by reflecting on my past to help me rely on you more every day.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

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

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

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

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

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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The Struggles in Prayer

Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.

Often in prayer, I have to overcome a barrier — my sense of unworthiness. I frequently enter into prayer with a sense of shame. A shame that I have not been living as closely with God as ‘I should’; that I have not been talking to God as ‘I should’. Needless to say, these thoughts keep me focused on myself and my inadequacies, causing prayer to be a very heavy and burdensome experience.

The verse above provides a sense of liberation. God treats me well not because I deserve it, but because of His own name. Perhaps it would help to think about how I treat certain individuals that I dislike in order to understand how God treats me when I act poorly.

When I am tempted to be unkind to people I dislike, I refrain from acting like this because I cannot live with myself being an unkind and cruel person. I find myself instead extending general courtesy towards them. If I, a human being and a sinner, can withhold from acting nastily or cruelly because it is not in my nature to do so, what more God?

In fact, God goes further. He doesn’t just treat me civilly; the way I do with people I am not fond of. He doesn’t just keep me at arm’s length when He is displeased with me. On the contrary, He pursues and gathers me home, cleanses me, changes my heart and calls me, a sinner, “Mine”. He does this because His nature is that of a loving Father – one who patiently woos and changes hearts, one that always welcomes His children home, one that does His best to let His children feel safe at home.

If I imagined God as this loving Father who is here to welcome me, hold me, help me, renew my heart, make me more like Him, would I enter into prayer differently? Would I still shrink into the darkness of self-condemnation or would I relax into His loving and compassionate light?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Nathalia)

Prayer: Dear Father, I pray to relax into Your loving and compassionate embrace. I pray to let go of my habit of judging myself, and build a new habit of focusing on who You are and how You will always act in accordance with Your loving nature.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that because God’s nature is good, He will always be good to us. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’.


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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

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

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

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

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

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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All you who long for Life

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.

This scripture passage reminds me of the story of Lazarus having died and been buried in the tomb for three days. We have encountered this story during Lent. And so we know that Jesus arrived late, he witnessed the grief of Mary and Martha, and he mourned with them. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Jesus called Lazarus to arise from his death and walk out from the tomb.

Tonight, we will witness the baptism of new members into our Catholic family. It is a tremendously joyous occasion, one filled with jubilation and hope and new life! At the same time, the readings also call us to a powerful reality we must contend with as Christians, and that is the fact of death, or the need to die. Dying is such an important part of life, that God uses death to reveal to us a conundrum – it does not only happen at the end of one’s life. Death is a powerful gateway to true and eternal Life. ‘But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him… in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:8,11).

Many of us may never fully understand this until we are finitely confronted with death in its literal sense. We realize how helpless we truly are in the face of our mortality, and those of our loved ones, or even, the millions of refugees in war-torn lands. Even so, how would this knowledge touch our souls?

From my experience, dying will happen to us on three levels of our reality, although each may be felt differently. The first is literal (the loss of life), the second metaphorical or emotional (the loss of a relationship, a dream), and the third being spiritual (death to one’s sin, death to the spiritual life, the loss of hope, depression).

In the light of baptism and our renewal of our baptismal vows together with the congregation, we are called to choose to die to our sin, to reject Satan and his lies, to trust that our redemption and true life will come with His Resurrection. It will not be easy, as some of us struggle with addictions, compulsions and even blindness to our wrongs. Still, we pray humbly for the courage to wage this battle, knowing full well that our hope and victory come through the power of Christ’s Precious Blood and Body. We are called and chosen to hold the great I AM in our hands and taste of His true flesh and blood. May we never take the Eucharist for granted.

At the same time, I feel called to address my brothers and sisters who are struggling with your faith, with elements of our faith, with your own desolation, depression, and despair, who feel daily dead in their spirits or lost in loneliness. As Jesus comforts Mary and Martha, “this [illness, pain, doubt or suffering] does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). This is a death that is hardest to talk about amongst even the closest of friends and family. But the Christ whom you have once professed faith in and who has chosen you, He sees you. He sees through, hidden as it may be. He feels your pain and struggles, your doubts and confusion, your despair and sorrow.

Oftentimes, there are no quick fixes, no three-day empowerment programs, no majestic resurrection moments. Do not be discouraged. Do not shudder or recoil at the glory of these “Alleluia!” Scriptures that are promised you tonight, simply because you can not presently feel the joy or hope.

This is the heroism of our faith, that we, human as we are, are called upon to defy the darkness, in spite of our own darkness. Trust! Hold fast! The glory of God and His Son is still germinating in the dark soil beneath wherever you are standing, and it will take time. It must take time. We have the Christ, who is King over all of the living and the dead, and especially these agonising in-between spaces. He has traversed these boundaries and revealed His Eternal Dominion over all of time and space. Have faith. I know that three days can sometimes feel like forever. I know because I have been stuck before. But I know Christ has always remained faithful in these spaces with me. Even if I had been blind to it. He has never let me go, and He has raised me up. He will never let you go, and He will raise you up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, please make known your love and presence to those who are struggling with sorrow, doubt, depression. May they sense the warmth of your Precious Blood even in the darkness.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for the gift of faith, the grace of baptism, and the Holy Spirit who protects me at all times.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

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

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

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

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

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

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

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