Tag Archives: family

19 July, Tuesday – The Family

19 July

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Micah 7:14-15, 18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt
grant us to see wonders.
What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Matthew 12:46-50

Jesus was speaking to the crowds when his mother and his brothers appeared; they were standing outside and were anxious to have a word with him. But to the man who told him this Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’

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Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.

In the first reading, we read of a desire for God to lead His people to pasture, and we ask for His pity and mercy. And that is probably most of our desires as well. Most of the time, we reduce our faith, we reduce God to merely providing our wants when we are unable to provide for ourselves or when we become desperate. But when everything is going smoothly, we neglect Him, we leave Him aside.

He reminds us of our identity, the identity that we are all brothers and sisters in Him, His adopted children, that we are one family. And it is the word ‘family’ that gives us an insight of how God desires our relationships with each other to be like, and that is of love. It’s the love between mother and children, children with their siblings, this love that results in forgiveness, understanding, sacrifice. But more than that — to acknowledge our Father — not just our earthly father but also our Father in heaven. To understand, experience and be aware of His love for us, how He brought us into this world and who He moulds us to be by His gifts and talents given to us.

If we have encountered His love, we will want to also do His will. For those of us who are fathers, ultimately I’m sure it is to ensure our children do not make the same mistakes as us. That they should have better lives, should be more aware, should be tough, should have discipline and be obedient. As our Father in heaven, He too desires for us to be like Him, to share His love with all. And when we do so, we realise that everyone is a brother, sister and mother in Him.

Let us today not just ask for the gifts of the signs but to ask for the giver, that Christ may live in us, in order that we acknowledge our identity as one church, one body, one family united in Christ.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that you will be merciful to us for the times we have neglected you. For the times when we have chosen the material world over family, over you, we seek your forgiveness. Help us to be patient and continue to lead each other on this journey as we strive towards holiness as your disciples.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of family, thank you for giving us a place called home. Thank you for making a home in us too.

29 June, Wednesday – Church Building and Wedding Planning

29 June – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles

Peter (c.1–64) was a professional fisherman. He was the brother of St. Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Given the name Simon, he was renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. He later became a bishop and was the first pope. He was also a miracle worker.

Paul (c.3–c.65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted the Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest another group of faithful, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting him, causing his conversion to Christianity.

He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling, preaching, and teaching. His letters to the churches he help found form a large percentage of the New Testament. He knew and worked with many of the earliest saints and Fathers of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

–       Patron Saint Index

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Acts 12:1-11

King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.

On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’

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2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

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

The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

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I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith

By the grace of God, my sister will be married this afternoon. It might seem frivolous to talk about wedding planning on the Solemnity of our Church’s pillars. Those of you who have planned weddings will know that the dynamics that occur during the course of wedding planning are a precursor to what happens to a couple’s marriage thereafter. Start it well, with love, compassion, honesty and understanding and that goodwill is carried into the first innings of the marriage. Start it poorly, with resentment, frustration and deceit and that ill will can fester if left untended. The choice of a life partner is possibly the single most important decision we make in life. More precious than the individual needs of both husband and wife, are the needs of the relationship that the couple pledge to protect from this day forth. For the rest of us who are family, our job is to help shepherd and support the new couple, as they begin to build their life together. We might have our differences (and since we don’t get to choose our family, there can be many disagreements) but our needs take second place to helping the new couple protect and preserve their new happiness.

Saints Peter and Paul were given the singular roles of protecting and shepherding the fledgling new Church that Christ had left them. Both men were from disparate backgrounds. St Peter was called by Christ when he was running a humble fishing business with his brother Andrew. Designated by Christ as “the rock on which I will build my Church” (Matthew 16: 18), Peter presided over critical moments in the early Church’s development. He welcomed into the fold the first non-Jewish believers (Acts 10:1-48, the baptism of Cornelius the Roman). He was a vocal proponent of freedom from the restrictions of the Jewish traditions – “God… put Himself on their side by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them and cleansed their hearts through faith…”(Acts 15: 7-11) Peter helped the Jewish believers break away from the bondage of their old beliefs so they could embrace His word through the conversion of their hearts. St Paul, born a Pharisee and Roman citizen started as an overzealous persecutor of the early Church and its disciples. Touched by God’s grace on his way to Damascus, Paul’s conversion and missionary journeys drew the Gentiles to the Word. The Acts of the Apostles documents faithfully, Paul’s arduous journey from Jerusalem to Syria, Asia, Greece and finally Rome, spreading the Word through the Roman Empire – “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

Both men met for the first time only three years after Paul’s conversion in Damascus (Galatians 1:16-20). Here Paul gives an account of his travels and the authority by which he preaches the Gospel, “The Churches in Judea did not know me personally; they had only heard of me: “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he tried to uproot”. And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1: 22-24). For both men, even if they had their differences, their focus remained the furtherance of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. It was never about ego or face or their selfish needs. As we celebrate the Solemnity of St Paul and St Peter today, let’s remind ourselves to put aside our differences. By God’s grace, we have been called and our hearts cleansed through faith. Our differences – cultural, racial or otherwise, do not matter. What matters is the love that we feel for one another as brothers and sisters in the family of Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

P.S. This reflection is pulled from our Archives of 2013. 
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Prayer: We pray for that those who work towards the furtherance of the Gospel not let their own needs cloud the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve for God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who put aside their own needs to faithfully follow God’s calling wherever it might take them.

28 June, Tuesday – Just A Father’s Love

28 June – St. Irenaeus, bishop, martyr

Irenaeus (c.130–202) was a disciple of St. Polycapr of Smyrna. He was ordained in 177. He was Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (modern Lyons, France). He worked and wrote against Gnosticism, basing his arguments on the works of St. John the Apostle, whose gospel is often cited by Gnostics. He dispatched evangelists, including St. Ferreolus of Besancon, and St. Ferrutio of Bescancon. He is considered the first great Western ecclesiastical writer and theologian, and he emphasized the unity of the Old and New Testaments, as well as Christ’s simultaneous human and divine nature, and the value of tradition. He is a Father of the Church, and was martyred for his faith.

-Patron Saint Index

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Amos 3:1-8,4:11-12

Listen, sons of Israel, to this oracle the Lord speaks against you, against the whole family I brought out of the land of Egypt:

You alone, of all the families of earth, have I acknowledged,
therefore it is for all your sins that I mean to punish you.
Do two men take the road together
if they have not planned to do so?
Does the lion roar in the jungle
if no prey has been found?
Does the young lion growl in his lair
if he has captured nothing?
Does the bird fall to the ground
if no trap has been set?
Does the snare spring up from the ground
if nothing has been caught?
Does the trumpet sound in the city
without the populace becoming alarmed?
Does misfortune come to a city
if the Lord has not sent it?
No more does the Lord do anything
without revealing his plans to his servants the prophets.
The lion roars: who can help feeling afraid?
The Lord speaks: who can refuse to prophesy?

I overthrew you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were like a brand snatched from the blaze;
and yet you never came back to me.
It is the Lord who speaks.

This therefore, Israel, is what I plan to do to you,
and because I am going to do this to you,
Israel, prepare to meet your God!

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Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus got into the boat followed by his disciples. Without warning a storm broke over the lake, so violent that the waves were breaking right over the boat. But he was asleep. So they went to him and woke him saying, ‘Save us, Lord, we are going down!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?’ And with that he stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and all was calm again. The men were astounded and said, ‘Whatever kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.’

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You alone have I favored, more than all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your crimes.

Upon reflecting on today’s Old Testament reading, I was reminded of a Facebook posting a good friend of mine had written several years ago. It was originally written to someone who was undergoing a difficult time emotionally and spiritually. The message came to my friend through the Holy Spirit and was meant to be shared with all those in need of some encouragement. Re-posted without any edits…

God the Father is so much in love with you. From your afflictions, I can sense that He has been trying to strengthen you for the times to come. Maybe you have elected to serve Him and surrender to His will; remember that God the Father only chastises His sons and daughters, and leaves the unrepentant to the final chastening. If you would find love, you must meet God the Father halfway. He trusts you more than any human will, and thus loves you more than you will ever know. You also are a channel for His love. Maybe there is someone in your life or your social circle that is waiting to feel His love through you.

There will be a time of strength when you will look back on these days and laugh, when you allowed yourself to appreciate equally both the chastisements and the graces with which He showers you daily, as tokens of His love for you. Again, He is so much in love with you, as His child of infinite potential, gradually perfected by His hand.

As a father myself, I can truly appreciate the need to provide loving discipline to my children — loving them for who they are, while correcting them when they are wrong. This only gets harder as children grow older and are exposed to the broader society, ultimately needing to determine for themselves what their own belief systems entails. My wife and I have definitely had many difficult moments trying to balance between the loving and patient approach with the righteous and chastising approach. Yet, we are reminded that God had called us to be His representatives in the home. He created the family as one of the most important teaching venues for spiritual learning.

Friends, we are to be reminded that God chose each of us individually to be a part of His family. In all that we face and are challenged with, trust that the Lord will provide and lovingly chastise us where needed.

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we ask that You grant us wisdom to be good and faithful servant leaders to the children whom You have ve generously placed in our care.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks to You for the many times we witness Your works through friends, family and others. We thank you for always being at work and inviting us to participate so that we may know You better.

7 May, Saturday – Never In Solitude

7 May

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Acts 18:23-28

Paul came down to Antioch, where he spent a short time before continuing his journey through the Galatian country and then through Phrygia, encouraging all the followers.

An Alexandrian Jew named Apollos now arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, with a sound knowledge of the scriptures, and yet, though he had been given instruction in the Way of the Lord and preached with great spiritual earnestness and was accurate in all the details he taught about Jesus, he had only experienced the baptism of John. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak boldly in the synagogue, they took an interest in him and gave him further instruction about the Way.

When Apollos thought of crossing over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote asking the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived there he was able by God’s grace to help the believers considerably by the energetic way he refuted the Jews in public and demonstrated from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

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John 16:23-28

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
anything you ask for from the Father he will grant in my name.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.
Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.
I have been telling you all this in metaphors,
the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in metaphors;
but tell you about the Father in plain words.
When that day comes you will ask in my name;
and I do not say that I shall pray to the Father for you,
because the Father himself loves you for loving me
and believing that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world
and now I leave the world to go to the Father.’

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Gave him further instructions

When we were born, we had our parents or guardians around us. Feeding us and giving us shelter and clothing as best they could afford. We had someone take care of us and we were not alone. As we enter school or work, we hope to form friendships with our classmates or co-workers and follow after good leaders.  We then begin to seek a partner in love… someone whom we could spend the rest of our lives with. We have friends and loved ones whom we have great relationships with, both for emotional and spiritual support. We build our families in our homes and in our churches.

Apollos was an eloquent and knowledgable follower of Christ but his experiences with God was not of first-hand experience. His faith and eagerness to preach about the Lord was very much a form of encouragement to people around him. This caught the attention of Priscilla and Aquila who encouraged him and strengthened his faith in Jesus. We can never walk alone. It is never a faith journey of just between you and Christ. It is never a journey of just between you and the Lord Father. It is never a journey of just you and the Eucharist. It has always been about you, God and others. We are little humans that need support from people of all walks of life… because we can always learn a thing or two from someone else. We are not to be selfish and to keep knowledge to ourselves. Jesus’s journey on earth was always about His people, Him and the Father. If Jesus was journeying with God only, then we would never have the Church.  The community is very much an integral part of our faith journey.

My dear brothers and sisters, may this ministry continue to touch you as we share our reflections with you. Because of you, we are encouraged to share our faith journey through these writings. Because of you, we continue to increase our faith in Christ. May we continue to grow in faith alongside this small community.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for those who are alone tonight, that they may find comfort and warmth in communities.  May they not fall into depression, but to find hope in others, as in with the Lord.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the support He has given us. We thank the Lord for all the readers for their encouragement to us.

23 April, Saturday – Seeking the Father through Jesus

23 April – Memorial of Saint George, Martyr; or Saint Adalbert, Bishop and Martyr

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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 twoo 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 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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“To have seen me is to have seen the Father”

I grew up apart from my parents, who divorced when I was about 5. Over the years, I often wondered especially about my mother, whom I did not know, as she had gone on to live a separate, new life.

In my teens, I somehow found out that she was living in a particular housing estate in Singapore and one day, I set about going there to walk around, hoping that I could at least catch a glimpse of her. I never did see her that day, despite walking around aimlessly throughout the whole estate. I felt particularly downcast, and alone that day.

One can sense a similar insecurity (and fear) that the apostles were feeling in today’s gospel. Jesus had been talking about leaving and the apostles were eager to know where exactly he was going. When I was walking through the estate, I did so without knowing exactly where she was and felt anxious. Unlike the situation I was in, however, Jesus assures us that He and God the Father are in each other. While He does not say where He is exactly, Jesus assures us that whatever we ask for in His name, He would do.

The traditional, Old Testament, understanding of God the Father was that He was a somewhat distant God. He was to be worshipped, and feared. Yet, Jesus, Son of God, teaches us that God the Father is OUR Father. By Jesus’ example, he shows us an intimacy with God that had not been normally seen. We are also privy to this intimacy by virtue of our relationship with Jesus. What blessed assurance we have!

All we need to do is to seek Jesus and we would find our Father God!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Help us Father to always have a deep desire to seek Your son Jesus, for when we find Him we will always find You. We ask that You will always send Your Spirit to be with us and to guide us in this wonderful journey.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Father sending us Your son Jesus and for revealing Yourself through Him. Thank you for filling us with Your love through the Holy Spirit. We thank also for sending Jesus to repair and build our broken links back to You!

Tuesday, 14 Apr – Listening so as to Love

14 Apr – Tuesday of the 2nd week of Eastertide

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Acts 4:32-37

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.

  The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect.
  None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.
  There was a Levite of Cypriot origin called Joseph whom the apostles surnamed Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He owned a piece of land and he sold it and brought the money, and presented it to the apostles.

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 John 3:7-15

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’
‘How can that be possible?’ asked Nicodemus. ‘You, a teacher in Israel, and you do not know these things!’ replied Jesus.
‘I tell you most solemnly,
we speak only about what we know
and witness only to what we have seen
and yet you people reject our evidence.
If you do not believe me when I speak about things in this world,
how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?
No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
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how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?

To listen is to love. I am learning again how to listen. Lately, I have grown frustrated about my difficulty in being empathetic to my loved ones. We cannot help hearing when people speak, when people talk to us. But to actually practise deep and meaningful listening, takes intent and commitment. This, I have come to realise.

In the Gospel text today, the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus continues. Jesus asks, ‘If you do not believe me when I speak about things in this world, how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?’ Nicodemus is a teacher in Israel, a wise man — and in these dialogues over yesterday and today, we see a wise man struggling to understand the words of Christ. Why are we presented with the person of Nicodemus? I have come to notice to motif of the wise man in the Bible stories. In many places, the teachers, leaders, priests, and wise men, struggle the most to comprehend the works and words of Christ. The wise man represents the intellectual, the powerful, the respected, and the self-righteous amongst us.

In our own ways, each of us finds ourselves most wise in the areas of our self-declared expertise, wisdom, and experience. This self-conferred ‘wisdom’ is thus the obstacle to our full listening. We think we know. And even, that we know better. Ironically, knowing blocks true learning.

How many of us like to say ‘But I’ve always known this’ or ‘I already knew’? These are the words that we may not speak aloud out of politeness sometimes, but in our hearts we could be mumbling so. It is pride that causes us to reject instruction and even to ignore a heartfelt sharing from loved ones who may be trying to express a vulnerability or hurt.

I am reminded of a retreat I once attended which had a section on “Communication”. One of the lessons I learnt then was that a good listener is not a passive participant in conversation. A good listener seeks to still his/her own internal thoughts and judgements, to focus on the speaker’s words and emotions, and is concerned to pay attention to feelings that may not be conveyed in speech, to seek understanding. However, to take this one step deeper, an empathetic listener takes all of the above and makes a genuine attempt to build a bridge of sensitive communication — by mirroring and to feedback through gestures (touch) or words, the spoken and unexpressed feelings of the person, such as to convey that he/she genuinely feels with the person’s emotions.

In this sense, though one may not identify exactly with a situation, one can always seek to identify with the emotions felt — and this act channels a flow of love between the two. I recognise this memory from the retreat as a gift from the Holy Spirit during this period of trials I am facing, and I am grateful for the chance to practice it and build the bridge of love with the deep foundations of empathetic listening.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace to listen intently and patiently, to feel with and empathise with my loved ones.

Thanksgiving: We give praise and thanks to the Holy Spirit who inspires us in all situations, who comforts us in all tribulations.

Wednesday, 13 Aug – Marked With A Cross

13 Aug – Memorial for St. Pontian, pope, martyr, and St. Hippolytus, priest, martyr

Pontian was among the first victims of an anti-Christian new emperor. Rounded up with the antipope Hippolytus, Pontian was deported to the labour mines. While imprisoned, Hippolytus reconciled his differences with Pontian and even ordered his followers to bring themselves back to the Church. Before he succumbed to the harsh treatment of the mines, Hippolytus became a true confessor of Christ. Pontian, in the mines only two months, was brutally beaten to death by his jailers.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ezekiel 9:1-7,10:18-22

As I, Ezekiel, listened, God shouted, ‘Come here, you scourges of the city, and bring your weapons of destruction.’ Immediately six men advanced from the upper north gate, each holding a deadly weapon. In the middle of them was a man in white, with a scribe’s ink horn in his belt. They came in and halted in front of the bronze altar. The glory of the God of Israel rose off the cherubs where it had been and went up to the threshold of the Temple. He called the man in white with a scribe’s ink horn in his belt and said, ‘Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a cross on the foreheads of all who deplore and disapprove of all the filth practised in it.’ I heard him say to the others, ‘Follow him through the city, and strike. Show neither pity nor mercy; old men, young men, virgins, children, women, kill and exterminate them all. But do not touch anyone with a cross on his forehead. Begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the old men in front of the Temple. He said to them, ‘Defile the Temple; fill the courts with corpses, and go.’ They went out and hacked their way through the city.

The glory of the Lord came out from the Temple threshold and paused over the cherubs. The cherubs spread their wings and rose from the ground to leave, and as I watched the wheels rose with them. They paused at the entrance to the east gate of the Temple of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. This was the creature that I had seen supporting the God of Israel beside the river Chebar, and I was now certain that these were cherubs. Each had four faces and four wings and what seemed to be human hands under their wings. Their faces were just as I had seen them beside the river Chebar. Each moved straight forward.

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Matthew 18:15-20

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

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

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

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But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community.

The sign of the cross with which we mark ourselves with, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is a very important spiritual and physical gesture. It serves as a reminder of our baptism when we were received into God’s family and marked as His, as His holy people. I have shared that I used to be extremely self-conscious about making the sign of the cross. I felt it brought unnecessary attention to me; made my faith too conspicuous; was daunting to ‘show-and-tell’ – but what if I did not live up to my Christian proclamation?

It was not until I read up and learnt, and understood the fullness of its beautiful meaning: that signing myself with the cross not only recalls my baptism, it blesses me with the Holy Trinity, covers me with the Lord’s protection (as seen in the first reading of Ezekiel), and ‘marks’ me as one of the sheep in the Lord’s fold. Simply put, I was telling not only the friends around me that I am Christ’s – I also make a proclamation in the spiritual realm that I renounce Sin and Satan. Ever since I learnt all of that, I have endeavoured to sign the cross with less haste and more mindfulness and contemplation. I say the words out loud or in my head, and I try consciously never to rush through it or hide it as though I were scratching my forehead and nose. I am certain that many of us have been through this awkward action in public. Our actions do betray our interior posture.

Why is this important to us? In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the disciples that they are accountable to each other and for each other. They are community. How do we then know we are in the same community? Only when we can recognise each other, can we then ‘all be as one’ (John 17:21). Therefore an outward sign is a mark that sets us apart and binds us together, at the same time. This is similar to that beautiful feeling of camaraderie I always experience when I walk around on Ash Wednesday and see others like me, walking around with the mark of palm ashes on our foreheads. It is a reminder that we are walking billboards for our Lord Jesus Christ!

We need to ponder this slowly and mindfully. Though the sign of the cross physically manifests the mark of God’s convenant on us, this daily self-blessing in God’s Holy Name, must also translate to a real manifestation of acts in love and charity for our fellow man.

When we can make the sign of the cross in confidence of renewing our baptism vows, we will certainly also grow in confidence that we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit to be better Christians. May we walk around each day not only signing ourselves with the Trinity, but also bringing the love of God to the people whom we meet. We are the Church. We are little Christs in-formation.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help me to be proud of what You have done for me, and to grow in confidence of who I am becoming because of Your amazing grace and sacrifical love for me.

Thanksgiving: Father, I thank you for giving me my faith family on earth who check me when I need reminders to be accountable. I pray for those who have yet to connect with their faith family, that they may find a fold in Your time.

Saturday, 2 Aug – Collective Conscience

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 26:11-16,24

The priests and prophets addressed the officials and all the people, ‘This man deserves to die, since he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.’ Jeremiah, however, replied to the people as follows:

‘The Lord himself sent me to say all the things you have heard against this Temple and this city. So now amend your behaviour and actions, listen to the voice of the Lord your God: if you do, he will relent and not bring down on you the disaster he has pronounced against you. For myself, I am as you see in your hands. Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.’

The officials and all the people then said to the priests and prophets, ‘This man does not deserve to die: he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.’

Jeremiah had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

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Matthew 14:1-12

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

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

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Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people for they regarded him as a prophet

Power corrupts. People change when they’ve tasted power. But it’s especially hard when our loved ones let position and status go to their head. We feel abandoned, betrayed. A dear friend experienced this first hand when her husband changed, seemingly overnight, after closing several successful deals at his workplace. He was the ‘rising star’, the authority that everyone sought out. This should have been their time to reap what they had sown in the early years of their marriage. She raised their children while he worked, she supported them while his career struggled at first. This was supposed to be her time. Instead, their marriage collapsed, with him walking out on his wife and their three children to be with a young aide. Cliched but when it happens to someone we know, someone we love, it is heartbreaking. There are no answers to all the ‘whys’. It has happened, he has gone. It is like a grenade going off next to you; you are going to get hit by shrapnel. She is innocent, her children are innocent, but lamenting isn’t going to bring him back. As friends, we stand beside them and help them to pick through the rubble so they can start to move on.

The anatomy of an affair is surprisingly predictable. So many stories sound the same. First there is the stonewalling; they say they are tired but become fixated with their devices. Then comes the deafness; he turns away from friends and family. Then the criticizing starts as if he is finding a way to justify his actions; he picks on you, on your loved ones, the friends you once shared, your work. Nothing is good enough. He isolates himself or makes new acquaintances you never get to meet. He compares you with them and you fall short each time.

Eventually, he distances himself from the collective conscience you shared together, the circle of loved ones who cared for, protected and nurtured you as a married couple. He stops going to church and shuns family gatherings. It is as if by doing so, he is trying to silence the voices of conscience in his head. He knows this is not the way but he can’t help himself. He is lost.

Today’s gospel shows a Herod lost – lost to his responsibilities to his family, lost to his duty as a leader and a King, lost to God. Here is a man who has numbed himself to accountability, who has become deaf to reason, who has turned off his conscience. He resorts to drinking, feasting and song to numb himself, and that’s when the opportunity presents itself. Even slippery slopes start with small steps. Herod wasn’t always deaf to his conscience, but over time, the lines between what was ‘accepted’ and what was ‘acceptable’ became blurred. My friend’s errant husband probably thought his dinners with his aide were harmless, he was trying to close a big deal and she had worked hard on it. It was just dinner, how much harm could it do? And he was a director, he was just trying to ‘nurture talent’. Herod was just trying to amuse his stepdaughter, after she had put up such a beautiful performance. The Devil uses our weakness for power, for beauty, our lust for instant fulfillment to undo us. When we are showered with praise, when glory is heaped upon us, when we are intoxicated and having a good time is when we need to be most watchful and hold on tightest to the ties that bind us to our family and His Church. We need to constantly remind ourselves who we answer to, who we are responsible for, who we are accountable to. A marriage needs a collective conscience.

All healing comes from God. In time I know she will move on and the pain of this betrayal will dull and scar over. In time, the children will grow up and begin to understand and accept it. In time, she will move on, hopefully with someone who cherishes her. In the words of the psalmist in today’s reading, “… You who seek God may your hearts revive! For The Lord hears the poor and his own who are in bonds he spurns not” (Psalm 69:33-34). In time, with His grace, there will be healing. For now, all we can do is be here for her and pray for His grace.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

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Prayer : We pray for all those who are dealing with the aftermath of infidelity and broken marriages. We commit them to The Lord and ask for His grace, love and healing to get them through this.

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for the support of our friends and loved ones when events like divorce and separation shake the foundations of our lives.