Tag Archives: faith

20 October, Friday – Yeast of Sincerity

20 October 2017

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Romans 4:1-8

What shall we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are all descended? If Abraham was justified as a reward for doing something, he would really have had something to boast about, though not in God’s sight because scripture says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him. And David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:

Happy those whose crimes are forgiven, whose sins are blotted out; happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.

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Luke 12:1-7

The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.

‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’

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Every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid.
A little yeast is a dangerous thing. Throughout the Bible, yeast is referred to repeatedly. Scripture speaks of yeast in this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Mt 13:33). But in most places, yeast seems to have a negative connotation, as we read in the Gospel today “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). Elsewhere, we are called to bring unleavened bread and wafers as our offering to God (Lev 10:12; Num 6:14-15; etc). For Holy Communion, we use unleavened wafers to represent the Body of Christ.
Initially, I was a little confused between this reference to yeast and salt. Why is salt good and why are we called to be ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13; Mk 9:50)? But yeast seems to hint at different meanings. Yeast is used as leitmotif for sin and evil intentions in one place, but is also used as a peace offering and wave offering to God (Lev 7:13; 23:17).
I suppose this is the very thing that Jesus warns us against – this ‘yeast of hypocrisy’. It is hard to be certain when yeast can be used for good or bad. Haven’t we experienced something of this nature in our personal experiences before? Conversations amongst a church community may start with the best intentions of sharing faith experiences, but can also become a stumbling block for those who begin to believe themselves more faithful or obedient than others. It is truly no easy balancing act!
I believe the clue to understanding this is seen in the first reading today – the age-old question of what justifies us in God’s eyes. This is where the symbiotic and intertwining relationship of faith and good works comes to bear. St Paul tells the Romans: “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him” (Rm 4:2-4). Abraham had to ‘put his faith in God’, and not merely ‘have faith’. This is evidence of an active faith – one that required a living action and not a passive reception (Jas 2:14-26). This is the trip-up that Jesus calls us to be on guard against.
Faith and Works are like flour and yeast; though their significance can differ according to each person. It is the foolish man who thinks he knows which parts of his faith and how many parts of his good works contribute to counting him worthy in God’s eyes. How will we ever know? It is not for us to count towards our self-justification. After all, David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven,
whose sins are blotted out;
happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Help us Lord, to humbly discern our own spiritual needs and cultivate our own faith garden. Help us not to peek over the fences into our neighbour’s garden to compare spiritual fruits which are yours alone to give. 
Thanksgiving: Happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless!

23 September, Saturday – Our Models of Faith

Sep 23 – Memorial for St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Priest

Pio (1887-1968) was ordained when he was 22. He founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920s he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.

His canonisation miracle involved the cure of Matteo Pio Colella, age 7, the son of a doctor who works in the House for Relief of Suffering, the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo founded by Padre Pio. On the night of 20 June 2000, Matteo was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital with meningitis. By morning doctors had lost hope for him as nine of the boy’s internal organs had ceased to give signs of life.

That night, during a prayer vigil attended by Matteo’s mother and some Capuchin friars of Padre Pio’s monastery, the child’s condition improved suddenly. When he awoke from the coma, Matteo said that he had seen an elderly man with a white beard and a long, brown habit, who said to him: “Don’t worry, you will soon be cured.”

  • Patron Saints Index

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1 Timothy 6:13-16

Before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate, I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures, until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who at the due time will be revealed
by God, the blessed and only Ruler of all,
the King of kings and the Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal,
whose home is in inaccessible light,
whom no man has seen and no man is able to see:
to him be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

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Luke 8:4-15

With a large crowd gathering and people from every town finding their way to him, Jesus used this parable:

‘A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell on the edge of the path and was trampled on; and the birds of the air ate it up. Some seed fell on rock, and when it came up it withered away, having no moisture. Some seed fell amongst thorns and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some seed fell into rich soil and grew and produced its crop a hundredfold.’ Saying this he cried, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’

His disciples asked him what this parable might mean, and he said, ‘The mysteries of the kingdom of God are revealed to you; for the rest there are only parables, so that

they may see but not perceive,
listen but not understand.

‘This, then, is what the parable means: the seed is the word of God. Those on the edge of the path are people who have heard it, and then the devil comes and carries away the word from their hearts in case they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are people who, when they first hear it, welcome the word with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of trial they give up. As for the part that fell into thorns, this is people who have heard, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life and do not reach maturity. As for the part in the rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart who have heard the word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.’

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“I put to you the duty all that you have been told… until the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”

I went to all boys schools at both the primary and secondary levels. Being educated in English as a first language, the boys did not hold the learning of Mandarin as a priority. In fact, we relished in speaking English during our Mandarin classes and often got “rewarded” with extended standing sessions outside the classrooms!

In my late twenties, I became interested in learning more about my Chinese heritage. Unfortunately, I realised English was not exactly the best language of instruction (especially in the pre-internet era). As a result, I began working hard on improving my Mandarin competency.

A story I learned during my “studies” still intrigues me till today. This took place during the same era as the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. A general was marching his troops over a particularly mountainous stretch and the going was tough. The sun was brutally hot and the soldiers were extremely dehydrated. With no water source available, the mission was in danger of failing, when the general told his troops that there was a forest full of plum trees just beyond the mountain. When the troops heard that, they quickened their pace, ultimately ending in a successful campaign.

In the first reading of today, much like the Chinese general, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to do his best for the Lord, and to perform his duties faultlessly, until the time our Lord Jesus returns. What really impressed me was the intensity of devotion of both Paul and Timothy. Similarly, the disciples continued to display loyalty to our Lord Jesus, even to the point of giving up their lives for Him (except for John, who died of natural causes).

Let us learn from Paul, Timothy and the disciples. May we look forward to tasting the juicy plums after we pass this mountain. We need to keep our eyes on our Lord!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, please help us to always keep our eyes on You.  Help us to be as faithful as those before us.

ThanksgivingThank You for sending models of faith for us to follow.  Thank You for always showing us how to be faithful.

4 September, Monday – Bringing Good Tidings to the Poor

4 September

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

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Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

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They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town

Jesus walked upon this earth and came to live like you and me. Yet there were some quarters who never believed in Him. Over 2000 years later, there are still people who do not believe in Him.

I can imagine like me, you believe that He is the Son of God and He is the Almighty. This is really great and so what are we to do, we have found God and we have identified that it is Him we long for in our hearts. Today’s gospel is a reminder of our call to be active Christians, to reach out to the downtrodden and marginalised, and to be a witness where we are today in our lives.

How faithful are we towards this call? Are random acts of kindness and charity sufficient? I would think not, simply because our benchmark is always to do as Christ would have done. I sometimes cannot believe that He would want me to love that person who constantly ridicules my faith; that I should be merciful to the person in my ministry who never shows up on time nor does any work; the colleague who backstabs; the reckless driver on the road; the person who hurts my loved ones; the migrant workers I see daily at work and at my apartment. Let us reflect today on our choice of words and deeds in order to bring sight to the blind and to make the captives free.

While we focus on all the good deeds so as to be more like Him, let us not lose sight of Him. Let us not act like someone who is in love, but who has completely lost sight of the lover. It becomes easier to give Him his rightful place if we continue to be faithful in our primary relationships as children, spouses, parents, employees, employers, students and teachers, parishioners, leaders and citizens. It is when we have been faithful to our loved ones and when we have performed our responsibilities do we realise that, none of this satisfies but Jesus alone. That way, we can go on to worship Him wholeheartedly, knowing that our relationships and our loved ones, our wealth, our status, our popularity and our beauty can never complete us. It is Jesus that we have desired all along and we belong, first and foremost, to Him. If we have move away today from our family and responsibilities or our Lord, let us come right back to it immediately.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: Father, you are the ruler of the world and the prince of our hearts. We ask you to bless us and bless our nation, Malaysia which celebrated its Independence Day recently.

Thanksgiving: He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy. He is our Lord, yesterday, today and forever.

16 August, Wednesday – Being Known by God

16 Aug

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Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Leaving the plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land; Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the stretch of the Valley of Jericho, city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross into it.’ There in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of the Lord died as the Lord decreed; he buried him in the valley, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but to this day no one has ever found his grave. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye undimmed, his vigour unimpaired. The sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days. The days of weeping for the mourning rites of Moses came to an end. Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. It was he that the sons of Israel obeyed, carrying out the order that the Lord had given to Moses.
  Since then, never has there been such a prophet in Israel as Moses, the man the Lord knew face to face. What signs and wonders the Lord caused him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and his whole land! How mighty the hand and great the fear that Moses wielded in the sight of all Israel!
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Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

  ‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

  ‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

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For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.

It is said in our first reading that Moses was known as ‘the man the Lord knew face to face’. Have you ever wondered how awesome yet terrifying it must have been to come so close to God? Yet, do you sometimes feel so far from Him even when you try your very best to draw closer?

Lately, attending Mass has been quite an alienating routine for me. It recently became trying for me due to the extreme lethargy I experience in pregnancy. Some days my energy or concentration levels simply dip such that it is hard to focus for more than five minutes. This new ‘attitude’ of mine towards Mass caused me to feel privately guilty for not being present with God

One recent Saturday evening, after being completely sapped of energy from our house-moving, I suggested to my equally exhausted husband that maybe we could skip Mass on Sunday to recuperate. God would understand that my spirit is willing but my flesh is spent, I reasoned. Sunday morning brought along a migraine. But we decided to go anyway. As I made my way to church, I said a persistent prayer asking God to grant me enough energy to make it through Mass meaningfully. I had a long day ahead with household appliance deliveries, but I just needed enough ‘battery’ for the present moment.

We arrived to a full-house church with the possibility of only standing space. My heart sank. I ventured forward towards a section of pews anyway, hoping just a little for a seat. To our surprise, a lady happened to turn around in my direction and smiled warmly, signaling for us to sit beside her. At that moment, I felt like God had reserved those seats for us, as no one seemed to have spotted the empty space!

As I settled in to Mass, I felt my spirits lift and I pondered the way God had chosen to make Himself known to me, to pull me in closer despite how distracted my mind and body were. It was not a mountain-top, face-to-face encounter that Moses probably had abundant experience of. But in this small gesture of a kind stranger, I felt comforted that He knew my needs and my heart’s inmost desire more intimately than I could express.

Where in your life have you felt far from God? Are you waiting on Him for an answer over a problem that seems too huge to be resolved? Maybe, like me, you long to return to a season of spiritual relationship with Him that you once shared, but seem to have lost…

My experience that Sunday reminded me that God is truly present in my life, even when I am too tired to recall the many consolations and assurances He has given me before. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled (2 Cor 5:19). Keep praying, even if you think your words sound like clanging cymbals with little heart or direction. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, always intercedes for us.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. (Psalm 139:3-5)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: O Lord, grant me the graces and strength to keep on trying and going on in this life of Christian faith and discipleship.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the angels God sends our way through the kindness of the people we meet.

15 August, Tuesday – Fulfilment

Aug 15 – Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary is taken up body and soul into the glory of Heaven, and with God and in God she is Queen of Heaven and earth. And is she really so remote from us? The contrary is true. Precisely because she is with God and in God, she is very close to each one of us. While she lived on this earth she could only be close to a few people. Being in God, who is close to us, actually, “within” all of us, Mary shares in this closeness of God. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers, can help us with her motherly kindness and has been given to us, as the Lord said, precisely as a “mother” to whom we can turn at every moment. – Pope Benedict XVI

  • http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050815_assunzione-maria_en.html

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Apocalypse 11:19,12:1-6,10

The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake, and violent hail.

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. Then a second sign appeared in the sky, a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet. Its tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was having the child, so that he could eat it as soon as it was born from its mother. The woman brought a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready, for her to be looked after in the twelve hundred and sixty days.

Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.’

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1 Corinthians 15:20-26

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him. After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.

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Luke 1:39-56

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And 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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“All generations shall call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.”

There is so much to be said about Mary, her life, prophesies about her, her death (or lack of a bodily death as some scholars propose), her assumption and her queenship now.

In my reversion to the Catholic faith, initially I did not have any inclination to Mary, now I have a four foot tall painting of her in my living room. So as my reversion was taking place, the rosary found a place in my heart during a 54 day novena that Pope Francis called for early in his pontificate. When you pray 53 Hail Mary’s for 54 consecutive days, you start to contemplate on the mysteries from every angle.

I started to realise that Mary fulfilled so much of what was written in scripture. What I would like to focus on for today, is the Magnificat, this prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit when she met with her cousin Elizabeth. “ Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty  has done great things for me.”

I see that line being fulfilled in her Assumption and Coronation, the 4th and 5th glorious mysteries of the rosary. We adopted the first half of the Hail Mary from Luke chapter 1, but really it finds it fulfilment after she passed from this world. Whether she was assumed into heaven, or died then was taken up, the point is that we now call her Blessed and full of grace, for she had become Queen of heaven and just like Solomons mother in 1 Kings, where King Solomon had a throne on his right for his mother and when he said to her “make your request my mother for I will not refuse you” (1 Kings 2:20), sounds a little like the wedding at Cana.

The mother of the King, all throughout history has had a prominent place in the kingdom. Rightly so, Our Blessed Mother has that place too and all her life she sought to do the will of God, The King. We have been called heirs to the Kingdom, and our job is simple, to do the will of the Father, as Jesus said. And in The Queen of Heaven we have an example to follow, humility, obedience & submission will get us there.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1: 46-55)

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for providing a human example of grace and humility and obedience. In your mother we have roadmap to help us join you in heaven.

12 August, Saturday – Faith, Free Weights and Deadlifts

Aug 12 – Memorial for St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Jane married Baron de Chantal. She restored order in the household, which was on the brink of ruin, and brought back prosperity. During her husband’s absence at the court, or with the army, when reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here.” She found more than once that God blessed with miracles the care she gave the suffering members of Christ.  Baron de Chantal was accidentally killed by a harquebus while out shooting. Left a widow at 28, with four children, the broken-hearted baroness took a vow of chastity.

She founded the Congregation of the Visitation, whose aim was to receive, with a view to their spiritual advancement, young girls and even widows who had not the desire or strength to subject themselves to the austere ascetical practices in force in all the religious orders at that time. The remainder of the saint’s life was spent under the protection of the cloister in the practice of the most admirable virtues. It was firmness and great vigour which prevailed in St. Jane Frances; she did not like to see her daughters giving way to human weakness. Her trials were continuous and borne bravely, and yet she was exceedingly sensitive.

– http://www.wf-f.org/StJaneFdeChantal.html

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Deuteronomy 6:4-13

Moses said to the people:
‘Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising; you shall fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet; you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

‘When the Lord has brought you into the land which he swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give you, with great and prosperous cities not of your building, houses full of good things not furnished by you, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olives you did not plant, when you have eaten these and had your fill, then take care you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must fear the Lord your God, you must serve him, by his name you must swear.’

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Matthew 17:14-20

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

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

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“… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”

3 to 4 times a week, I work out with a personal trainer — Spencer. I do this because I hate to exercise. Since I can’t be disciplined on my own, Spencer gets the unenviable job of being my taskmaster. I’ve been training with Spencer for two years now. In that time, he has worked me so much I actually have muscles that are visible. Spencer likes to use words like ‘striation’, ‘trapezius’ and ‘lattissimus dorsi’. We do endless repetitions of drills and dull things like ‘cardio’ which he says are good for me. Despite my lack of motivation, there have been tangible results. I am stronger. And I have more physical endurance. Hills and elevations don’t bother me any more. Neither does lifting my 50lb dog or using my heavy cast-iron skillet. I actually enjoy going on long hikes with my dog now.

Faith is much like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. When I first started physical training, we would do drills with small free weights at low rep counts. I’d take long breaks between sets to catch my breath. We have since worked up to higher rep counts, heavier weights and shorter breaks. Intuitively, it makes sense. You don’t go straight to 100lb deadlifts at the first get go. You have to work your way to it.

The disciples in today’s gospel reading attempted the faith-equivalent of 100lb deadlifts without first doing drills with small ‘faith-free weights’. They might have succeded, but the odds were stacked against them. We are not all possessed of the same ‘faith strength’ as the centurion in Matthew 8:8, whose famous words have been immortalized at mass – “Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed”. Just as a muscle needs exercise to develop strength, our faith needs to be worked on so that when we are truly tested, when life drops us that 100lb challenge, we know what to do with it. Start with the small stuff, converse with God, no detail is too small for Him. Things will happen if you allow Him to help you develop your faith muscle.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, you are the god of things both great and small. Watch over us, guide our hearts, give us wisdom to make good decisions, with even the smallest matters in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His watchfulness, for the comfort and assurance of His presence in our daily lives. We give thanks for good health, for family, for friends, for blue skies, green grass and tall trees. For the clean air we breathe, the fresh water we drink, the small things we take for granted that are made possible because of His grace.

9 August, Wednesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

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

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

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

–  Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Paran and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

At this, the whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said:

‘I have heard the complaints which the sons of Israel make against me. Say to them, “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – I will deal with you according to the very words you have used in my hearing. In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall, all you men of the census, all you who were numbered from the age of twenty years and over, you who have complained against me. For forty days you reconnoitred the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins, and you shall learn what it means to reject me.” I, the Lord, have spoken: this is how I will deal with this perverse community that has conspired against me. Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.’

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Matthew 15:21-28

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

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“O woman, great is your faith!”

In the Book of Sirach, there is a beautiful set of verses about fidelity – “…for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him” (Sirach 2:5-6). The first time I read it, I was on a train into HK, frantic and very late for an important job interview. There was no time and nowhere to change into a business suit; I ended up doing the interview in my jeans. When I arrived, I signed in, held that verse in my heart and hoped for the best. While waiting for word that evening, I obsessed over all the little details that I had screwed up. The panic I worked myself into was ridiculous! Yet despite my best efforts at self-sabotage, I got the job. And it started a chain of events that would change my life for the better. God had my back the whole time.; my faith just wasn’t strong enough to trust Him completely. I had to indulge in so much doubt and self-loathing even after I got the job, that I spent my first 3 years there in complete misery.

Faith is less about proclamation than it is about action. How we conduct ourselves when we are tested reveals the true measure of our fidelity. That’s true of all our relationships, not just the one we have with God. The Hebrews in today’s reading broke faith with God when they succumbed to their fears and pursued their own agenda instead of trusting in Him. They had more than enough reason to trust in Him – God had led them from captivity through the desert, right to the gates of the Promised Land. This was the last mile. He had proven His holy power time after time. Yet there was still doubt. We may think that we’re acting out of good intentions when our trust in Him wavers. We might even fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the best interests of everyone, that our way is the logical way forward. But our conscience always knows, and the fruit of our actions eventually reveals us for the fairweather faithfuls that we are.

The next time we are gripped by doubt, fear and self-loathing, let us pause awhile to check our emotions and examine our hearts. Is God trying to ask something of us? Is He testing our faith? How are we responding? Have we reacted impulsively and broken faith? Or have we stayed true and remained faithful to our hope in Him?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith and the presence of mind to keep calm despite the distress of unexpected life events.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for His mercy and His forgiveness. While we were bumbling sinners, He reached out to us and saved us from ourselves. For that we are, and will always be, thankful!

5 Aug, Saturday – The World Does Not Play Fair

Aug 5 – Memorial for Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian Basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Rededicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honouring God through Mary.

St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centres of the Church. This basilica represents the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life.

– http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1098.

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Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said:

‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.

‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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Let no one wrong his brother

As I was growing up, we were taught to play fair — that everyone gets a chance, and when you have gotten your turn, you are to give way for others to play so everyone gets a turn. We were told to share our toys, we learnt that sharing is caring. We were taught to be nice and be friendly so that we would have friends who would grow to help us along the way.

However, the hard truth when we grow up and begin to notice the competition in order to survive makes us reconsider the values that we were brought up with. Of course, I do not mean to turn from a good schoolkid to a mean and selfish person when we grow up. The world does not play fair. As most of us reflect on this today, we would agree that sometimes when we play by the book, we lose out to others, leading to frustration and perhaps eventually, finding something to blame the failure on.

In today’s readings, the Lord spoke to Moses about being fair and loving to his fellow brothers, that rewards were proportionate to the harvest. In contrast, the Gospel never fail to reminds us of the evil and presence of people who are always looking out for themselves, executing decisions that are purely for selfish gain, with no fruitful outcome for others. We can summarise the mission for the past week — that we are to live to be of value to others, pray for wisdom that we do not neglect the unfortunate, but to accept them for who they are. Better yet, to invite them to turn their hearts towards God. Despite a rough world out there, we can still play fair on the platform of faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: Gather our thoughts O Lord, that the past week has been good and that you have journeyed with us to keep us safe. If we have not been prayerful, we set aside this weekend to do Your work, in Your name.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord, for the times when I was tempted to treat others unfairly just for my own gain, but decided not to do so, because I am being reminded of Jesus and His love for others.

22 July, Saturday – Seeking God Passionately

Jul 22 – Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene

There is actually very little solid information about her, and both scholars and traditions differ on the interpretation of what we do know.

She was a friend and follower of Jesus. Filled with sorrow over her sin, she anointed Christ and washed his feet with her hair. He exorcised seven demons from her. She was the first to have been visited by the Risen Christ. While there are several arguments about her life after the Crucifixion, the Greek Church maintains that she retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin Mary and lived there the rest of her life.

Some things we do know for certain – Mary wasn’t Jesus’ wife nor mistress, she wasn’t the mother of His child, and she didn’t found a royal dynasty or separate branch of Christianity.

http://www.carr.org/~meripper/saints/saints-m.htm

– Patron Saint Index

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Song of Songs 3:1-4

All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.

 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.

The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”

Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.

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John 20:1-2, 11-18

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’

Meanwhile Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.

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“Who are you looking for?”

The first reading of today from the Song of Songs speaks of the longing of a bride for her beloved; she seeks him and looks for him all over the city. She asks the watchmen if they have seen him on their rounds, to no avail.

A few years ago, my wife went on a work assignment to New York for a few months. Because of the time difference, we could only speak twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. In spite of the daily conversations, I found myself longing for her return. Having been married for about 16 years then, I found myself missing her dearly. While we do not spend our time together talking all the time, I find comfort and strength being with her.

Similarly, Jesus’ disciples (the women too) felt a loss after His death. While Jesus had just died on the cross, the disciples and the women were distraught when they could not find His body. One could sense their desperation in the Gospel passage of today, and their joy when Mary of Magdala recognised Jesus.

For many years since I had been baptised as a teen, I felt that God was somewhat detached. I had prayed on a more-or-less regular basis, as was taught to me, but I was not sure that my prayers and conversations with God were even heard.

Since then, I have had numerous experiences of God, but it was during the Conversion Experience Retreat that came to the biggest realisation of how God loved me. Over the week at the retreat, I felt the love of God for the first time, and, just like my relationship with my wife, I experienced a longing for His presence in my life.

As we travel along our faith journey, it is important that we develop a strong desire for Jesus, like the bride for her groom and like the disciples for their Teacher. Without this, our faith can only be lukewarm. Let us pray for, and desire for, red-hot faith!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, let us desire to know You more and more each day. Help us always to seek You in our lives.

Thanksgiving Jesus Lord, thank You for teaching us what is truly important; to love You more each day. Thank You for being there no matter what the circumstances in our lives.

12 July, Wednesday – Authority to be used wisely

12 July 2017

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Genesis 41:55-57,42:5-7,17-24

When the whole country of Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread. But Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’ There was famine all over the world. Then Joseph opened all the granaries and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine grew worse in the land of Egypt. People came to Egypt from all over the world to buy grain from Joseph, for the famine had grown severe throughout the world.

Israel’s sons with others making the same journey went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan. It was Joseph, as the man in authority over the country, who sold the grain to all comers. So Joseph’s brothers went and bowed down before him, their faces touching the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognised them. But he did not make himself known to them, and he spoke harshly to them. Then he kept them all in custody for three days.

On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you shall keep your lives, for I am a man who fears God. If you are honest men let one of your brothers be kept in the place of your detention; as for you, go and take grain to relieve the famine of your families. You shall bring me your youngest brother; this way your words will be proved true, and you will not have to die!’ This they did. They said to one another, ‘Truly we are being called to account for our brother. We saw his misery of soul when he begged our mercy, but we did not listen to him and now this misery has come home to us.’ Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you did not listen, and now we are brought to account for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood, because there was an interpreter between them. He left them and wept.

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Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

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He left them and wept.

What is the purpose of power and authority given to us? Is it meant to help us enable others to discover the full potential within themselves? Perhaps it is a chance for us to display the capabilities we often had in ourselves. I believe that the Christian understanding of power and authority requires us to discover that it is our way of evangelising to others all in our midst.

When Jesus appointed his Twelve disciples, He gave them power over the evil spirits. God has shown us that we ourselves possess the ability to overcome all the challenges and issues which has been put before us. The good Lord sometimes put before us people or challenges which make us wonder why they are placed there. Joseph in today’s First Reading would never have known that he would become second in command in Egypt. The very brothers whom caused him to sold into Egypt are now at his mercy.

The typical human reaction is to respond in the same vein as what the other party did. Yet Joseph did not do so. Here was his opportunity to go take revenge at his brothers but yet he chose not to do so. I believe his actions are instructive for us as he shows us that our actions reflect the beliefs in our lives. This means that we need to take time to ask ourselves what are the beliefs which motivate our actions and words. Do these actions and words point towards God?

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the courage to face with our inner fears and learn how to overcome them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all Spiritual Directors.