Tag Archives: faith

3 April, Friday – At Your Service

3 April 2020

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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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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

Amid our current pandemic situation, if someone does good deeds, others will comment that it is hypocrisy. If someone shows indifference, others will comment that they are worthless. It is true that we cannot please everybody. Our life must not be dependent on the appreciation of others. But we are working like that. We show up to work on time to let the people know we are responsible. We submit efficient works to let others know that we are reliable. Now that we are on quarantine, we try to do as much housework or ‘work from home’ tasks as we can to let others know we are dependable. We do things to please other people. But it is not how it should be. Yes, it is very impressive that we are capable of doing great things. But can we just be alright with just ‘doing great things’ and remove the part ‘to let others know’?

As Catholics and believers of Christ, we wholeheartedly do our best to follow Christ and live His word. Easier said and done, because our modernity is a source of increasing temptation that leads us to stray away from Christ.

Let us ask ourselves, “Should we wait for our deathbed before we want to do good deeds or ask for forgiveness?” Some of us are on quarantine and most of us are living with our families. Let us take this as an opportunity to converse with them. Let us put our phones down and have a decent meal together. Yes, we need our phones to be updated on the latest events. But it can wait. Use the social distancing time to ‘re-learn’ about your family members. We may realize that our family members have changed or there could be the ‘aha’ moment when we realize that it seems it is only now that we get to know them better. Talk to them about anything. It is a simple way of reaching out to them. Some of them might not like the idea of being inside the house for the time being. Let them feel at ease because they are with their family. They are your family, you know them best. In that way, we are being used as tools in sharing the good works of Christ.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please grant us the grace to see the goodness in others and to show goodness as well. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father God, for the people who heed the call to be of service during this COVID-19 pandemic.  Amen.

29 January, Wednesday – On Rocky Ground

29 Jan 

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2 Samuel 7:4-17

The word of the Lord came to Nathan:

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

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

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Mark 4:1-20

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

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

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

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some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and sprang up straightaway, because there was no depth of earth; and when the sun cane up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away

In our backyard is a raggedy little lemon tree. I planted it when I first arrived here in California, as a way of marking a new beginning. My little lemon tree thrived for a while and I patted myself on the back when it bore its first fruit. Good results are such a motivator! I diligently cleared the spiders away, pruned my tree and watered it. And then, my botanist neighbor informed me that the soil conditions and the layout of our backyard were not ideal for growing citrus, and that she was surprised my lemon tree had thrived at all. Though I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, my lemon tree started to falter right after that. The ground grew harder. The weather turned colder. Even sunshine became erratic. And then, the Christmas holidays descended and with family in town, I became too distracted to tend it. So the little lemon tree that had started out with so much promise, deteriorated into an unpruned mess of leaves and thorns. Even the spiders returned, bringing new troops afresh!

Looking back, I went into it too hastily, without having done all of the homework, and so floundered at the first piece of negative feedback I received. It was nothing that couldn’t have been fixed with a little research and common sense, but I got discouraged and couldn’t stick with it. My little lemon tree’s symbolism isn’t lost on me. Commitment, or the lack thereof, has always been my biggest stumbling block. I am easily shaken, especially in the face of criticism or setbacks. Like the seed that falls on rocky ground, my roots don’t seem to run very deep. It’s worrying because lately, I’ve been struggling with my faith. Not only does it seem like I have stopped growing in Him, there are days where I’m convinced I’m moving backwards. If this related to any other matter, I would probably have stopped trying by now. But this is my faith we’re talking about!

I’ve seen this coming for some time now. It’s become increasingly difficult to stay motivated about the work I do in His ministry. I find that I’m easily irritated and it takes all my willpower to hold my tongue when things annoy me. I keep telling myself that this is a phase that everyone goes through and it will pass, but it hasn’t passed. It’s persisted, and even gotten worse. Like the seed that has fallen on rocky ground, I feel the Word has stalled, or even gone backwards with me. Inspiration, which used to run like a spring of water, now seems to have dried up. There are days when I feel like barren soil.

I don’t know if this will get better anytime soon. Everything in His time, Scripture says. But why would He want me to wallow in this purgatory I’m in? I’ve trawled His Word and the sermons on the Web to find a way out of this spiritual rut, with mixed results. I feel God is waiting for me to ‘get it’, but I really don’t know if I am going to be able to figure it out or what it is I am supposed to ‘get’. I just know that every day, I wake up with the sinking feeling Luke must have had when he penned the lines, “Now take care, how well you listen, for whoever produces will be given more, but from those who do not produce, even what they seem to have will be taken away from them” (Luke 8:18). Please pray for me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

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Prayer: I pray that I will be able to break out of this period of dryness that I’m in. I pray that He will show me the way back to Him because right now, I feel so lost.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the wealth of sermons and reflections on the internet. I give thanks for all the people who have given their time and energy so generously, to make this amazing resource available to people like me.

14 January, Tuesday – Armour of faith and courage

14 January
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1 Samuel 1:9-20

After they had eaten in the hall, Hannah rose and took her stand before the Lord, while Eli the priest was sitting on his seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. In the bitterness of her soul she prayed to the Lord with many tears and made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord of Hosts! If you will take notice of the distress of your servant, and bear me in mind and not forget your servant and give her a man-child, I will give him to the Lord for the whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head.’

While she prayed before the Lord which she did for some time, Eli was watching her mouth, for she was speaking under her breath; her lips were moving but her voice could not be heard. He therefore supposed that she was drunk and said to her, ‘How long are you going to be in this drunken state? Rid yourself of your wine.’ ‘No, my lord,’ Hannah replied ‘I am a woman in great trouble; I have taken neither wine nor strong drink – I was pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; all this time I have been speaking from the depth of my grief and my resentment.’ Then Eli answered her: ‘Go in peace,’ he said ‘and may the God of Israel grant what you have asked of him.’ And she said, ‘May your maidservant find favour in your sight’; and with that the woman went away; she returned to the hall and ate and was dejected no longer.

They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord and then set out and returned to their home in Ramah. Elkanah had intercourse with Hannah his wife and the Lord was mindful of her. She conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Samuel ‘since’ she said ‘I asked the Lord for him.’

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Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

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“Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.”

Imagine if you were there in the synagogue and you saw what Jesus did to the evil spirit? What would you be thinking and feeling? Shocked? Or simply helpless, that you are most likely not able to have the power to drive out demons and devils unless you’re an exorcist?

Jesus has so much power and authority over evil spirits that He can drive them out effectively and almost immediately. I always admire priests and certain exceptional laity who are given this powerful gift from God to liberate people who are oppressed or possessed. I have wished that I could become like them and bring peace to the person who is being tormented by these evil spirits. However, I soon realised that not everyone will be given this special and extraordinary gift. In fact, we do not always need exorcists to resolve spiritual problems. Spiritual maladies can exist in many forms; for instance, addiction, exploitation, violence and abuse in today’s world. They do not need to manifest in severe and extreme cases of possession or oppression.

As Jesus’s disciples, we are surely aware of the many forms of spiritual illnesses that are taking place in the world. While we may blame technology for perpetuating some of these evils, like pornography or violence, we should also acknowledge that technology is like a knife – we can use it to cook a delicious meal for our family, friends and loved ones, or we can use it to kill others. In fact, through this online platform, we are able to recognize that technology can actually be used to glorify and help others, as well as prevent injustices like how Facebook was mobilized to overthrow tyrannical governments during the Arab Spring in 2010.

Therefore, when faced with the evils of today’s world, Jesus is calling us to not be discouraged by the seemingly overwhelming amount of evil that appears to be magnified by the misuse of technology. He wants us to stand up and fight against the injustices of today’s society. We need not be exorcists to do this; we only need His armour of faith and courage, graces that we can ask God in prayer. Daunting as it is to battle against today’s evils, we must have the hope that God is with us, and He has the power to change people and their hearts, even if it is just one person at a time, one baby step in every move.

(Today’s Oxygen by Brenda Khoo)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please pray for us to don Your armour of faith and courage to fight against the injustice and evils of today’s world, so that together with Your abundant grace and help, we can get rid of all addictions, exploitations, violence and abuse in every society. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for giving us the grace of faith and courage to put up a fight against injustice. Whether we put up a strong or weak fight, we do this for Your glory, and we know in our hearts that You are together with us in this battle. Amen.

29 Dec, Sunday – Pilgrims Searching for Love and Home

29 Dec 2019 – Feast of the Holy Family

[Let us adore Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.]

The feast of the Holy Family offers the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of family life. Every family and community share the perplexing, frustrating, demanding challenge Luke described. Put most simply, Mary and Joseph faced the difficult discovery that Jesus was not going along with them every step of the way. It is a real story of a family conflict and is symbolic of all kinds of relationships.

We know what it is like when family members do not go along with us on the journey. When Mary and Joseph confronted Jesus in the Temple, they confronted the fact that he would have to discover his own path in life. No matter what they might hope for him, he did not belong to them.

The story reminds us that love is rooted in profound reverence for the mystery of the other. Such reverence cultivates profound respect for the other’s mysterious freedom. In that, we learn to desire that the other will become who they are meant to be rather than what we would have them be.

Excerpt taken from: Feast of the Holy Family: The Mystery of Love (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/scripture-life/feast-holy-family-mystery-love) 

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Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6,12-14

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children,
  and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.
Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins,
  he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.
Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own,
  he shall be heard on the day when he prays.
Long life comes to him who honours his father,
  he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.
My son, support your father in his old age,
  do not grieve him during his life.
Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy,
  do not despise him in your health and strength;
for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten
  but will serve as reparation for your sins.

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Colossians 3:12-21 

Family life in the Lord 

You are God’s chosen race his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful. 

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Wives give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.

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Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The Flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth

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

 I called my son out of Egypt.
After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

 

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

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May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts… Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

I was prepared to write my reflection on this Feast day more than a week ago but I could not put words to my thoughts as I was facing struggles of my own in my family. I was dumbfounded to be assigned this specific day, and while I knew intellectually, that God had a message for me in here, it took some wresting within for me to finally sit down to listen to Him.

We are Pilgrims

In three days, my family would be collecting a new set of keys to our rental apartment. We had been praying to find a new home in Singapore after moving back from Hong Kong. By the new year, this would be the fifth house that I will setting up home in, notwithstanding the many interim roofs we have temporarily rested our heavy-laden bodies to rest in. All these moves were made within the span of three years, over three countries. Some of them are moves related to jobs, while some were a result of grave illnesses within our families that required us to either ‘stay-put’ or ‘return-home’.

Whenever I behold the idea of packing up house again, I am seized with anxiety first, and then sadness for the home my family will soon be leaving behind. All the memories and efforts to dream up and personalise a blank space…must be let go. As my two-year old son is old enough to remember our various homes, I have been met with puzzling questions of “where is mummy-daddy house?” or “is this mummy-daddy house?” or “let’s go home!” even if ‘home’ is just a room for one week. I have held up hopes of stability as well as shed many tears for each of these homes. God knows that my heart aches for a place to sink roots in.

In the face of so much impermanence and instability, it is my faith that holds my fragile emotions together – however imperfectly. I humbly and wistfully recognise that my little family of three walks a shared path with the Holy Family. This is a realisation that struck me after I spent two successive Christmases accompanying a loved one in hospital over a cancer diagnosis – one with my husband and one with my mother. Surely Mary and Joseph must have struggled with the question of “not again, God?” when each time an angel forewarned them to “hasten and pack up, for you must leave this place.” Even if they had great faith, each blow of news and the logistics of being on the move must have been daunting – with a donkey or not.

How do we understand these difficult times? In my experience, I realise my efforts at understanding always fall short. The greater the effort I make, the more my heart and mind are fixated on the framework I have, and my framework is always too human, too limited, and too impatient. I perceive the things that have to be done and the answers I am seeking to be resolved in hours and days… but God is not limited by my perception of time. God’s plan exists in the dimension of eternity.

This is why the words of the prophets are never accepted in the present and can only be understood looking backwards: “He will be called a Nazarene.” This is why Herod and his son would fail to locate the Holy Family. God’s plan would still be carried out because God is above and beyond our human manipulations and frantic calculations.

I am learning to accept my family’s pilgrim state, as well as to embrace this sojourn of often being ‘homeless’ and always seeking a resting place, because I recognise this as an invitation from God to be very, very close to His chosen family – Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The privilege of too much earthly stability and permanence can turn out to be a grave distraction from seeking and desiring Eternal truths. Truths that will save our souls.

In Search for Love and Home

What are we really seeking in our lives? In the face of diagnoses of inexplicable illnesses, our fragile mortality, the sudden loss of a young life, the loss of a home, we realise how helpless and incapable we really are to make anything of true value happen without God’s grace. Evidently, we are human and not God. This is the ultimate truth that will strike at the heart of even the most stubbornly atheistic amidst us. Why does God permit this to happen to those whom He loves? Is this the kind of God whom I should place my hopes and trust in?

Our answers to this question will depend very much of what we understand about love, and ultimately the nature of God. For God is Love in its most perfect sense – more perfect, more profound, and vastly more giving than our minds can conceive. As St Thomas Aquinas said, “To love is to will the good of another.” Just as a parent would discipline a young child for the child’s own good, even if it involves certain pain or deprivation, so it is even more evident that God our loving Heavenly Father would desire the same for each of us in relation to our souls. We have a Father who suffers with us.

We need only look to the suffering person of Christ to understand the extent of God’s sacrificial love for us mankind. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). A God who would give the gift of His own self, to be born as flesh in the infant Jesus, and Himself choose to take on the sins of others and die on the cross for this purpose, in order to bring us into eternal communion with Him in heaven… who could this God be?

In the face of all earthly suffering and our perplexing unanswered questions, let us look to these images: the vagrant and obedient Holy Family, Christ the pilgrim boy and mocked messiah, and Christ the suffering saviour, who, with his wounds, points us to His Father – who is also our most loving Father. How beautiful it is to truly and intimately know this God who suffers alongside me, and who loves me so.

In Him all of our journeys end. With Him lies our final, eternal, most perfect Home.

(Today’s Oxygen by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Pray with me please, dear friends, as I journey with the ones I love on the difficult paths of pain and healing. Pray for the grace to see our lives as God sees, for consolation that will be tangible, for hope that will carry us beyond the physical senses. Pray for hope and an increase in faith. As we pray, I believe that many among us who need these words shall also be healed.

Thanksgiving: Let us give thanks and delight in joyful praise for each and every day we are given. To live, to love, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to mend and heal, to laugh and breathe deeply. The best and only life we have is right now. Let us give thanks with a grateful heart.

6 December, Friday – Believe that He can do it

6 December 2019

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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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‘Do you believe I can do this?’ They said, ‘Sir, we do.’

A couple of weeks ago, I did a retreat at the Tarrawarra Abbey in Melbourne. It was the first retreat I had done in years, and I must say that it took me considerable effort to really feel connected with God. It got to a point where I had to consciously let go of my own direction and let God lead the way. It was only then that certain revelations came to me. My main takeaway from the retreat was that I needed to learn to rely on God in my life.

The blind men approached Jesus in faith. Their desire to have their sight restored was very strong, and they were certain that Jesus would grant them that healing. As with other instances in the gospels, such as when the centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus complimented them for the strength of their faith.

There are several areas in my life that I do not lift up to God even though they are causing me a significant amount of anxiety. I think that I still lack that kind of faith where I am certain that God is capable of anything and everything. Although spending more time in prayer always helps me feel at peace, I am somehow not able to commit to it. As I continue with this struggle of faith, I pray that I will one day have be able to say with the utmost conviction that “Yes, God, you can do everything”.

 

(Today’s Oxygen by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the confidence to trust in and rely on God.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His grace and mercy.

14 November, Thursday – Didn’t see this coming…

14 November 2019

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Wisdom 7:22-8:1

Within Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
active, incisive, unsullied,
lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
irresistible, beneficent, loving to man,
steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,
almighty, all-surveying,
penetrating all intelligent, pure
and most subtle spirits;
for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;
she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
She is a breath of the power of God,
pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
hence nothing impure can find a way into her.
She is a reflection of the eternal light,
untarnished mirror of God’s active power,
image of his goodness.
Although alone, she can do all;
herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls,
she makes them friends of God and prophets;
for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.
She is indeed more splendid than the sun,
she outshines all the constellations;
compared with light, she takes first place,
for light must yield to night,
but over Wisdom evil can never triumph.
She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other,
ordering all things for good.

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Luke 17:20-25

Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, Jesus gave them this answer, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, “Look here! Look there!” For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.’
 
He said to the disciples, ‘A time will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there!” or, “Look here!” Make no move; do not set off in pursuit; for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will be the Son of Man when his day comes. But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.’

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“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed…”

I recently watched a Netflix documentary on the life of Bill Gates. It revealed how Bill, in wanting to give back to humanity, was trying to identify what was the most critical thing that the world is in need of and that he could help in, which would make the world a better place. Eventually, he decided on something which would save millions of lives of those living in underdeveloped countries each year – he decided there was a dire need to provide them with loos. Not just any loo –but one which did not require water nor electricity to function and which could recycle human waste instantaneously. And the loo must cost less than US$500 each. If this solution was not found, many millions more would continue to die –painfully, needlessly and without dignity.

It was surprising, unexpected. Perhaps like many others, I was expecting him to get into something a lot more ‘techy’. In fact, it was the reverse – he was looking for a solution that had to be as ‘un-techy’ as possible. Yet what struck me most was how brilliant Bill was in being able to see beyond the obvious and identifying something so basic and fundamental as a working toilet – and how this would save millions of lives. It was surprising that the richest man in the world, a technical and business genius, would care so deeply about people so far removed from his day-to-day reality and to identify an issue so far away from the world of Apple computers. In my opinion, Bill Gates, showed exceptional wisdom and in his own way, will one day be able to turn the developing world upside down. Thankfully, it will be for the better.

So too when God chooses to turn the world upside down, the power of Wisdom is at its fullest.The greatest revelations of faith, the most poignant moments of truth are the result of the grace when the Wisdom of God chooses to reveal itself to humanity, in the process, revealing just how foolish the ‘wisdom’ of this world really is. Consider this …

  • That it is not the self-professed wise and learned to whom God will reveal His kingdom but to mere children. Those who turn to him and accept Him with child-like faith, trust, dependence and obedience.
  • Not of the rich and the powerful of this secular world but those given the infinite power and wealth of grace from the Holy Spirit that he calls to true discipleship and apostleship. A bunch of fishermen, manual laborers, shepherds, a converted harlot, a 14 year-old maiden from the poorest tribe of Israel, and that odd tax-collector (someone rejected and hated by society) – these He chose to lay and build the unshakeable and unbreakable foundations of the Christian faith and of the Catholic Church.
  • That in sacrifice, the humbleness of the 2 coins given out of authentic love and sacrifice, amounted to infinite treasure in heaven, whereas millions upon millions of excess treasure, given conditionally, arrogantly and in vain-glory, amounts to nothing.
  • That prayer, when done ostentatiously at busy street corners for show to gain men’s adulation, does not reach the ears of God not of His heart. Whereas the silent, sincere lifting of one’s soul in the secret place where a soul is united to the soul of God, is heard … and answered.
  • That God helps not those who help themselves or who turn to this world for answers but who have finally come to the wisdom of realizing that they are no longer able to help themselves and that only God can help, redeem, heal, provide, protect, comfort and save them. For it is the wounded, the broken, the lost, the sick, the sinful, the helpless that God came to save. The Shepherd was sent not for the 99 sheep that are fine but for that one sheep who is the lost, the least and the last. To all the wolves in this world, a Shepherd is not a friend. Wisdom will also revel and remind us that the sheep have their Shepherd and the Shepherd is here not for the wolf, but only for His sheep.… those that know his voice and who follow him. Wisdom will also make us ponder if in this earthly life … are we wolves or sheep?
  • The folly of us thinking we are in control of our lives and the lives those around us. We try to negotiate, bribe, bargain, threaten, hoodwink, blackmail God into allowing us to have our way when God knows us better than we know ourselves –why we are alive, how we think and what we love. He knows exactly what will make us happiest in this life. And He loves us better than we can ever love ourselves.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom — it is grace personified. The grace of wisdom to know that only in God, all things are possible, and all things come to be according to His will. Not human effort or ‘strength’ or ‘intelligence’ but His will and grace alone. Choose wisdom. It is the difference between whether you choose to be a wolf or a sheep. Only the latter has the privilege to have a Divine Shepherd watching over it. Choose wisely.

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us, in the midst of the distractions, confusion, deceptions and superficiality of this world, we often find ourselves lost and misguided in trying to do the right thing. We put more faith in ourselves thinking we are wise and able to live life without you. We then stumble and fall inside our own folly, often hurting ourselves and others around us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the times you allowed the truth of your light to penetrate the dark folly of this world and of ourselves.

 

 

10 November, Sunday – Persevering in Faith

10 Nov 2019 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

There were seven brothers who were arrested with their mother. The king tried to force them to taste pig’s flesh, which the Law forbids, by torturing them with whips and scourges. One of them, acting as spokesman for the others, said, ‘What are you trying to find out from us? We are prepared to die rather than break the laws of our ancestors.’
  With his last breath the second brother exclaimed, ‘Inhuman fiend, you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.’
  After him, they amused themselves with the third, who on being asked for his tongue promptly thrust it out and boldly held out his hands, with these honourable words, ‘It was heaven that gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.’ The king and his attendants were astounded at the young man’s courage and his utter indifference to suffering.
  When this one was dead they subjected the fourth to the same savage torture. When he neared his end he cried, ‘Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection, no new life.’
 

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2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.
  Finally, brothers, pray for us; pray that the Lord’s message may spread quickly, and be received with honour as it was among you; and pray that we may be preserved from the interference of bigoted and evil people, for faith is not given to everyone. But the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one, and we, in the Lord, have every confidence that you are doing and will go on doing all that we tell you. May the Lord turn your hearts towards the love of God and the fortitude of Christ.

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Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached Jesus and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died. Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
  Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

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But the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one

It has been a challenging two months where work has booged me down both from a physical as well as an emotional manner. There have been mistakes made which I let affect the credibility of my division and my work, thereby rendering me (in my own mind) useless and ineffective in the eyes of my bosses. A crisis led to an error of judgement where some sensitive information was sent out to a group of industry partners and that triggered a string of events which led to me having to send out close to one hundred email apologies in one night.

It happened on the evening where I was supposed to lead practice with the worship team and I was truly ‘tempted’ to call for help and ask another worship leader to cover for me while I fixed the mess at work. However, I told myself that I had to run the practice since I had already chosen the songs and taking the 3 hours (including travel) out of the office may actually help. So in faith, I told my staff involved to prepare the list of addressees while I stepped out.

Thankfully, the damage was contained and I believe that in owning up to my error, I showed all those around me (and above) that I was responsible enough to take the blame. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that the Lord had waved His loving hands over the whole situation and that by surrendering it all to Him, I had allowed him to take over. That practice session was wonderfully smooth and I went back to the office with a sense of overwhelming peace and a deep assurance that everything would be OK.

The whole episode led me to question if I had started to become ‘soft’ after almost 10 years in this job. I had one or two conversations with my deputy as well as another colleague if I had become too nice a leader and if my standards were slipping (a remark made out of concern by another HOD). I guess as the most ‘senior’ HOD around, I am expected to set some sort of example and others look up to me as some sort of benchmark for how things are done at work.

Brothers and sisters, we sometimes get too caught up with the goings-on in our career, in our everyday lives that we forget to allow God in to remind us how ultimately, we are His children and His precious sons and daughters. We let others tell us how we should behave, we let others affect our emotions too much. I have learnt, over many years, that when the storms come, there is no point getting sucked up in the vortex of noise, uncertainty and chaos. It is precisely in those periods when we need to trust in God and lean into His loving arms in faith. Because only then can we begin to discern His hand in our lives and realise that no matter how much we try, when the chips are down, it is only through surrendering in faith that He will answer our prayers and help us out of situations that we create.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Abba Father, you look after all of us with a faith that demonstrates to us how precious we are in your eyes as your sons and daughters. Help us to see your hand in all that we do and are going through in our lives.

Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Father, for always being there for us.

30 Jul, Tuesday – The Motherly Love of God

Jul 30 – Memorial for St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop & Doctor

An adult convert, St. Peter (406-450) fought paganism and heresy, enforced reforms, and built several churches and ornate altars in his see. A preacher with outstanding language skills, he was given the name ‘Chrysologus’, referring to his ‘golden word’. 176 of his sermons have survived; it is the strength of these beautiful explanations of the Incarnation, the Creed, the place of Mary and John the Baptist in the great plan of salvation, etc., that led to his being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Exodus 33:7-11, 34:5-9, 28

Moses used to take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. He called it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone who had to consult the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting, outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise. Every man would stand at the door of his tent and watch Moses until he reached the Tent; the pillar of cloud would come down and station itself at the entrance to the Tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When they saw the pillar of cloud stationed at the entrance to the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would turn back to the camp, but the young man who was his servant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the Tent.

And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.

He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

Moses stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing. He inscribed on the tablets the words of the Covenant – the Ten Words.

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Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

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as one speaks to a friend

Consider for a moment the first reading. Did you notice the presence of God? It is ‘unmissable’ (pardon my blatant disregard for good grammar) – the pillar of cloud. It is mind-boggling that day in and day out, the people of Israel had God literally living in a tent in their midst, visible for all to see. And on top of that, God spoke as one would speak to a friend.

Fast forward a few millennia. Most, if not all of us, have struggled to sense God’s presence at one point in our lives — how we yearn to hear Him when we are in desperate need of direction, of hope, of faith. How we long to see him when our world suddenly turns upside down with pain, insecurity, betrayal, hopelessness, terror. Where then is the pillar of cloud, the presence of God in our lives? Has it dissipated into thin air? Has our faith dissipated into thin air? Was it ever really there in the first place?

Allow me to point to the fidelity of God in our lives, through the person of His mother – the first and only perfect disciple of the Holy Trinity.

I spend a fair bit of time sitting in prayer and refection, at the open-air courtyard at Nativity Church, in front of the life-sized statue of our Lady of Grace. And as I sit there, many of her children come by each day to pray to her. Two have left a deep impression on me, on how real God and our Blessed Mother’s love has been for them. I make a caveat though — these are entirely what I see and the judgments I make on my part about them — not necessarily grounded in truth, but I believe in my heart, from my observations and reflections about them, that they are deeply grounded in faith and filled with grace from God.

The first is that of a young father with his son. The father looks like a typical ‘Ah Beng’ (local slang for gangster) – with a full body tattoo from head to toe. He struck me as one who perhaps lived a dangerous life, a reckless life. Beside him was his young son. They were kneeling in front of our Blessed Mother – the father patiently and lovingly teaching his son to pray the Rosary. It was really an odd picture – something unexpected but powerful, in the sense of surprise it gave me. It made me reflect deeply. And as I reflected, I asked myself – did something happen to help him turn over a new leaf? How was his life touched by God and our Mother which has led him to now want to build strong roots of faith in his son? Was he saved from tragedy? Or from a life which would have been perilous to his family?

The second is that of a grandmother wheeling a boy on a wheelchair to the feet of Mother Mary. The boy appeared to be suffering from severe muscular dystrophy and his body was severely contorted and deformed, his head twisted to almost right angles to his shoulder. He also appeared mentally retarded and was not able to relate normally to the grandmother’s words. The grandmother however, was the picture of perfect love, fidelity, patience, support and compassion for the boy. She was joyful, smiling and showered the boy with immense love. Her love for her grandson was self-sacrificial – his life, dignity, comfort, self-worth and well-being was all that mattered. It was a cross she knew she would need to carry for the rest of her life. But she was able to embrace that cross. With amazing joy, with amazing love.

Stares did not bother them, tragedy did not lead them to despair, darkness did not overwhelm the flicker of faith in their eyes, which were not fixed on what the world thought of them, nor their condition, nor those they loved. No,– their eyes were fixed on the saving love of their God and the unfailing love of the Mother of their God. Through the painful curve balls thrown at them by life, the learnt that they had a God whose love, care and fidelity is constant, unchanging and unchangeable. These were blessed, not by the circumstances of their lives which was fraught with suffering, but in knowing that they could no longer help themselves. They were blessed with faith which helped them know, with great certainty, that their God was very present, very real, very faithful.  A God which spoke to them in their lives, as one spoke to a friend. For these blessed ones, the pillar of cloud, which is their Almighty God, continues to be their protector, their provider, their refuge, their salvation.

In both instances, I asked myself what exactly did they have to go through in life that allows their spirit to remain so strong, their faith and fidelity and hope in God and our Blessed Mother to remain so steadfast and unwavering? What grace was it that gives them such victory despite such heavy defeats in life? My only conclusion — the only one that could make any sense whatsoever to me — Amazing Grace, Amazing Love, Amazing God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. When our lives are so filled with pain, with fear, with angst and you seem silent and very far away, we lose our way and our courage and our hope. Bring us back, by your saving love and amazing grace to that place where you remind us that you have never left us and for us to then know we will always have a Father who is also a friend, who walks every step of life with us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all the times you stayed by our side when we had long abandoned you. For never giving up on us. For remaining true to us and being our friend, no matter what. Thank you for Our Mother, through whose loving arms and tender heart, you let us know the gentleness and depth with which you embrace us.

29 July, Monday – A developing faith

Jul 29 – Memorial for St. Martha

Jesus liked to stay at the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his friends at Bethany, when he was in Judaea. One of these visits has ever remained dear to Christian memory. On that occasion, Martha, busily serving the Master, asked Him to persuade Mary to help her. Jesus explained to her that certain souls, called by God, should choose a better part still — the primary duty of listening to Him and contemplating Him.

After His Ascension, she was seized by the Jews, together with many other Christians. They were put on board a ship without sails or oars, and left helpless on the open sea. But God guided the ship, and they all arrived safely at Marseilles. Martha, after having won the love and admiration of the people of Marseilles by the sanctity of her life and her wonderful charity, withdrew with several virtuous women to a spot remote from men, where she lived for a long time, greatly renowned for her piety and prudence.

http://www.catholicculture.org/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2006-07-29

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1 John 4:7-16

My dear people,
let us love one another
since love comes from God
and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Anyone who fails to love can never have known God,
because God is love.
God’s love for us was revealed
when God sent into the world his only Son
so that we could have life through him;
this is the love I mean:
not our love for God,
but God’s love for us when he sent his Son
to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
My dear people,
since God has loved us so much,
we too should love one another.
No one has ever seen God;
but as long as we love one another
God will live in us
and his love will be complete in us.
We can know that we are living in him
and he is living in us
because he lets us share his Spirit.
We ourselves saw and we testify
that the Father sent his Son
as saviour of the world.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God lives in him, and he in God.
We ourselves have known and put our faith in
God’s love towards ourselves.
God is love
and anyone who lives in love lives in God,
and God lives in him.

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John 11:19-27

Many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’

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Do you believe this?

This is the third year that I have not had a full-time job, and the additional time available has allowed me to read up a lot more about the faith than before. In the absence of exhausting work demands, I finally have the mental resources to appreciate and really learn the Church’s teachings and theology. It has been extremely enriching, enlightening and transformative. To my surprise, I have found that the more knowledge I gain, the more I realise I do not know. Truly, there is always so much room for one’s faith to develop.

Today is the memorial of Saint Martha of Bethany, one of a few people in the gospels who were privileged to have a close friendship with Jesus. Her personality is clearly contrasted with that of her sister’s – she is always on the move while Mary is much less action-oriented. Jesus’ message to her when he visited their home was about the importance of spending time in quiet prayer and contemplation, something that cannot be achieved when one is perpetually busy.

Although Martha seems to tend towards action rather than contemplation, it doesn’t mean that her faith is weak. She goes out to meet Jesus after her brother Lazarus died, and confidently makes a strong proclamation of faith in her Lord. Perhaps she had taken Jesus’ earlier words to heart.  However, although she is certain that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus was around, she still questioned Jesus’ command to open the tomb. That is a very natural thing to say, and very reflective of Martha’s nature. Opening the tomb would surely traumatise everyone present. Jesus gives her another message. This time, to trust him wholeheartedly. His very act of bringing Lazarus back to life would surely bring Martha’s faith to a whole new level.

I encourage all readers to take more active steps to study the faith. The more we know about Jesus, the better we are able to stay attuned to his message for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Dearest Father, we pray for a stronger faith in you and in your church. May we be open to the promptings of your Spirit, so that we may prioritise prayer and faithful study of your Word.

Thanksgiving: We thank you, God of infinite love and mercy, for blessing us with your grace. 

15 July, Monday – Divisions in the Family

15 July – Memorial for St. Bonaventure, bishop, religious, doctor

St. Bonavenure (1221-1274) entered the Franciscan Order when he was 22. At the age of 35, he was chosen General of his Order and restored a perfect calm where peace had been disturbed by internal dissensions. He did much for his Order and composed The Life of St. Francis. He also assisted at the translation of the relics of St. Anthony of Padua.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=169

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Exodus 1:8-14,22

There came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further, or if war should break out, they might add to the number of our enemies. They might take arms against us and so escape out of the country.’

Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. The Egyptians forced the sons of Israel into slavery, and made their lives unbearable with hard labour, work with clay and with brick, all kinds of work in the fields; they forced on them every kind of labour.
Pharaoh then gave his subjects this command: ‘Throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, but let all the girls live.’

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Matthew 10:34-11:1

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.

Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.

‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.

‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.

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Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword 

This is a hard verse to read if we do not understand the context in which Christ spoke this to his disciples. I believe that many of us may have the experience of divisions happening within the family. The nature of human relationships is already fraught with differences and mundane annoyances, so why would Jesus mention the obvious that He has “come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…”? Isn’t Jesus’ other name the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6 and John 14:27)? If so, how could he advocate violence and discord?

Firstly, the mention of ‘a sword’ refers to a spiritual sword, in the spiritual sense. Jesus is aware of the resistance and conflict that will come up against those who choose to follow him. He is speaking to his disciples who have already left home, family, and town, to take this winding journey with him across the plains and deserts to preach the Gospel and ministers to all who came to listen to him. By now, they would not only have experienced rejection from new communities, but they would have already been judged by their families for their insanity or disloyalty to their tribes. In this address, Jesus is acknowledging their sacrifice and also reminding them of the cross they would have to constantly pick up.

As I reflect on the misunderstandings I have encountered within my family and friendships of how and why I have chosen to follow God, to be a Christian, I feel that these words of Christ are balm to my soul. I do not see him advocating violence with a physical sword, but I see that He is affirming what I have already known – that the peace He brings to me, is a peace between myself and God. And that choosing Him would entail henceforth a division between the lens I view the world, and the way my ‘tribe’ views it. I have chosen this path to follow Him. And I can only choose for myself – this is absolutely clear.

For those who reject God, and the only way of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6), they will find themselves perpetually at war with God. Jesus acknowledges the earthly implications of such a divergence in spiritual ‘routes’ that we take from our families and loved ones. As the first reading of Exodus relates to us the persecutions the Israelites faced from the Jews, in our time today we may see arguments, aggravations, or abuse and torture, from people who reject all those who choose to follow Christ. It may even devolve to making life very hard for believers to practise their faith, to pray, to worship, etc. I have heard stories of children and typically wives, who face the wrath of their fathers or husbands if they want to attend church services or be baptised. Some even do so in secret to avoid ‘getting in trouble’ – “A  man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

However, those who come to Him in repentance will find themselves at peace with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Some may reject Christ because they do not yet understand. Ignorance may be their temporary reason. However, we know that some ultimately choose blindness over enlightenment, stubbornness over obedience. These are the ones we, as Christians, ought to pray doubly hard for.

We do not know the hour or the day when they may meet their Maker. Neither do we know the hour or the day when they would believe. I have seen miracles happen in the lives and families of friends, and from anecdotal accounts – I pray the same for the ones in my family who are still wrestling immensely hard with letting God into their lives.

Whom among your family are you called to pray for today?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Jesus our Lord and Saviour, I pray for my earthly family who do not yet know you and the promise of Eternal life and love and restoration and peace that you offer. I seek the mercy from your Sacred Heart to touch them and move them to open their hearts a crack so that your Holy Spirit may enter.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for all the promising and uplifting conversion stories I hear. They shine a light unto my path when I am tempted to lose patience and fervour in your promises.