Tag Archives: faith

24 May, Wednesday – The Importance of being a Child

24 May 2017

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Acts 17:15,22-18:1

Paul’s escort took him as far as Athens, and went back with instructions for Silas and Timothy to rejoin Paul as soon as they could.

So Paul stood before the whole Council of the Areopagus and made this speech:
‘Men of Athens, I have seen for myself how extremely scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because I noticed, as I strolled round admiring your sacred monuments, that you had an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it.

‘Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth, he does not make his home in shrines made by human hands. Nor is he dependent on anything that human hands can do for him, since he can never be in need of anything; on the contrary, it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone. From one single stock he not only created the whole human race so that they could occupy the entire earth, but he decreed how long each nation should flourish and what the boundaries of its territory should be. And he did this so that all nations might seek the deity and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him. Yet in fact he is not far from any of us, since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist, as indeed some of your own writers have said:

“We are all his children.”

‘Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

‘God overlooked that sort of thing when men were ignorant, but now he is telling everyone everywhere that they must repent, because he has fixed a day when the whole world will be judged, and judged in righteousness, and he has appointed a man to be the judge. And God has publicly proved this by raising this man from the dead.’

At this mention of rising from the dead, some of them burst out laughing; others said, ‘We would like to hear you talk about this again.’

After that Paul left them, but there were some who attached themselves to him and became believers, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris, and others besides.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

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John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.’

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Since we are the children of God, we have no excuse for thinking that the deity looks like anything in gold, silver or stone that has been carved and designed by a man.

It can be said that we begin to age the moment we are born.

As we grow in age, stature and knowledge, we slowly begin to lose the child-like wisdom of the idea of eternity. An adult is really no wiser than a child in the eyes of God.

A baby, an infant, already knows God. This moment can be revealed so clearly when you stare deep into the eyes of a baby and watch them gaze back, or afar, in a sort of glazed wonderment and serenity. Have you seen that look before? We never say, “Babies have a ‘stoned’ look” when we catch those glassy-eyed gazes of theirs. I believe it is because we intuit that they are not actually staring blankly, but discovering and uncovering something mysterious, awesome, and amazing through their newly-realized gift of sight. This wonderment and innocent gaze is truly the eye with which we need to know our God as Creator and Father.

When Paul sees a sacred altar in Athens inscribed with “To An Unknown God”, he tells the Athenians: “Well, the God whom I proclaim is in fact the one whom you already worship without knowing it… Since the God who made the world and everything in it is himself Lord of heaven and earth… it is he who gives everything – including life and breath – to everyone.”

I appreciate that Paul does not trash the Athenians’ way of pagan life and numerous sacred monuments from the get-go. Instead, he uses what they already seem to know dimly, to point them towards the Truth and Light of God. We surely can note from Paul’s way of sharing the faith and existence of God. We need to refrain from putting down, denigrating, nor mocking the beliefs (or lack of belief) of others.

I would like to suggest that Paul’s acknowledgement that the altar to the Unknown God connected with the One True God reveals three important things to us.

First — a great humility. Coming from his moral ‘high horse’ of before, his fall triggers a deep conversion to humility in connecting with the other, to people different from him.

Second — a deep wisdom. His sight was not obscured by (self) righteousness, and so his gaze penetrated the mere appearances of a possibly pagan altar to see deeper truths beyond the Athenians’ ignorance.

Third — a child-like simplicity in seeing and connecting with others. He sees their innocence and appeals to this innocence that is shared by all of God’s children by pointing out to them that the One True God is “the one whom you already worship without knowing it.” He alludes to their heritage and tradition of writers who had already written: “We are all his children.”

Indeed, to know God might come more from a purity of heart and soul, and an emptying out of a whole baggage of misconceptions, presumptions, and pride. It is to return to not just a spiritual childhood, but also a return to the wide-eyed wonderment of a baby who looks out into the world for the very first few days and months!

When we do this very simple but intentional exercise of emptying out our subconscious and unconscious ‘gold, silver, or stone’ of images, ideology or preconceptions that we have constructed out of hardened life experiences, we will more readily invite the Holy Spirit to burn a new fire of joy and love in our hearts. Indeed, it is not easy to be a child of God!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, help us to become child-like and youthful again in our gaze and ways – to love and give to others as God has loved and given to us.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the gentleness of those who point our dimly-lit vision towards the Truth, Way and Light of Christ – and challenge us to humility and innocence again.

23 May, Tuesday – Outside my comfort zone

23 May 2017

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Acts 16:22-34

The crowd joined in and showed their hostility to Paul and Silas, so the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be flogged. They were given many lashes and then thrown into prison, and the gaoler was told to keep a close watch on them. So, following his instructions, he threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Late that night Paul and Silas were praying and singing God’s praises, while the other prisoners listened. Suddenly there was an earthquake that shook the prison to its foundations. All the doors flew open and the chains fell from all the prisoners.

When the gaoler woke and saw the doors wide open he drew his sword and was about to commit suicide, presuming that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Don’t do yourself any harm; we are all here.’ The gaoler called for lights, then rushed in, threw himself trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, and escorted them out, saying, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

They told him, ‘Become a believer in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and your household too.’ Then they preached the word of the Lord to him and to all his family. Late as it was, he took them to wash their wounds, and was baptised then and there with all his household. Afterwards he took them home and gave them a meal, and the whole family celebrated their conversion to belief in God.

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John 16:5-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Now I am going to the one who sent me.
Not one of you has asked, “Where are you going?”
Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this.
Still, I must tell you the truth:
it is for your own good that I am going
because unless I go,
the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I do go,
I will send him to you.
And when he comes,
he will show the world how wrong it was,
about sin,
and about who was in the right,
and about judgement:
about sin: proved by their refusal to believe in me;
about who was in the right: proved by my going to the Father and your seeing me no more;
about judgement: proved by the prince of this world being already condemned.’

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Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you.

As I write this reflection, I am sitting in a wooden cabin library, connected to the rest of the outside world by a sole source of internet in order to send this out to the Oxygen editorial team for posting on our website.

These past three days have been an adventure and exercise in the extraordinary for my husband and I. We are at a conference called ‘Architecture, Culture, Spirituality’ in Maine, USA – out on a far tip of Deer Isle facing the North Atlantic Ocean. This is a completely remote and back-to-nature setting where we sleep in unheated wooden cabins poised on the slopes of a mountain facing a serene body of water. This all sounds so incredibly relaxing, but frankly, I spent my first night here, pregnant and sleepless, even though I could have been lulled to sleep with the constant gentle lapping of waves upon rocks.

We experienced an unexpected storm upon arrival that saw a full day of rains, and 0 degree Celsius nighttime temperatures. Without a warm room, some mindless scrolling through my phone’s newsfeeds and chat groups, I felt completely miserable shivering under 3 layers of blankets. I whined even though I knew it would not help.

However, it was in this moment that I became acutely aware of how I had taken my creature comforts for granted, how blessed I have always been! My thoughts went out to the many homeless men and women I saw sleeping on the sidewalks around the city and around the Harvard University campus. In that kind of cold, how could anyone have a night’s rest, even if they were bundled up in the warmest of sleeping bags? They were at the mercy of the elements. As I shivered in my bed, I prayed to offer up my own discomfort and misery for those I recalled – that in a way, our solidarity with them could be somehow redemptive.

In this way, I recognize the Holy Spirit had come to dwell with us in our cabin. Though we were not the warmer for it, we knew that our momentary suffering was meaningful simply because we were able to see beyond its material appearance and enjoin it to a transcendent suffering that is larger than us.

The gospel account of John reveals to us this same truth. Jesus told his disciples that the Advocate would come to dwell with them – but first, he had to leave them. In reality, it was really the disciples who had to first let go of their familiarity and comfort of holding on to the resurrected Christ in the form of Jesus, their mortal friend and teacher, before they would be ready to accept and receive the transfigured form of God’s love that would be given to them through the Holy Spirit.

All of us experience certain material or emotional comforts that we may not recognize and be willing to forsake. But following Christ, claiming this Christian faith requires of us to attempt a radical way of re-seeing and re-experiencing the mundane aspects of our daily lives. Just as the prison guard in the first reading risked his life, livelihood and entire household to embrace the faith that Paul and Silas proclaimed, are we willing to be challenged to a radical way of living and seeing which God may be asking of us? What if this entails an entire change of plan, environment, lifestyle, or level of comfort?

Even if it is a radical way of perceiving a short term suffering or trial, or a long-drawn struggle, we can call upon the Holy Spirit to help us transform our experiences for a vision that transcends the finitude of our reality and constraints. What really touched me in the first reading was the complete turnabout of the prison guard who, with his new eyes of faith and charity, humbly washed their wounds, sought baptism, and received Paul and Silas into his household to share a celebratory meal as fellow Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I pray that I can commit to greater acts of warmth and charity in the face of the many suffering men and women whom I witness in the city. I pray that the Holy Spirit gives me the courage and wisdom to act with love and compassion.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for these gifted moments when the scales fall off our eyes and we can see and experience humbly, the graces and blessings God has already poured into our lives.

22 May, Monday – Faith – Relationship – Love – Charity

May 22 – Memorial for St. Rita of Cascia, Religious

Rita (1386-1457) was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti, a couple known as the Peacemakers of Jesus; they had Rita late in life. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was 12, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s abuses for 18 years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of St. Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

She was confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything. Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Among the other areas, Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.

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Acts 16:11-15

Sailing from Troas we made a straight run for Samothrace; the next day for Neapolis, and from there for Philippi, a Roman colony and the principal city of that particular district of Macedonia. After a few days in this city we went along the river outside the gates as it was the sabbath and this was a customary place for prayer. We sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting. One of these women was called Lydia, a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptised she sent us an invitation: ‘If you really think me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said ‘come and stay with us’; and she would take no refusal.

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John 15:26-16:4

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘When the Advocate comes,
whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father,
he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the outset.

‘I have told you all this that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you
will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
They will do these things
because they have never known
either the Father or myself.
But I have told you all this,
so that when the time for it comes
you may remember that I told you.’

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… will think he is doing a holy duty for God. They have never known either the Father or myself.

How will we know if we truly believe in God and in Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son? It is not only by faith that we will hear, see, and believe. It is more enduringly known through the cultivation of relationships. The scriptures today reveal to us that faith in God, to claim to know God, is to therefore conduct myself in a particular way.

It is the way of love and charity.

In the first reading of Acts 16: 11-15, we read of Lydia, a devout woman, who was open to listening and hearing about the Lord through the sharings of Paul. While the account summarises her conversion, as the work of the Lord who ‘opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying’, we know that it was not merely that of speeding down a one-way street. In her reception of the gift of faith, we witness that she responded in two ways. First, she and her household requested to be baptized. That was the first step in choosing to be a follower of Christ.

However, she goes on to send an invitation to Paul and Peter and the other disciples, extending her generous hospitality to them to visit and stay with her household – knowing that they were all pilgrims and simply living from hand-to-mouth and traveling on from place to place.

This openness to love and participate in loving is one very important aspect of being and becoming truly Christian. We may be Christians by birth or by choice (later in life), but to ‘become’ true Christians is a humbling, ongoing process that requires intention, child-like trust, and a constant effort to be charitable.

Not all of us have grown up witnessing examples of hospitality, generosity, or effusive acts of warmth and love within our families. So it should come as no surprise, that becoming all of these qualities does not come naturally for some. But we can learn to be, and desire to become. This is a grace freely given by God, and which we should always seek the Holy Spirit for the courage and inspiration to be so.

In this same vein, Jesus tells his disciples that they will encounter people of all kinds who may claim to believe in God, yet commit sins or behave in ways that completely oppose the love and charity and sacrifice that Christ came to demonstrate. Jesus says that these people do exist, and will walk amongst us, but it will be possible to see through their works and actions that “they have never known either the Father or Christ”.

How do we reconcile these encounters with our own choice to remain Christ-like? Well, Jesus reminds us that we have His example and His Holy Spirit has been sent to us to be our Advocate and Paraclete. The Holy Spirit is the friend we can call upon for help and wisdom in these times.

When we struggle with being loving and charitable, when we tussle with the desire to just retaliate at the ones who do us wrong or commit grave sins, may we remember that Jesus has provided us with the Holy Spirit to impart us wisdom and truth to know how to respond in a way that all men may know we are truly Christians.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray to the Holy Spirit for help in all times of need, for divine wisdom and courage in our daily affairs.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the people around me who have demonstrated to me the conviction of being Christian through their generosity and charity, even in the face of difficulties.

20 May, Saturday – Strength to walk the talk

May 20 – Memorial for St. Bernadine of Siena, Priest

Bernadine (1381-1444) was a Friar Minor, a priest, an itinerant preacher, and a theological writer. His preaching skills were so great, and the conversions so numerous, that he has become associated with all areas of speaking, advertising, public relations, etc.

Bernadine’s charismatic preaching filled the piazze of Italian cities. Thousands of listeners flocked to hear him and to participate in dramatic rituals, which included collective weeping, bonfires of vanities, and exorcisms. He was a renowned peacemaker, in the Franciscan tradition, who tried to calm feuding clans and factions in the turbulent political world of the Renaissance. His preaching visits would often culminate in mass reconciliations, as listeners were persuaded to exchange the bacio di pace, or kiss of peace.

Bernadine was sensitive to the demands of secular life, and tried to negotiate between Christian ethics and a conflicting code of honour that stressed retaining face in a public world. He argued that the catalyst of civil discord in the urban setting was malicious gossip, which led to insults, and, too often, vendetta by aggressive males. His surprising allies in his peacekeeping mission were the women who comprised the majority of his audience.

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Acts 16:1-10

From Cilicia Paul went to Derbe, and then on to Lystra. Here there was a disciple called Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess who had become a believer; but his father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy, and Paul, who wanted to have him as a travelling companion, had him circumcised. This was on account of the Jews in the locality where everyone knew his father was a Greek.

As they visited one town after another, they passed on the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, with instructions to respect them.

So the churches grew strong in the faith, as well as growing daily in numbers.

They travelled through Phrygia and the Galatian country, having been told by the Holy Spirit not to preach the word in Asia. When they reached the frontier of Mysia they thought to cross it into Bithynia, but as the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them, they went through Mysia and came down to Troas.

One night Paul had a vision: a Macedonian appeared and appealed to him in these words, ‘Come across to Macedonia and help us.’ Once he had seen this vision we lost no time in arranging a passage to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to bring them the Good News.

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John 15:18-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If the world hates you,
remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because my choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too;
if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on my account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the one who sent me.’

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“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.”

I have always found it fascinating that from the time of Jesus to current times, there is a very consistent reference to ‘belonging to the world’ as opposed to not belonging to it.

This applies whether it is in a Middle-Eastern or Western culture. There is no escaping this. Such is the strength of our selfish human nature. ‘Belonging to the world’ somehow means being self-centred and unloving.

It is clear to me, when we look at it this way, that there is simply NO middle ground. One simply ‘belongs’ to this world, or one does not; we cannot be a good Christian and still be a part of this world; the Bible is clear on that.

I have struggled with this my whole life. For many years, I had lived a compartmentalised life –having a ‘worldly’ compartment for work and other pragmatic situations, and a ‘Christian’ compartment for other areas such a ‘faith’ and parts of family and other Christian interactions. This situation causes constant conflict and much effort and energy is spent on deciding which compartment to place our interactions in.

Over time, I realised that such a situation resulted in me not being able to lead an authentic Christian life and faith coming out of such a compartmentalised life was at most lukewarm. Lukewarm!

This troubles me because we are warned against having lukewarm faith in Revelations 3:15-16, where possessing lukewarm faith, where we are neither ‘hot’ nor ‘cold’, will cause us to be ‘spit out’ from God’s mouth.  Such lukewarm faith will lead us to live under the illusion that we are doing well when in reality we are not.

May we be able to draw upon the Lord’s strength to decide to lead a life full of ‘hot’ faith.  May we have the courage to do so, and recognise that our time on earth is short and that we ultimately belong to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Help us Father to always keep our eyes on You. Help us to have eyes of faith to discern the right path to take. Be with us Lord Jesus, as we seek to do the right thing.

ThanksgivingJesus Lord, thank You for showing what it means to walk in Your path. Thank You for helping us realise that we are not alone in our daily journey.

19 May, Friday – Christian Respect and Love

19 May 2017

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Acts 15:22-31

The apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them:

‘The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us; and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter. It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.’

The party left and went down to Antioch, where they summoned the whole community and delivered the letter. The community read it and were delighted with the encouragement it gave them.

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John 15:12-17

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘This is my commandment:
love one another,
as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants any more,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.
You did not choose me:
no, I chose you;
and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit,
fruit that will last;
and then the Father will give you
anything you ask him in my name.
What I command you is to love one another.’

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“A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”

In 2006, I received a call from my father. He had been living in Taiwan for about 30 years and had not been a frequent participant in my life. He had asked me to visit him in Taiwan.

I saw my father some time later when I visited him and he finally told me the purpose for his wanting to see me; he was dying and asked if I could take care of my half sister when he finally passed on.

Unbeknownst to him, my father’s friend had spoken to me much earlier, and had asked me the same question before that. Because of this particular call, I could not sleep for a few weeks as my wife and I pondered the question.

Ultimately, it was difficult for me to turn down his request. You see, when I was a month old, my grandaunt had been asked the same question. Only thing is, I was the one whom she had been tasked to take care of. Despite the fact that our biological relationship was so distant, she did not hesitate when asked, and I ended up living with her for over 30 years. In fact, she did so much more for me; becoming both father and mother to me in my growing years.

In the same vein, by dying for us, Jesus paid the ultimate price and made the ultimate sacrifice, and paid it forward for us to do the same. How can we not do that? If we choose not to do the right thing, do we not become somewhat like the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:24-25?

Because of the precious gift of salvation and love from our Lord, our lives are no longer our own. The challenge is in recognizing and fulfilling this in our daily walk. We pray that our Lord may give us the eyes and spirit to recognize the opportunities for us to do so.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer In choosing to die for us dear Jesus, You have shown us the way we should live and treat each other. Help us to be open to the opportunities to share this same spirit with others.

ThanksgivingThank You for being our model, Lord Jesus. No matter what kind of personal history we each possess, thank You for the infinite love that You have for us

18 May, Thursday – Being Truly Loving

May 18 – Memorial for St. John I, Pope and Martyr

John (d. 526) was a priest in Rome, and became the 53rd pope in 523. Italy’s ruler then, Theodoric the Goth, was an Arian. For a while, he left the Catholics alone, but in later life he became suspicious of everyone, imagining conspiracies and attempts to seize his throne. He tried to involve Pope John in his political machinations. John led a delegation to Constantinople to negotiate with Emperor Justin I; he was the first pope to travel to Constantinople, and while there, crowned Justin. The mission was successful, but Theodoric, thought John and Justin I, had plotted against him. While returning to Rome, John was kidnapped and imprisoned by Theodoric’s soldiers. He died of thirst and starvation while in custody in Ravenna, Italy.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 15:7-21

After the discussion had gone on a long time, Peter stood up and addressed the apostles and the elders.
‘My brothers,’ he said ‘you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the pagans were to learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.’

This silenced the entire assembly, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans.

When they had finished it was James who spoke. ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say:

After that I shall return
and rebuild the fallen House of David;
I shall rebuild it from its ruins
and restore it.
Then the rest of mankind,
all the pagans who are consecrated to my name,
will look for the Lord,
says the Lord who made this known so long ago.

‘I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath.’

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John 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.’

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“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

I was at Mass a few days ago and there was this family of 3 seated some pews in front of me. The son was not quite tall enough to see the altar. The boy struggled to do so, and after some time, the father put down the (brand new) kneeler and the boy stood on it.

I found myself getting irritated. I looked at the newly-wrapped kneeler and all I could think about was it could get torn or damaged.

And then I took a look at the family. I saw how excited the boy was at being able to look at the priest and altar boys carrying out the rites. I saw the pride in the eyes of the parents as they looked at their son belting out the hymns.

I reflected on this as the mass was going on and realised that I was having a ‘Pharisee’ moment; I had placed what I thought was right above the love for a neighbour. While this does not mean that we do not correct our brother or sister, it also means that we need to look at all situations through the lens of brotherly love.

In the first reading today, the first Christian community was deciding the rules that the pagans needed to follow. Rather than putting them under the same rules the original Jewish community were under (who also found the same rules difficult to follow), the community decided that the new members would follow a set of simpler rules. The lesson for us is that the early Christian community came to that decision through eyes of love and without judgement.

Let us always remember that we too, should be guided to do the same in all our dealings with others. And to look at every one we encounter through the eyes of love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, may we always be guided in our thoughts and actions by love. May we always be open to Your Spirit.

ThanksgivingLord Jesus, thank You for showing us what it really means to love and to not be judgmental of others. Thank You for being our role model of how to treat and be with others.

13 May, Saturday – Food for Thought

13 May 2017

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Acts 13:44-52

The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:

I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’

It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.
But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

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John 14:7-14

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him, ‘and you still do not know me?

‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.

I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.
Whatever you ask for in my name I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask for anything in my name,
I will do it.’

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I have made you a light for the nations

Sometime back, I went on a low-carb diet after I was inspired by a couple of friends. Sharon, one of our other contributors in OXYGEN, also gave me lots of tips, since she’s been on this diet for many years. One thing I came to realize in the course of this diet is that, ‘Eating fat does not make you fat.’ Contrary to popular belief, the fat that we eat does not get stored in our body as fat. However, the carbohydrates that we eat do get stored in our body as fat if we eat an excess of it.

When we receive the Body of Christ during Mass, what happens to it? The bread breaks up and is dissolved in our saliva, but what happens to Christ’s presence in the bread? It is taken in and becomes a part of us. In other words, ‘Eating the body of Christ makes us the Body of Christ.’

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” When we receive Holy Communion, we can also say, “I am in Christ and Christ is in me.” What does it mean then to become the Body of Christ? We become the physical extensions of Christ in the world, living to fulfill his purpose.

That purpose is, as it says in the first reading, to be a light for the nations so that God’s salvation may reach the ends of the earth.

Let us reflect: How am I being a light for the nations? How am I contributing to extending God’s salvation to reach the ends of the earth?

(Today’s Oxygen by Daniel Tay)

Prayer: We pray for unity within the Body of Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the gift of himself

5 May, Friday – Everyone deserves a second chance

5 May 2017

Acts 9:1-20

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

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

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

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

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

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John 6:52-59

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

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

He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.

In today’s first reading, we learn about Saul’s conversion – Saul desired to rise to the level of prestige and power that he believed was his destiny. He was bent to prove his worth and went all out to destroy the believers in Jesus; he hunted down and persecuted Christians. Years later, in obedience to the vision of Jesus Christ, he was converted and became Paul. He was to become one of the greatest evangelists in spreading Christianity after his encounter with Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. He also suffered much while preaching the gospel and eventually he was martyred in Rome. His writings make up much of the New Testament.

So you might be thinking now – how can Jesus pick someone as insolent and power hungry as Saul to become His instrument to bring the gospel to pagans? But Paul’s conversion proves that God can call and transform anyone he chooses, even the most hardened individual, to work for his kingdom.

I have heard stories of ex-convicts, the most hardened criminals convicted to life in prison or those facing death sentences change for the better. One such story is about a young man who was in prison and his job was to prepare meals for convicts in death row. Each time one of them was due to hang in a few days, the warden would alert him and he would take extra care in preparing their meals. He will even say a prayer for their souls. Eventually he got out of prison and started a social enterprise that employs ex-convicts to give them a second chance.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Yes, Jesus has a plan for everyone – even those we judge to be unworthy of our forgiveness and love. So each time we look at a fellow brother or sister who has made a wrong judgement along the way with disdain, we are persecuting Jesus. For those of us who have sinned and tell ourselves that God will never forgive us, you are wrong. Our God is a loving and merciful God. We have to open our hearts to be healed and forgiven. For those of us who have suffered under the burden of anger, resentment, unforgiveness, jealously – open your heart and let Jesus in. Don’t deprive yourselves of spiritual nutrients and every good and amazing thing God had planned for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: May we rise from the darkness of the tomb. That the Light of Christ shine in our hearts this Easter season. May we bring the light of love to those who we find hardest to love; may we be beacons of hope given to those who have given up on this life.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Jesus, for reminding us that each time we persecute others, we are in fact persecuting you. Thank you Risen Lord, for being our strength and our song.

23 April, Sunday – The Divine Mercy

23 Apr – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Congregation for Divine Worship decreed in 2003 that “throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difference and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come”.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy was promoted by St. Faustina Kowalski, canonized on 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

Memorial for St. George, martyr; Memorial for St. Adalbert, bishop & martyr

St. George (d. 304) was a soldier who was martyred for his faith. That’s all we know for sure.

Several stories have been attached to St. George, the best known of which is the ‘Golden Legend’. In it, a dragon lived in a lake near Silena, Libya. Whole armies had gone up against this fierce creature, and had gone down in painful defeat. The monster ate two sheep each day; when mutton was scarce, lots were drawn in local villages, and maidens were substituted for sheep. Into this country came St. George. Hearing the story on a day when a princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow with his lance. George then held forth with a magnificent sermon and converted the locals. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away.

Due to his chivalrous behaviour (protecting women, fighting evil, dependence on faith and might of arms, largesse to the poor), devotion to St. George became popular in Europe after the 10th century. In the 15th century, his feast day was as popular and important as Christmas. Many of his areas of patronage have to do with life as a knight on horseback. The celebrated ‘Knights of the Garter’ are actually ‘Knights of the Order of St. George’. The shrine built for his relics at Lydda, Palestine, was a popular point of pilgrimage for centuries.

He is also one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

  • Patron Saint Index

Adalbert (957–997) was born to the Bohemian nobility. He took the name of St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, the archbishop who healed, educated and converted him. He became Bishop of Prague (in the modern Czech Republic) on Feb 10, 982. He was a friend of Emperor Otto III.

Adalbert encouraged the evangelization of the Magyars, and worked on it with St. Astricus. He was opposed by the nobility in Prague and unpopular in the area, so he withdrew to Rome, Italy and became a Benedictine monk, making his vows on Apr 17, 990. But Pope John XV sent him back to Prague anyway.

He founded the monastery of Brevnov, met more opposition from the nobility and returned to Rome. There being no hope of his working in Prague, he was allowed to (unsuccessfully) evangelise in Pomerania, Poland, Prussia, Hungary and Russia. He and his fellow missionaries were martyred by Prussians near Koenigsberg or Danzig at the instigation of a pagan priest. Not long before his death, Adalbert met, and was a great inspiration to, St. Boniface of Querfurt.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 2:42-47

The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone.

The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.

They went as a body to the Temple every day but met in their houses for the breaking of bread; they shared their food gladly and generously; they praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.

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1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens. Through your faith, God’s power will guard you until the salvation which has been prepared is revealed at the end of time.

This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.

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John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

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“…when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.”

In the first reading, we read about the early Christians, how they were on fire, their hearts filled with love, giving, caring, celebrating the Risen Lord. And like many of us today, we are in the season of celebration, we have the victory that Christ has won for us, the eternal life, our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins. But it is also very important that we do not take our faith for granted.

Many times, we are trapped in seeking the reward that we fail to seek the giver. Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Often, we seek the forgiveness, we seek heaven and eternal paradise but how often have we forgotten about Jesus, about God our Father? Even for myself, many times I’ve missed the point. It’s not about the sufferings, not about our sins nor the cross we have to carry. It is about Jesus, not just about His death but about His life. I believe that His resurrection isn’t complete till we have resurrected with Him, in Him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us not just pray for mercy given unto us but that we may be like Christ — givers of mercy. For it is more than if we are saved but to want to save others also. To bring love to the people we meet. For Jesus, too, came to save and not to be saved, He came to love and not to be loved.

So once again, let us not focus on the reward, for we may find an empty tomb in front of us. But if we truly know who Jesus is, we know that He already has a place for us in heaven, in His heart. Let us not live for the reward but for the people in our lives, especially our loved ones; to be merciful and loving towards them. Christ has died for us, let us now live for Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we will not focus on the reward alone but on you. For you are the example, the Divine Mercy. Help us to be more like you, in the way where we can bring you to many others in our lives. For many to encounter you through us. Make our hearts like yours.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your life. Thank you Lord, for taking on that journey in which you have given us hope, love and your life.

16 April, Sunday – Hallelujah the Lord is Risen

16 Apr – Easter Sunday

Alleluia!

This mass is our Alleluia; our song of praise to the risen Christ who is our life and whose triumph over death we proclaim to all the world.

– Sunday Missal
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Acts 10:34.37-43

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
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Colossians 3:1-4

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.
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John 20:1-9

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.’

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
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For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

I recently had the privilege of serving at CER#56, after not having served for an entire year. And what a reawakening it was for me – not just from the ministering point of view, but also from the messages I kept getting from God each day of the retreat. In one of the paraliturgies, I was called to help with the praying over session, which gave me a whole new perspective on the healing graces that Jesus poured out onto each and every retreatant.

At Sunday’s thanksgiving mass to mark the close of the retreat, I teared up many times during the testimonies. One, in particular, struck deep within me and reaffirmed God’s real presence in our lives. A couple went up and shared about how they had just lost their newborn as well as the husband’s father. Naturally, they had come to the retreat feeling angry and at a loss for why God would take away their two family members.

However, as they were prayed over, God revealed a vision to each of them and reassured them that their family members were in fact celebrating with Him and feeling a lot of joy and peace; much more than they had ever felt here on earth. And that gave the young couple closure while reassuring them that their loved ones were indeed safe in the arms of our loving God.

The Lenten CER is always a special one for us because it is truly one which awakens the fire and new-found belief in the hearts of the retreatants. During the testimonies, it was evident that God had indeed been ovely generous with His graces, showering every retreatant with His awesome love and mercy. It was a joy to see everyone unburdened and free from the shackles of sin at the last day, rejoicing among themselves and, especially the couples who embraced each other tightly, holding on to each other, some sobbing openly, while others just spoke with each other like newlyweds again.

For me, the messages He sent me each day reminded me of His constant presence and how He always gives us strength to carry on, especially in our moments of weakness. More importantly, He reminded me of how we should all pray fervently and joyfully, lifting up holy hands, without anger nor argument. Indeed, this Lenten period has been a rather ‘dry’ one for me and save for the CER, I hardly made any sort of sacrifices. However, the Lord, in all His goodness and mercy, chose to redeem me by reawakening a fervour and rekindling a fire in my heart that continues to burn bright. He is risen indeed!

Brothers and sisters, Christ has come not just to save us from our sins, but to also show us how much He loves and cares for us. His resurrection is the reason we believe that we are indeed saved and that the kingdom of heaven is ours to inherit, together with our brother, Jesus. Let us walk proudly with Him at our side and claim our inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you continue to shine the light of Christ into our hearts.

Thanksgiving: Sing Alleluia, the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed Alleluia.