Tag Archives: edith koh

9 June, Saturday – A Life Of Surrender

June 9 – Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary began as early as the twelfth century. During the seventeenth century in France, St John Eudes popularised this devotion along with that to the Sacred Heart. St Luke’s Gospel twice mentions that Mary ‘kept all these things in her heart’, pondering the word of God. Mary shows us how to listen to the words the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the depths of our hearts, and how to respond in faith.

Source: Universalis

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The attention of Christians was early attracted by the love and virtues of the Heart of Mary. The Gospel itself invited this attention with exquisite discretion and delicacy. What was first excited was compassion for the Virgin Mother. It was, so to speak, at the foot of the Cross that the Christian heart first made the acquaintance of the Heart of Mary. Simeon’s prophecy paved the way and furnished the devotion with one of its favourite formulae and most popular representations: the heart pierced with a sword. But Mary was not merely passive at the foot of the Cross; “she cooperated through charity”, as St. Augustine says, “in the work of our redemption”.

In the midst of the second world war Pope Pius XII put the whole world under the special protection of our Savior’s Mother by consecrating it to her Immaculate Heart, and in 1944 he decreed that in the future the whole Church should celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is not a new devotion. In the seventeenth century, St. John Eudes preached it together with that of the Sacred Heart; in the nineteenth century, Pius VII and Pius IX allowed several churches to celebrate a feast of the Pure Heart of Mary. Pius XII instituted today’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the whole Church, so as to obtain by her intercession “peace among nations, freedom for the Church, the conversion of sinners, the love of purity and the practice of virtue” (Decree of May 4, 1944).

Source: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2016-06-04

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2 Timothy 4:1-8

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching. The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths. Be careful always to choose the right course; be brave under trials; make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.

As for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

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Luke 2:41-51

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’

‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart.

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Why were you looking for me?

A common struggle of faith is one of letting go and trusting in God. There are many things in life that we want to hang on to, and as described by Bishop Robert Barron, they can be grouped into these four categories – power, wealth, honour and pleasure. Each of us has our ‘favourite’ addictions from one or more of these categories that appeal to our self-indulgent nature, and they are constant barriers in our relationship with God.

In today’s gospel passage, we come across a familiar account, that of the finding of the boy Jesus in the temple. Instead of following his family and relatives on their trip home, Jesus had stayed behind to converse with the religious teachers. Mary, in particular, would likely be feeling extreme anxiety about not being able to locate her son. Imagine her relief when she sees him in the temple, and naturally, there is a tone of reproach in her voice as she speaks to Jesus. His unexpected response would perhaps have caused her to feel taken aback and confused. We do not know if Jesus had made mention of his mission in the years before he turned twelve, but this is likely the first instance since the immaculate conception that Mary is told about her son’s purpose in the world. As before, even though she may not fully understand what is in store, she accepts and trusts in God’s plans for her and her son.

The Old and New Testament is replete with examples of people who made great personal sacrifices in their commitment to a life serving the Lord. They seem to be the exception to the norm, but really, each one of Christ’s followers is called to surrender their lives to the Lord. He must always come first. We struggle, as there is always a tendency to cave in to self-serving desires instead of being obedient to God. As we stumble, fall, and pick ourselves up again in our daily battles with sin, may we draw inspiration from our Blessed Mother in the complete dedication of her life to the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that Mary continue to intercede for us, and that our weakness may become a source of divine grace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times when the Lord shows us His reassuring love when we surrender our lives to Him.

6 June, Wednesday – God Of The Living

Jun 6 – Memorial for St. Norbert, bishop, religious founder

St. Norbert (1080-1134) had been born to the nobility and raised around the royal court. There he developed a very worldly view, taking holy orders as a career move when he joined the Benedictines. A narrow escape from death led him to a conversion experience, and taking his vows seriously.

He founded a community of Augustinian canons, starting a reform movement that swept through European monastic houses. St. Norbert also reformed the clergy in his see, using force when necessary. He worked with St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Hugh of Grenoble to heal the schism caused by the death of Pope Honorius II, and for heresy in Cambrai, France with the help of St. Waltmann. He is one of the patron saints of peace.

  • – Patron Saint Index

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2 Timothy 1:1-3,6-12

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus in his design to promise life in Christ Jesus; to Timothy, dear child of mine, wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

Night and day I thank God, keeping my conscience clear and remembering my duty to him as my ancestors did, and always I remember you in my prayers. That is why I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy – not because of anything we ourselves have done but for his own purpose and by his own grace. This grace had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus. He abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News; and I have been named its herald, its apostle and its teacher.

It is only on account of this that I am experiencing fresh hardships here now; but I have not lost confidence, because I know who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to take care of all that I have entrusted to him until that Day.

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Mark 12:18-27

Some Sadducees – who deny that there is a resurrection – came to him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first married a wife and then died leaving no children. The second married the widow, and he too died leaving no children; with the third it was the same, and none of the seven left any children. Last of all the woman herself died. Now at the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be, since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus said to them, ‘Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the Bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken.’

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He is God, not of the dead, but of the living

I would think that there is no one question more important to each person than the purpose of his/her existence. Birth, life and death are great mysteries, and, as we journey towards the inevitable end, there will certainly be wonder, fear and contemplation about what awaits. There are some who believe in an afterlife, and there are some who don’t. The latter group might dismiss a belief in the afterlife as something that is invented to ease people’s fear of death, but surely, it is more than a human invention if there is an entire (seemingly impossible to accomplish) body of teachings about how to live life in this world, in preparation for an afterlife with God?

The Sadducees in today’s gospel reading did not believe in an afterlife, nor a resurrection, for that matter. Fully aware that the Sadducees only acknowledged the authority of the first five books of the bible (Genesis to Deuteronomy), Jesus wisely made reference to Exodus in response to their theological challenge to him. He asserts that souls do live on after the death of the physical bodies, and that relationships like marriages are no longer existent in the afterlife.

The gospel reading reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 14:3 – “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Sometimes, when I think about what will happen after death, I am overcome with fear over the uncertainty. But instead of clinging on to that fear which is ultimately, unproductive and crippling, I am instead beginning to recognise that one thing is for certain — we cannot do in the afterlife what we can do on this earth and in this realm of existence. So we have to keep going on, keeping faith in Jesus’ words and trusting that the Spirit will lead us to who we are meant to be.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will always remember to trust in the Lord.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the reassuring love of God, made ever more present in the person of Christ.

21 April, Saturday – The Bread Of Life

21 Apr – Memorial for St. Anselm, bishop & doctor

Anselm (1033-1109) was born of Italian nobility. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, he wanted to enter religious life, but his father prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon his mother’s death, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France, and became a Benedictine monk at Bec, Normandy. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as abbot, before later becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm was a theological writer and counsellor to Pope Gregory VII, Pope Urban II, and William the Conqueror. He opposed slavery and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He fought King William Rufus’ encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independences of the Church, and was exiled. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at the Council of Bari in 1098. He strongly supported celibate clergy. King Henry I invited him to return to England, but they disputed over investitures, and Anselm was again exiled in 1106.

He was one of the great philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages, and was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1720 by Pope Clement XI.

No one will have any other desire in heaven than what God wills; and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God.”

– Anselm, Opera Omnis, Letter 112

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 9:31-42

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

Peter visited one place after another and eventually came to the saints living down in Lydda. There he found a man called Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you: get up and fold up your sleeping mat.’ Aeneas got up immediately; everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they were all converted to the Lord.

At Jaffa there was a woman disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, who never tired of doing good or giving in charity. But the time came when she got ill and died, and they washed her and laid her out in a room upstairs. Lydda is not far from Jaffa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men with an urgent message for him, ‘Come and visit us as soon as possible.’

Peter went back with them straightaway, and on his arrival they took him to the upstairs room, where all the widows stood round him in tears, showing him tunics and other clothes Dorcas had made when she was with them. Peter sent them all out of the room and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up.’ She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet, then he called in the saints and widows and showed them she was alive. The whole of Jaffa heard about it and many believed in the Lord.

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John 6:60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.

The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

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The words I have spoken to you are spirit

A couple of friends and I recently surveyed a number of Catholics on their reasons for attending mass. A range of responses were given, from spending time with the Lord, to worshipping with a community, and also accompanying family members to church.

Today’s gospel reading sees Jesus at the end of His famous bread of life discourse. The discourse comes after Jesus fed the five thousand and was seen to walk on water. Despite all the miraculous works they had witnessed or heard about, a large number of his followers left him after hearing Jesus’ response to their request for the bread that comes down from heaven. They could not accept his claim that he came from heaven, and worse, the invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. After they left, Jesus had the opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings about his eucharistic teaching to his remaining followers, but he did not do that. This absence of clarification is significant in its indication that Jesus truly meant for his flesh and blood to be consumed.

Brothers and sisters, the Church has sustained this doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist for over two millennia. After receiving the body and blood of Christ during mass, the faithful are considered to be better formed to transform the world. It is not just about the quiet time with the Lord, or communion with other members of the church, but to go forth and fulfil our mission to radiate the life and peace of Christ to others.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can better live out our mission to bring Christ to the world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times when our inner transformation led others to know Christ.

20 April, Friday – Encounter With Jesus

20 April

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Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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There came a light from heaven all round him

The Case for Christ, which was recently made into a movie by PureFlix, is a book by a former atheist who started off attempting to discredit the Christian faith, but ended up becoming a convert. It began with the conversion of his wife, which prompted him to find evidence that would disprove Christianity. He applied his skills as an investigative journalist to interview several renowned religious scholars about Christianity, a process which proved to be a life-changing experience for him. Although it appeared that he converted in the face of overwhelming evidence for the existence of God and Jesus, and the authenticity of biblical content, I am quite sure that he must have had a personal encounter with Jesus through his investigations.

The conversion experience of Saul is perhaps one of the most dramatic in the gospel. Perhaps Saul needed something of that nature to cause him to make a complete turnaround towards Christianity. I have been reading Bishop Barron’s latest book To Light a Fire On the Earth, and in it, there is a quote from Pope Benedict XVI that Bishop Barron specifically states as something that Christians should always keep within sight. It is a statement from the document Deus Caritas Est – “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

A lot of people approach religion purely with reason and logic; and while that might be helpful in convincing one about the truth of Christ’s teachings, faith must come into the picture at some point. And faith is something that is often sparked by personal encounters with the Lord, helping us realise that there is a creator who loves us.

How have you encountered Jesus in your life? It might have been through a crisis, a miraculous occurrence, however big or small, people you meet, or sometimes, the ‘voice in your head’. Whatever the encounters are, how did they give your life a new horizon and a decisive direction?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will be open and receptive to encountering the Lord in every aspect of our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith.

19 April, Thursday – Talking About Jesus

14 April
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Acts 8:26-40

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:

Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!

The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.

Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.

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John 6:44-51

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
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I am the bread of life

When was the last time you spoke about Jesus to a non-Christian? My response to that question would be that I cannot recall ever having done so. Sure, I have done numerous personal sharings about my faith and spiritual life in small groups, but the audience was always Catholic. I do believe that my calling lies in working with fellow believers, but it always bugs me when I imagine myself sharing my faith with a non-Christian and I draw a blank. I do not even know how and where to start, and I know I would fear jeopardising the friendship if I end up sounding too ‘pushy’.

I thought that today’s first reading is a beautiful account of evangelization. Philip obediently follows the call of the Lord without knowing what is in store for him. He ends up meeting a foreigner and explaining scripture to him, likely by drawing links between the Old Testament readings and the messianic message and person of Christ. The Ethiopian official is receptive and humble in seeking knowledge, and what Philip said must have struck a chord with him, such that he asks to be baptized almost right away when he saw a body of water. I wonder what their conversation was like, for the Ethiopian to express such conviction and enthusiasm for the faith.

Some may assert, and I have definitely heard it said before, that it is more important to live the Word through one’s actions, attitude and behavior towards others, rather than know a lot about scripture but lead a life devoid of Christian values. Even so, this does not excuse one from not knowing scripture. Anyone can lead a life based on Christian values, yet not know Christ. I see a responsibility for practising Christians to have a kind of script in their minds that they can readily share with others; something that integrates their life experiences with the redeeming power of the Lord.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that more people will recognise their thirst and hunger for the living God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the tireless evangelical work of missionaries, priests and lay people.

18 April, Wednesday – Journeys’ End

18 April
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Acts 8:1-8

That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles fled to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria.

There were some devout people, however, who buried Stephen and made great mourning for him.

Saul then worked for the total destruction of the Church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison.

Those who had escaped went from place to place preaching the Good News. One of them was Philip who went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.
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John 6:35-40

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.
But, as I have told you,
you can see me and still you do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away;
because I have come from heaven, not to do my own will,
but to do the will of the one who sent me.
Now the will of him who sent me
is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me,
and that I should raise it up on the last day.
Yes, it is my Father’s will
that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,
and that I shall raise him up on the last day.’
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Whoever sees the Son and believes in him

Lately, a combination of factors led me to seriously contemplate the concept of death, particularly what awaits us afterwards. I have left my full-time job for more than a year, giving me increased mental ‘bandwidth’ to dwell on these big questions in life. Coupled with my observation of my mom’s journey into old age and her gradual deterioration into a physically weaker version of her former self, I could not help but ponder our mortality. Naturally, along with it, came a serious examination, or shall I say re-examination, of the church’s teachings about eternal life with our Father in heaven. Maybe I lack trust in God, and/or I am not reading the gospel through the eyes of love and faith, but I am presently struggling with doubts about our fate at the end of our pilgrimage in this world.

Post-resurrection, the apostles and followers of Christ wasted no time in setting up a Christ-centred community to spread His word. Did they fully understand His teachings at that time? I am not sure that they had all the head knowledge, but they definitely had the heart, and of course the Spirit was in them. Collectively, they sought to emulate their Lord and master in His ministry, knowing that they had a mission to spread the message of salvation, and that their own salvation awaited them at their journeys’ end.

After I told a priest about my struggles with the faith, he shared that he struggled with his own doubts for a few decades, and encouraged me to persevere in reading scripture. I think reading scripture is not sufficient though. I would have to continue to sustain a life of service in the Lord, and see His face through love for my neighbours, in whatever ways I can.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that in times of struggles, doubts and crises of faith, the Spirit may give us the hope we need.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the grace of redemption and opportunities to try again.

24 January, Wednesday – Seeds for All

24 Jan – Memorial for St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born in a castle to a well-placed family. His parents intended him to become a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche, Annecy, Clermont College in Paris, and law at the University of Padua. He became a Doctor of Law, returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.

It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me”. He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.

He became a priest, and a provost in the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Calvinists. He was a preacher, writer and spiritual director in the distrcit of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church.

He was ordained Bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. He travelled and evangelized throughout the Duchy of Savoy, working with children whenever he could. He was a friend of St. Vincent de Paul. He turned down a wealthy French bishopric. He helped found the Order of the Visitation with St. Jeanne de Chantal. He was a prolific correspondent. He was declared a Doctor of the Church.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Samuel 7:4-17

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:
‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I have never stayed in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until today, but have always led a wanderer’s life in a tent. In all my journeying with the whole people of Israel, did I say to any one of the judges of Israel, whom I had appointed as shepherds of Israel my people: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” This is what you must say to my servant David, “the Lord of Hosts says this: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. (It is he who shall build a house for my name, and I will make his royal throne secure for ever.) I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favour from him, as I withdrew it from your predecessor. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

Nathan related all these words to David and this whole revelation.

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Mark 4:1-20

Jesus began to teach by the lakeside, but such a huge crowd gathered round him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there. The people were all along the shore, at the water’s edge. He taught them many things in parables, and in the course of his teaching he said to them, ‘Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow. Now it happened that, as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and sprang up straightaway, because there was no depth of earth; and when the sun came up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away. Some seed fell into thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it produced no crop. And some seeds fell into rich soil and, growing tall and strong, produced crop; and yielded thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’

When he was alone, the Twelve, together with the others who formed his company, asked what the parables meant. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may see and see again, but not perceive; may hear and hear again, but not understand; otherwise they might be converted and be forgiven.’

He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. Those on the edge of the path where the word is sown are people who have no sooner heard it than Satan comes and carries away the word that was sown in them. Similarly, those who receive the seed on patches of rock are people who, when first they hear the word, welcome it at once with joy. But they have no root in them, they do not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, they fall away at once. Then there are others who receive the seed in thorns. These have heard the word, but the worries of this world, the lure of riches and all the other passions come in to choke the word, and so it produces nothing. And there are those who have received the seed in rich soil: they hear the word and accept it and yield a harvest, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

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What the sower is sowing is the word

Among the huge variety of videos that one might view on Facebook, there would be those rare handful that are particularly heartwarming, uplifting and inspiring. The story of Ian Manuel and Debbie Baigrie is one such example. When Ian was 13, he was involved with an attempted robbery that ended with him shooting Debbie in the face. She miraculously survived, and Ian was given life imprisonment after confessing to the crime. While in prison, he called Debbie to ask for her forgiveness. She not only forgave him, she became his friend and advocate, helping to end the practice of giving juveniles life-without-parole sentences for crimes of lesser severity than murder.

The parable of the sower is a well-known one, and readers of this parable would usually relate to this parable by immediately placing themselves into one of the categories of receivers – are they the path, rocky ground, full of thorns or good soil? While preparing for this reflection, I came across the following quote by John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers. “As the sower fairly and indiscriminately disperses seed broadly over all his field, so does God offer gifts to all, making no distinction between rich and poor, wise and foolish, lazy or diligent, brave or cowardly. He addresses everyone, fulfilling his part, although knowing the results beforehand…” If we are the sower, we would probably think that it is an unwise and highly uneconomical move to sow seeds along the path and among thorns. Our resources are, after all, limited. But God does not face the same constraints we do. His love and grace are always in abundance for all who are open to them, even if they do not appear to be worthy or suitable recipients.

What is so appealing about Debbie and Ian’s story? Both of them had made unlikely moves — one showed incredible humility and courage in seeking forgiveness from someone he almost killed, while the victim went beyond forgiveness to offer help and support to her attacker. Perhaps, in our effort to lead Christ-like lives, one of the keys is to make unlikely moves that will help others transform themselves from a path to a field, rocks to soil, thorn-filled to thorn-free.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the discipline to turn away from sin and find the strength to make the difficult but God-loving decisions that are uncomfortable for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the forgiveness of God.

23 January, Tuesday – The Personal Touch

23 January

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2 Samuel 6:12-15,17-19

David went and brought the ark of God up from Obed-edom’s house to the Citadel of David with great rejoicing. When the bearers of the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fat sheep. And David danced whirling round before the Lord with all his might, wearing a linen loincloth round him. Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with acclaim and the sound of the horn. They brought the ark of the Lord in and put it in position inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered holocausts before the Lord, and communion sacrifices. And when David had finished offering holocausts and communion sacrifices, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Hosts. He then distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israelites, men and women, a roll of bread to each, a portion of dates, and a raisin cake. Then they all went away, each to his own house.

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Mark 3:31-35

The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’

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Here are my mother and my brothers

A recent ‘movement’, or ministry that is gaining traction within the Catholic community in Singapore is Landings, a platform that offers Catholics the opportunity to reconnect with the church. My parish is one of the two in Singapore that offers this networking experience, and I have heard and read a few testimonies of returning Catholics. Although they might feel the promptings of returning to the church due to personal crises or revelations, it is not easy for them to do so alone. A ministry like Landings offers them the opportunity to join a faith community without feeling awkward or judged for their so-called ‘level of faith’. This personal and supportive connection has drawn many back to the church.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus refers to his disciples as his brethren, his spiritual brothers and sisters. He is not disregarding his family, but pointing his disciples to a higher order of relationships – one that is between God and self, and along with it, between members of God’s family. Since we are all heading towards the same goal, I find that it is more meaningful if we journey there together.

I must say that my record of helping to lead others, be it Catholics or non-Christians, to the church is pretty much a blank slate. I admit that I often feel shy about inviting people, especially those who are not part of the church community, to join me for faith-based events and activities. The challenges of doing this form of evangelising appear very daunting for me, as I am more comfortable taking a non-face-to-face approach, e.g. through writing. Although that is also a legitimate form of evangelisation, most people still need the personal touch to feel connected to a faith community. As we enter a new year, I pray that there will be more such opportunities for outreach.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for those who are working tirelessly to bring our brethren back to the church, that they may be blessed with perseverance and faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of community and fellowship.

21 January, Sunday – Who do you want to be?

21 January
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Jonah 3:1-5,10

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.

God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

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1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Brothers: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.
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Mark 1:14-20

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.
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The world as we know it is passing away

Recently, I started watching the video series titled “Who Am I to Judge” by Dr Edward Sri. The series is available on the formed.org website, which is accessible via a parish subscription. The first episode of the series starts with a moral dilemma posed by Dr Sri. A married man is abroad on a business trip. He meets an attractive woman on the way, and she happens to be staying at the same hotel as he is. They have a great chat at the bar over drinks, and afterwards she invites him to her room. Should he go? There was some interesting Q and A with his students about what this man should and should not do, and why. The point that Dr Sri was trying to make was not about how to analyse and justify moral decisions, but that one would know what to do in such a situation if one knows what kind of person he/she wants to become.

Advent took place not too long ago, and you might recall that in the run-up to Christmas, all the daily readings were exhortations about the end-times, and how we should prepare ourselves to meet Jesus. The first two readings for today are a reminder to always direct our lives towards the Lord.

It is very fashionable nowadays to talk about ‘living life to the full’. Certainly, that involves living in the present and appreciating all that life has to offer you. A lot of people will probably also associate this idea with pursuing happiness in the things that we do. I want to offer an alternative perspective, based on what I learned from Dr Sri’s videos. That to live life to the full means that in every decision we make, we make it in accordance with the type of person that we want to be. It may not necessarily bring about happiness; in fact, it may cause us agony when we act contrary to our own desires. But the more we practise virtues, the more they will grow in us and the more naturally these decisions will be made.

You might wish to spend some time today or this week to reflect on these questions — What kind of person do you want to become? What is the purpose that you want to fulfil by the end of your life?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to discern our purpose in life, and to commit to that purpose.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times when we found deep meaning in the things we do.

28 December, Thursday – Incarnation

Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

During this octave of Christmas, the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of the neighborhood of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. Sacrificed by a wicked monarch, these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men. But the persecutors are powerless, for Christ came to perform a work of salvation that nothing can prevent; when He fell into the hands of His enemies at the time chosen by God, it was to redeem the world by His own Blood.

Our Christmas joy is tempered today by a feeling of sadness. But the Church looks principally to the glory of the children, of these innocent victims, whom she shows us in heaven following the Lamb wherever He goes.

– CatholicCulture.org

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1 John 1:5-2:2

This is what we have heard from Jesus Christ,
and the message that we are announcing to you:
God is light; there is no darkness in him at all.
If we say that we are in union with God
while we are living in darkness,
we are lying because we are not living the truth.
But if we live our lives in the light,
as he is in the light,
we are in union with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son,
purifies us from all sin.

If we say we have no sin in us,
we are deceiving ourselves
and refusing to admit the truth;
but if we acknowledge our sins,
then God who is faithful and just
will forgive our sins and purify us
from everything that is wrong.
To say that we have never sinned
is to call God a liar
and to show that his word is not in us.

I am writing this, my children,
to stop you sinning;
but if anyone should sin,
we have our advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, who is just;
he is the sacrifice that takes our sins away,
and not only ours,
but the whole world’s.

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Matthew 2:13-18

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.

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He is the sacrifice that takes our sins away

The Jewish people had been hoping for a messiah for a long time. And a Messiah God did send, just not one who quite fulfilled their expectations of overthrowing their present rulers and becoming a worldly king. The Messiah came to be born into a poor family and the events surrounding his birth were difficult for his parents and disastrous for many innocent families who lost their sons to Herod’s decree. So much for a messianic grand entrance.

Jesus did not come to rid the world of suffering, He joined us in it. The point of this is something that is quite beyond human understanding. Whenever we find ourselves in mental or physical suffering, our natural bodily desire is to remove that suffering so that we feel better and can move on with our lives. But Jesus did not promise to simply end suffering. What He did promise is to give us rest amidst our labour and burdens.

I think that the incarnation, ultimately, is about trusting in the Lord. It is not a passive kind of trusting or a vague kind of hope, but a conscious decision to live a life in Christ. It is about forming new habits and getting rid of old ones that lead one away from God. It is about trusting that all that we do as believers will lead us to the eternal life that Christ promised.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will be able to have a child-like trust in the Lord.

Thanksgiving: We look back on the year and give thanks for the many opportunities that we had to grow closer to God.