Tag Archives: faith

12 April, Friday – Praying through Pixels

12 April 2019

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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Even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do

One trait which cuts across consistently throughout the public ministry of Jesus was the way in which those around him often were not able to see the truth of who He was. They were focused more on the superficial actions of what Jesus did and what he said. The Jewish people and their leaders could only interpret the actions and words of Jesus through the lens of Judaism – and from this lens, they were not able to accept the many revelations of God through Jesus sent to be the Messiah. It is through this lens that they could only see the miracles, especially those of healing and casting out of devils. They were also not able to accept the revelations of Jesus as the Son of God (which became only blasphemy), the Messiah sent to redeem the world (reducing him to just another prophet or the reincarnations of Moses or Elijah) or that their focus was on how Jesus desecrated the Sabbath rather than the revelation that mercy is what God’s love is all about, not rituals. Because they were unable to cast off the lens of Judaism, many of them were unable to let the light of truth penetrate and they remained in darkness, to be forever lost.

Many remain lost in that darkness through modern day lenses — materialism, humanism, or even through the viewpoint of Americanism which defines a great part of the evangelical Christian sects, so dominant in America, which are so vocal in the condemnation of God’s revelations through the Catholic faith. All of which does not allow the light of God’s revelations to shine through.

In the gospel, Jesus therefore makes a simple but succinct point. That if we cannot believe his words, then let his actions bring forth the revelations and lead us to the light.

We too often lose sight of the truth of God’s presence and intimacy in our lives — of His sovereignty, His power, His mercy, His blessing, His graces. When the storms of our lives blow hard and furious, when the desert of our lives make our faith dry and parched, when we are too busy being strangled in the thorn-bushes of worry and responsibilities of this world, we question God’s promises, His Will and His word. These too become our own lenses and they too are just as powerful in preventing God’s light and truth from penetrating into the reality of our lives.

In such times, let me suggest you do this – close your bible, keep your prayer cards, store away your spiritual readings. Then take out your phone and open up the gallery where you store all the photos contained therein. As you go through them, you will probably have captured photos from a myriad of events that have happened to you — celebrations marking family milestones, the birth of your child, a birthday, a wedding anniversary, your child’s first step or perhaps the wedding of one of your children, an unforgettable outing with your best pals, various events at church, a reunion with a special someone in your life, graduation of your child, perhaps your kid did great in school and got an award, a statue of your favorite saint you chanced upon, a promotion celebration for you in your office, an amazing sunset — and of course, all those wonderful memories of the family holidays you may have had.

Your memories tug at your heart and perhaps, you can reflect and come to realize just who made all those great memories and events in your life possible in the first place. God not only blessed you abundantly, He was also present with you at those great moments of your life. More importantly, you begin to see that indeed, God acted in your life. He worked in your life to bring you providence, achievement, joy, fulfillment, growth, peace, hope.

Sometimes, he even made miracles happen just for you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We forget easily. We doubt all the time. When your will differs from ours, when we feel the weight of the cross, when the bright lights and glitz of this world beckon, we doubt. We forget who you are — Almighty God, faithful friend and brother. Instead, we see you as weak, indifferent, distant, unattainable, often, we don’t see you at all. Help us to break through the lens of our preconceived notions, of our stubborn habits, of our unbending minds and wills.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for showing us once again, who you really are and where you have always been. Thank you for bringing the light of your truth to pierce through the deepest darkness of our hearts and helping us shatter the lenses that keep us in bondage to our sins, our doubts and which stops us from reaching you. Our Almighty God, our friend and brother who never left our side. Not for even one second.

23 February, Saturday – Faith in spite of Fear

23 February 2019

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Hebrews 11:1-7

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by one word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

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Mark 9:2-13

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

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Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.

What is the weight of faith without being challenged or tested in the midst of fear and hardship? Life is certainly fraught with difficulties, trials, and sufferings. The weight of our faith can only be ‘measured’ by how much trust we place in the Lord – in spite of all that runs contrary.

But alas! Faith is a gift that is both given freely, but must first be sought out by the receiver. We who receive the gift of faith must first desire to seek and find and cherish. This is the essence of today’s scripture readings. In Hebrews we are reminded of the many Fathers of Faith who not only had faith, but held steadfast to their trust and reliance on God in the face of evidence that questioned whether God exists or was faithful to the promises He makes. With faith, we believe there is always more than meets the eye, that God is ultimately in control and He sees, knows, acknowledges, and blesses.

My husband has recently been diagnosed with Leukaemia, just at the cusp of our family relocating to another country for a new job. We were literally grounded. It has been a harrowing time for us and our families – and I cannot imagine how we would have managed in this whirlpool without our faith in God. The scripture readings today hit very close to my heart – like a mirror held up, asking, “How much faith do you have in the Lord?”

Sometimes, it seems that faith feels like a double-edged sword. In times of certain hardships, my faith had kept me afloat and steered my direction towards God. Those were times I had managed to grab on to Jesus’ staff with both hands and said, “Lord, guide me.”

Yet in other times, my reality is absolute chaos. Like now, when cancer strikes the family. We were without a roof over our heads, with our household belongings sailing as ship cargo, my little baby and I bouncing between grandparents’ homes, while my husband was bed-bound in hospital for weeks. In those moments, I wondered aloud many times, “Where are you, Lord? Is this a crazy joke?!” My world crumbled and I felt my circumstances were throwing us under the bus repeatedly, I could not seem to reconcile our painful reality with a good God. We were scared, suffering, and dealing with the grief of our lives being ripped apart from normalcy.

Still, we tried our level best and plodded on with a spark of faith which felt so tiny like the mere glow of a firefly in a dark, deep cave. The rough days and the hard moments come in choppy waves. At the same time, with one foot in front of the other, in spite of the fear and darkness, God led us into the light.

Indeed, like the scriptures today, our faith allowed us to trust in the “existence of the realities that at present remain unseen”. By God’s grace and merciful healing, my husband has been responding well to chemotherapy and it is amazing to realise how this period has not only brought my husband and I in deeper union in our marriage. It has also bestowed untold depths and texture to my husband’s faith life and relationship with Jesus. With God, everything is possible! 

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Abba Father, I pray for healing for my husband and all who are suffering from cancer and other critical illnesses. I pray you bind up their wounds and bind up their hearts and homes that are shaken with fear and sorrow.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the gift of faith that you first bestowed upon us which allowed us to hope for realities that at present seemed dim.

26 January, Saturday – More than just you and me

26 Jan – Memorial for Sts. Timothy and Titus, bishops

Timothy (d. 97) was the son of a Greek gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. He was converted to Christianity by St. Paul around the year 47. He was a partner, assistant and close friend of Paul. He was a missionary as well, and became head of the Church in Ephesus. He was the recipient of two canonical letters from St. Paul, and was stoned to death for opposing the worship of Dionysius.

Titus (d. 96) was also a disciple of St. Paul and was the recipient of a canonical letter from him. He was the first bishop of the Church in Crete.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Timothy 1:1-8

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; I remember your tears and long to see you again to complete my happiness. Then I am reminded of the sincere faith which you have; it came first to live in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I have no doubt that it is the same faith in you as well.

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.

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Mark 4:21-25

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’
He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing.

The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

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…fan into a flame the gift

Of those who do not understand Christians, some have the misconception that being a good follower of Christ is having that individual relationship with God. It is just yourself and Him. That it is just all about getting into that little comfortable quiet corner of reflection and leading a pious life, showing Him every day what you have done to make Him happy. That you have carried out actions that perhaps you feel would please God and thus He gives credit when it is due.

In actual fact, it is building that relationship with our neighbours that qualifies us in spreading the love of our Lord Jesus. We are all inter-connected through prayers. The faith of someone who prays for us and influences us in our spiritual guidance and journey gives us the immense grace which we are so privileged to receive. Likewise, we pray for others who are suffering and for those who are in need, it could be for the health of a loved one, or the comfort to those who are emotionally hurt for various reasons. To be called a follower of Christ, we are responsible for being that testament of how God has touched our life, and to build on our own little faith which He has ‘implanted’ in us. We, like Timothy, and Paul have been called to be holy in our actions and in the way we treat others.

It takes a lot of prayer and hard work, including the deep faith of our fellow Christians and the grace of our Lord to fill our lives. For we are the blessed ones who have, and will be given more.

(Today’s Oxygen by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for the many faithful who are around us. Watch over them and may you shower them with the blessings of peace in their hearts, especially in times of heartache.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for the faith which you have planted in us. That it will grow and spread the Good News.

16 January, Wednesday – Fear Not

16 January 2019

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Hebrews 2:14-18

Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, Christ too shared equally in it, so that by his death he could take away all the power of the devil, who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it was not the angels that he took to himself; he took to himself descent from Abraham. It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God’s religion, able to atone for human sins. That is, because he has himself been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted.

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Mark 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus went with James and John straight to the house of Simon and Andrew. Now Simon’s mother-in-law had gone to bed with fever, and they told him about her straightaway. He went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up. And the fever left her and she began to wait on them.

That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; he also cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was.

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. Simon and his companions set out in search of him, and when they found him they said, ‘Everybody is looking for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go elsewhere, to the neighbouring country towns, so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came.’ And he went all through Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils.

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“Christ too shared equally in it”

There is a saying in Singapore — “Kia Si”, or “Afraid to die”. The joke is that Singaporeans are afraid of anything that will put them in jeopardy, be it their personal lives, or careers. It is for this reason, it is said, that many Singaporeans tend to be more reticent, preferring to keep their views to themselves in order to maintain their safety.

In today’s First Reading, it talks about how people have been kept in slavery through their fear of death. While there is a Jewish concept of the afterlife, there are differing views about how this would happen.

In the Christian faith however, physical death would only allow one to move on to the next stage of one’s life. Essentially, one’s soul never does die and physical death does only give rise to the death of the body and not anything else.

Jesus is our model, not because of the fact that He is our God. Instead, He is our model because He was man. He walked amongst us and truly understands what it means to be human. He does not lead and guide us from a position of power. Instead, He leads and guides us as a true brother. He knows.

Let us continue to seek Him. To live our lives fully and without fear. Let us not be “kia si” (“afraid to die”).

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray for strength to lead our lives fully, and without fear. We ask You Father, to always recognise that our lives is more than just our time on earth.

ThanksgivingThank you for being our model of faith, Lord Jesus. Help us to walk in Your steps every day!

24 December (Monday), Vigil Mass – Jesus — Truly God, Truly Man

24 December – Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord (Vigil Mass)

Dear Readers!

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Today, we welcome Justus Teo and Stephanie Seet, two new contributors to our OXYGEN team. We are really happy to have Justus and Stephanie on board and hope they grow in this journey of writing reflections and sharing the glory of our Lord with all of our readers.

Here is a little about them:

Justus:

Justus is a cradle Catholic, having come from several generations of Catholic lineage. His grandmother’s deep devotion to our Lady and his dad’s fidelity to the Church when they were both still alive, left deep impressions of faith and planted the roots of faith within him. Today, he professes that he is fiercely proud to be Catholic.

His journey has been a gradual unfolding of the heart of Christ and encounter of Him from the head towards the heart. In the last few years, the call to service has also grown slowly but surely and has is now a compelling cry to love Christ and His Mother, by serving the church and those they have chosen to entrust to him in my daily encounters.

Mother Mary has been unfailing in leading him to Christ, through her own fidelity to her Son. And the one event that has influenced a personal conversion was his consecration to Mary. And this call to serve with Oxygen is a strange one for someone who does not pay as much attention to encounter with God through His Word. But he sees this as one more step taken in trust and faith that this is the step Jesus has asked him to take, through his mother, to help him come to truly know Him, for love of God and others and from God’s love for others and himself. The spiritual journey can be so surprising and yet so wonderful and so amazing.

Stephanie:

Stephanie was born and raised a Catholic in the Serangoon district of Singapore. She spent many years adrift after Confirmation, pursuing higher education abroad in UK and US, and subsequently, her career. After attaining a significant career milestone which she spent years working towards, she soon realised that joy lies neither in achievement nor in possession. She embarked on a sabbatical, lacing up her hiking boots and travelling the world in search of a higher calling.

She really need not have left her shores. Stephanie re-encountered God at the Catholic Spirituality Centre during the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) in August 2016. This prompted her career switch into social services, with a charity serving the physically challenged. The tenacity of her clients inspires her to see the best in people and recognise the untapped potential in each individual.

Stephanie credits her friend, Shaun, for nudging her towards CER and introducing her to Oxygen. As a fledging contributor, she hopes that these baby steps will help her stay close to God and cultivate a greater discipline in reading and meditating on His Word.

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Isaiah 62:1-5

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.

The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;

no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

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Acts 13:16-17,22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia, he stood up in the synagogue, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out.

‘Then he made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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Matthew 1:1-25

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son 
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

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“… and the Word was made flesh …”

In the lead up to Christmas, Matthew’s Gospel details the long genealogy of Jesus to us. Fascinating though it may be, is this merely a record of the ancestry of Jesus? Perhaps not quite. It showed that the bloodline of Jesus went way back in time – not just physical time, but through the ages and through the history of the people of Israel itself. From Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to David, to Ahaz and eventually that of Jacob and Joseph, the genealogy seems to be pointing out that Jesus has always been the “Emmanuel” – it has been the eternal plan of the Father, from the beginning of time, that Emmanuel was to be and that he has always journeyed with Israel, His people, throughout the ages. Emmanuel has always journeyed with us in our own personal history with him. It was not a last-minute after-thought to salvage a people that seemed incorrigible.

The genealogy of Jesus drummed home the point of the true incarnation of the Son of God as man. That he is both divine AND human. That he was part of an earthly bloodline but yet no less in divinity as Son of God in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit.

And this has greatly shaped my own spiritual life and journey for Jesus has been to me, both God and brother. For the times I have knelt in awe at my God and Savior who has created the universe and yet loved me, who, in the entirety of everything, is not even a speck. But whom He has called His own and for whom He found worthy to hang on a cross for. Only God can do that. Only my God can do that for me.

And for the times, when I turn to my brother, the human Jesus, who like me, has felt the weight of this earthly human life of strife and struggle, pain and evil. For Jesus too, experienced the whole spectrum of the human condition – joy and friendship; pain and betrayal.

Only in the Catholic-Christian faith, do we find a God who is both divine and human. A God who is able and willing to save His people, and a God who knew exactly what his people needed to be saved from. The human Jesus knows exactly how tough human existence in this “vale of tears” can sometimes be. Only my human brother Jesus can truly relate to that. Only a human Jesus could know how much we needed God to save us. Where God and Man become as one – there is the abundance of life and of love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Loving Father, gentle Brother, help us never forget your unfailing love for us and that you are fully able to be with us in the midst of the joys and pain of our lives. Lift us by your Spirit that we can encounter the saving presence of you as our Almighty God. And come to us for the times when we are bound to earth’s darkness, as our brother who feels our pains and fears. Help us to persevere through your grace as our God and your friendship as our brother.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for calling us into your family as your sons and daughters and for the lavish love you have showered upon us as our Father.

22 December, Saturday – The Almighty has done great things for me

22 December

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1 Samuel 1:24-28

When Hannah had weaned the infant Samuel, she took him up with her together with a three-year old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’

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Luke 1:46-56

Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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“…the Lord granted me what I asked him.”

In writing today’s reflection, I can’t help but look back on the year 2018, and the journey I have been on. I am truly grateful for what the Lord has granted me, and the path He has laid out for me. Leaving corporate work at the end of last year to embark on my entrepreneurial pursuit was never the plan but, in doing so, He has opened so much possibilities. Opportunities for me to slow down and serve him, more time with my family, pursuits of interest and hobbies which would otherwise not have happened. Not to mention the self-development work I continue to explore. The road ahead is still uncertain for I still struggle with getting my business going and am discerning what is His plan for me.  Despite these struggles, I feel blessed for the year and what He has done for me.

Reciting the Magnificat found in today’s Gospel always gives me so much comfort and peace — the total surrender to His plan and the unwavering trust our Lady has inspires me. As the year comes to an end, there are regrets for things I could have done better, or people/encounters I could have deepened, but at the same time, knowing His plans are always the most perfect and what needed to be accomplished has been completed, I am at peace.

In our journey through life, let us never forget that He fulfills promises and will grant us our hearts desires.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Lorraine Wong)

Prayer: Dear Lord, the road ahead is filled with uncertainty and, sometimes, in our struggles, we rely on our own strength and understanding. Help us never to forget the great blessings you have bestowed upon us and how you have always answered our prayers, help us to fix our gaze on you and cling to your cloak in our journey through life.

Thanksgiving: Abba Father, thank you for loving, even though we sometimes stray away from you, you have never abandoned us and always know what is best for us. Thank you for your providence, guidance and mercy.

13 December, Thursday – Inconsistencies

13 December – Memorial for St. Lucy, Virgin, Martyr

Lucy (c. 283) was a rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. She was raised in a pious family, and vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years, she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother’s mind about the girl’s new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha, and her mother’s long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother’s.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily, who sentenced her to forced prostitution. But when the guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger. Her name is listed in the prayer “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” in the Canon of the Mass.

Legend says that her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 41:13-20

I, the Lord, your God,
I am holding you by the right hand;
I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid,
I will help you.’

Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm,
Israel, puny mite.’
I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks –
the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.

See, I turn you into a threshing-sled,
new, with doubled teeth;
you shall thresh and crush the mountains,
and turn the hills to chaff.

You shall winnow them and the wind will blow them away,
the gale will scatter them.
But you yourself will rejoice in the Lord,
and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none,
their tongue is parched with thirst.
I, the Lord, will answer them,
I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.

I will make rivers well up on barren heights,
and fountains in the midst of valleys;
turn the wilderness into a lake,
and dry ground into waterspring.

In the wilderness I will put cedar trees,
acacias, myrtles, olives.
In the desert I will plant juniper,
plane tree and cypress side by side;

so that men may see and know,
may all observe and understand
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

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Matthew 11:11-15

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm. Because it was towards John that all the prophecies of the prophets and of the Law were leading; and he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen!’

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Among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist

Scripture, like Life, is full of incongruencies and inconsistencies. John the Baptist’s life started with so much promise. Here was one filled with the Holy Spirit at birth. He was supposed to be destined for great things. His birth was a miracle, and like all men born of miracle births, much was expected of him. And yet, life did not work out the way everyone thought it would, for John.

He spent his youth waiting to fulfil what he thought would be his destiny, never really sure if it was going to happen for him. His parents passed on while he was still young, so while he was lonely before, in his adult years he led a hermetic existence. When he eventually developed his ministry, it was quickly surpassed by that of Jesus. And though he was always prepared for it to happen, it must have been hard to swallow to have his career cut short like that. John’s end was just as incongruent. If there was no man, greater than John the Baptist, why did he have to suffer such an ignominious end, reduced to a punctuation at the end of a cruel dinner party prank? It’s hard to wrap our head around Scripture’s inconsistencies. This is what happens to one blessed by God?

What is consistent amongst the men and women of God though, is the tenacity with which they stayed their course. There were moments of doubt for sure and often, we hear long, plaintive discourses with a mostly silent God. We hear the wavering in their voices, the questioning, the self doubt. But they stayed their course despite their misgivings. There must have been times when alone in his prison cell, John would have wondered to himself, ‘Is this it, Lord? Is this all there is to me? Where are you Lord?’

Often, we wonder the same about ourselves. We go through such great lengths to get educated, to build a life, put together a CV of experience that reads well and yet we can’t seem to find a job. Or we put in the hours, yet the years pass and we get nowhere in our careers. Or we invest our life’s savings into a business, and the economy tanks. And we think, ‘Is this it, Lord? Is this all there is to me?’ It’s crushing to the self-esteem, and as the years roll on, debilitating to the soul, when we see how time has passed us by. John must have felt at times, like he had wasted his life waiting. Waiting for The Lord, waiting to fulfil his destiny, waiting to be released from Herod’s arrest, waiting, always waiting for deliverance. Waiting for God.

There are times when waiting, we sleep with despair, we wake with despair, we breathe despair. And still The Lord does not show His face. Still there is no redemption, no deliverance. The waiting is the hardest part because we never know when it will end. In these times, it is hard to hold on, but hold on we must. As the Hebrews held on, so too must we. As Moses held on, so too must we. As John the Baptist held on, so too must we. All things happen in God’s time, and as hard as it is to do, as much as our soul cries out in anguish, it is for us to wait on Him. All things in His time. For those blessed by God, deliverance will come – whether in this life or the next.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer:  We pray Lord, for those waiting on You to see their deliverance. Be merciful Lord, and bring comfort to those who wait faithfully for the ripeness of Your time.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the examples in Scripture, of greater men than us, who have persevered and prevailed. We give thanks for the hope they give us. All things in His time.

8 December, Saturday – Yes

8 December – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this and the following eight days, the Church celebrates, with particular solemnity, the immaculate conception of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary who, from all eternity, was chosen to be the daughter of the heavenly Father, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of the Divine Redeemer, and, by consequence, the queen of angels and of men.

The consideration of these prerogatives convinced the most enlightened fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church that she was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin. It is very remarkable that among the shining hosts of saints who have, in every century, adorned the Church, no one wrote against this belief, while we find it confirmed by the decisions of the holy fathers from the earliest times.

Pope Piux IX forced, as it were, by the faith and devotion of the faithful throughout the world, finally on 8 December 1854, sanctioned, as a dogma of faith falling within the infallible rule of Catholic traditions, this admirable prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.

It is, therefore, now no longer, as formerly, a pious belief, but an article of the faith that Mary, like the purest morning light which precedes the rising of the most brilliant sun, was, from the first instant of her conception, free from original sin.

– Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 3:9-15,20

After Adam had eaten of the tree the Lord God called to him. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’

Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,

‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’

The man named his wife ‘Eve’ because she was the mother of all those who live.

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Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.

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Luke 1:26-38 

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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“let what you have said be done to me.”

Last weekend, I was blessed to have attended a cosy, intimate concert in a small church at the invitation of my vocal coach. He had helped put together an 11-piece choir to celebrate the 1st Sunday of Advent and their concert was themed ‘Ordinary Baby’. While there were a few familiar favourites sung, 2 new songs resonated deeply with me – ‘Ordinary Baby’ and ‘My Heart, Your Bethlehem’.

I couldn’t help but be amazed at how a ‘Yes’ at the beginning of this year led me on a journey of discovering my voice (I had taken my vocal exams the day before) and also to this wonderful moment where I witnessed God’s hand at work through the energy and sincerity of the small Christian community. The message that resonated deep within me was whether or not our hearts were prepared to welcome Jesus this Christmas and to let Him be born within us.

Too often, we let allow sin to harden our hearts. We get so used to habitual transgressions that our hearts develop calluses and a hard exterior. And when we don’t go for regular confession, that wall gets thicker and thicker, so much so that God’s word cannot penetrate into our hearts. Consequently, we lose all connection to God and our ‘wifi signal’ (as our spiritual director likes to put it) becomes weak. How then are we going to be able to provide rest and a soft place to sleep for the newborn infant Jesus on Christmas Eve?

Many of us are more than willing to say ‘Yes’ whenever there is a call for volunteers to serve in church or to give of our time for a particular church project. But many of us put conditions on our ‘Yes’. We ask question after question, or place restrictions on our time and how much we are willing to give. Sure, we all have our crosses to bear and families to take care of. However, remember Mother Mary’s fiat when she said ‘Yes’ to the Lord. It was spoken out of true love for God and fully from her heart. There were no ‘buts’ nor ‘what ifs’. Her ‘Yes’ was the ultimate sign of humility and obedience.

Brothers and sisters, when we say our own fiat with our words and our deeds, that is when a conversion of heart takes place. And that is when we begin to reconnect with our heavenly Father. How many of us are willing to open our hearts and say to God that He can do what he wills to us so that His ultimate plans for each and every one of us can be fulfilled?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage and the strength to say ‘Yes’ unconditionally to you each and every day.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for all that you have done for us, O heavenly Father, and for all that you are going to do for us despite our fears and our doubts.

7 December, Friday – Acting In Faith

7 December – Memorial for St. Ambrose, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

Ambrose (c.340–397) was born to the Roman nobility. He was the brother of St. Marcellina and St. Satyrus. He was educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome, Italy. He was a poet and a noted orator. He was a convert to Christianity, and governor of Milan, Italy.

When the Bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement led to violence. Ambrose intervened to calm both sides; he impressed everyone involved so much that though he was still an unbaptized catechumen, he was chosen as the new bishop. He resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, but he assented to prevent further violence. On Dec 7, 374, he was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as bishop. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor, both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock.

He was a noted preacher and teacher, a Bible student of renown, and writer of liturgical hymns. He stood firm against paganism and Arianism. His preaching helped convert St. Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. Ambrose’s preaching brought Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

During his time as bishop, he also called and chaired several theological councils, many devoted to fighting heresy. He welcomed St. Ursus and St. Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution, and then sent them on to evangelize in Gaul and Germany. He was proclaimed a great Doctor of the Latin Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.

The title “Honey Tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 29:17-24

The Lord says this:

In a short time, a very short time,
shall not Lebanon become fertile land
and fertile land turn into forest?
The deaf, that day,
will hear the words of a book
and, after shadow and darkness,
the eyes of the blind will see.

But the lowly will rejoice in the Lord even more
and the poorest exult in the Holy One of Israel;
for tyrants shall be no more, and scoffers vanish,
and all be destroyed who are disposed to do evil:
those who gossip to incriminate others,
those who try at the gate to trip the arbitrator
and get the upright man’s case dismissed for groundless reasons.

Therefore the Lord speaks,
the God of the House of Jacob,
Abraham’s redeemer:
No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale,
for he shall see what my hands have done in his midst,
he shall hold my name holy.
They will hallow the Holy One of Jacob,
stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Erring spirits will learn wisdom
and murmurers accept instruction.

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Matthew 9:27-31

As Jesus went on his way two blind men followed him shouting, ‘Take pity on us, Son of David.’ And when Jesus reached the house the blind men came up with him and he said to them, ‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do.’ Then he touched their eyes saying, ‘Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.’ And their sight returned. Then Jesus sternly warned them, ‘Take care that no one learns about this.’ But when they had gone, they talked about him all over the countryside.

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“Your faith deserves it, so let this be done for you.”

When was the last time you took a leap of faith, fully trusting that nothing would happen to you? Over the years, I have plunged headlong into one adventure after another, trusting that the Lord would sustain me throughout my journeys; some of which I completed (my Camino in 2016), some of which are still going on (playing the violin for P&W, vocal lessons). Truly, when we lift any situation up to God in faith, He will take over and anoint us – as long as we do not waver in our faith.

We’re going through some tough times in our ministry and for some of us, the changes that we are trying to implement are taking a tad too long. In fact, some of the initial members who stepped up to take on leadership roles have decided to step down. In the aftermath of the recent Prayer Experience Retreat (PER), I am also considering focusing my energies on serving only in PER as I feel that the testimonies and encounters resonate deeper with me.

Yet, I recognize the struggle faced by our leaders as they too come to terms with being a little tired and jaded, some after serving for more than 20 years. Looking around, I too sense their concern that there are not enough ‘next generation’ leaders stepping up to take over some of the critical duties (though that is starting to happen slowly, thanks to technology). I appreciate how daunting it can be, to try to step into the shoes of others, yet have their shadows looming over you each time you assume a role previously handled by someone ‘senior’. Perhaps that’s where all of us need to act in faith, and to trust fully that God will take over; instead of trying to get things done the ‘tried and tested’ way.

Over the past few months, I have certainly learnt to trust more in the Lord and to ‘let go and let God’. I recall the words of one of my mentors, who said that there will be a point in any worship session where the spirit will take over. That is when I have to not try and wrest control back because He is the main worship leader

Brothers and sisters, how often do we actually step back and let God take over in our lives? How often do we think that He does not know what we are going through or that we know better because we face the same situation each and every day? Yes, it is not easy to let go, specially if some of us are the ‘alpha’ characters at work. But what have we got to lose by trusting in God’s providence and letting Him make the critical decisions we face? Of course, that is predicated on the fact that we keep in communion with him through regular prayer. So here’s the real question – are we speaking with Him each day so that our every action and thought is centred around Him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear God, we pray that you give us the will and the heart to commune with you in prayer each and every day of our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always being there for us.

6 December, Thursday – Foundation

6 December – Memorial for St. Nicholas, bishop

Nicholas (d. 346) was a priest and abbot, and the bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). He was generous to the poor, and a special protector of the innocent and wrong. Many stories grew up around him prior to his becoming Santa Claus.

One story is that upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholas went by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window, saving the girls from an evil life. These three bags, gold generously given in time of trouble, became the three golden balls that indicate a pawn broker’s shop.

Another story is that he raised to life three young boys who had been murdered and pickled in a barrel of brine to hide the crime. These stories led to his patronage of children in general, and of barrel-makers besides.

Another St. Nicholas story is that he induced some thieves to return their plunder, which led to his protection against theft and robbery, and his patronage of them – he is not helping them to steal, but to repent and change. In the past, thieves have been known as Saint Nicholas’ clerks or Knights of St. Nicholas.

A fourth story is that during a voyage to the Holy Lands, a fierce storm blew up, threatening the ship. He prayed about it, and the storm calmed – hence the patronage of sailors and those like dockworkers who work on the sea.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 26:1-6

That day, this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
to guard us he has set
wall and rampart about us.
Open the gates! Let the upright nation come in,
she, the faithful one
whose mind is steadfast, who keeps the peace,
because she trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord for ever,
for the Lord is the everlasting Rock;
he has brought low those who lived high up
in the steep citadel;
he brings it down, brings it down to the ground,
flings it down in the dust:
the feet of the lowly, the footsteps of the poor
trample on it.

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Matthew 7:21,24-27

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

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…for the Lord is the everlasting Rock.

It is performance appraisal season at work and the oft-dreaded one-on-one conversations are going to come up soon. That is when I have to exercise a lot of patience and self-control, especially towards my staff, who may not have performed as strongly as I would have liked them to over the course of the year.

I have been fortunate to have staff who have been with me for more than 3 years and it is no easy task telling someone that he/she does not deserve to be given a certain rating, especially when it impacts on their performance bonuses. So the one thing I always fall back on is whether or not they have continued to build up a strong foundation that will enable them to weather any sort of organizational changes. Many people in communications tend to want the ‘sexy’ assignments or more ‘high value’ PR projects that will garner media attention. However, I always caution them that fame is fleeting and if they only focus on the superficial stuff that goes out into the news, they may be doing themselves a disservice by forgetting that by focusing on the substance, the stories will naturally emerge.

I believe it is the same when it comes to our faith. We can do all the ‘good’ things like going for Sunday mass, fasting, giving to causes and even giving our time to serve in various ministries. But if our foundation is not strong, if our faith is not built on solid ground, we will fall by the wayside at the first sign of trouble or when temptation rears its ugly head. This begs the oft-asked question – why are we serving Him? What are our motives? Are we trying to earn our way to heaven? Or are we trying to establish our own personal kingdoms within our parishes?

Sadly, where two or three are gathered in His name, that is also where the devil lurks. Pride, envy, greed, those are three predominant sins that tend to surface whenever there are opportunities for our own brethren to shine. Brothers and sisters, we must always remember that as we toil in His vineyard, we must not lose sight of the one goal – serving our God who has redeemed us with an ultimate sacrifice. If we can anchor ourselves on our faith in His love and mercy, that He is always present in our lives and that we are serving him in true humility and as a community united in faith and love, then we have nothing to fear.

Christ made St Peter the rock on which he built the church. A church that has certainly withstood the test of time and countless scandals over the centuries. Indeed, the ultimate master builder, the architect of our very faith made it extremely clear from the outset that our foundation needed to be strong. In going through our daily struggles, are we wavering all the time? If so, then perhaps a good look at our own foundation may be in order.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us the strength to persevere and to stand firm in the face of all our daily struggles.

Thanksgiving: We thank you for your gift of fortitude in our lives.