Tag Archives: forgiveness

19 June, Wednesday – Whose track are you running on?

New Oxygen writer

Today’s reflection is the third one written by Gina Ulicny, a new addition to the OXYGEN team. Gina is a cradle Catholic who was born in Mississippi to an Air Force Italian father and a Baptist-born mother from the hills of West Virginia. Gina’s relationship with God has always been real and active and she does not remember a time in her life that she didn’t feel His presence, love and acceptance.

She started reading the Bible as a teenager, wanting to know more of my God and our Catholic faith, which she totally embraced and loved. Her ‘push’ to know Jesus and her faith really came about because of her uncle, a Baptist preacher, who knew scripture and talked about Jesus all the time.

She is married to a quiet, devoted Catholic and has a daughter, Veronica, who lives in downtown Atlanta. Gina keeps herself active by playing tennis, going to the movies, writing, reading and just being with family and friends.

We thank Gina for her selfless contribution and welcome all interested writers to join us in sharing their faith journeys.

– OXYGEN team

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19 June 2019 – Memorial for St. Romuald, abbot

St Romuald (951-1027) had been an Italian noble. Acting as second, he witnessed his father kill a man in a duel, and sought to atone for the crime by becoming a Benedictine monk at Classe, Italy where he was abbot from 996–999.

A wanderer by nature, he established several hermitages and monasteries in central and northern Italy. He tried to evangelize the Slavs, but met with little success. He founded the Camaldolese Benedictines and spent the last fourteen years of his life in seclusion. His body, which is enshrined in Italy, remains incorrupt till this day.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one, and, made richer in every way, you will be able to do all the generous things which, through us, are the cause of thanksgiving to God.

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Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

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Always having all you need

I just saw the movie ‘Rocketman’, about the life of Elton John. The crux of the movie is about Elton John desperately seeking what all children need, and what he never received from his mother and father. That is also the crux of a movie I saw last summer about Bard Millard, the lead singer of the Christian band, Mercy Me.

These movies are both based on their memories and are similar in so many ways. Both Elton John and Bart Millard are gifted musicians, both creative, both had a supportive loving grandmother, both had unattached parents battling their own demons and making selfish choices at the cost of their son at every turn. Both movies showed deep sadness, pain, hurt, loneliness and even worthlessness. The difference came in who the main characters turned to for help…one to God, and one to man. The difference came in one thinking that his life is what he makes it since this life is all that there is; and the other knowing that his life isn’t about him.

Though Rocketman ends with indications of a happy, healthy and complete man, I felt the story far from over, incomplete. Elton has learned how to live a ‘happy life’, but it doesn’t seem complete. He is living in a much happier lane than before, but still on the same track — the human track without our Saviour. (As I write this, I want to fully acknowledge that I do not know Elton John’s faith and I could be 100% wrong in my thought that Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not part of his life.) On the other hand, Bart Millard did more than change lanes, he changed tracks — he got on God’s track, not just the closest lane in the human track to God’s track. He had been acknowledging God, waving at Christ, enjoying a relationship from a distance, but hadn’t fully given His whole life to God. He recognized his unforgiving heart, recognized that he hadn’t given his whole heart to God, which is why he was still carrying the burden of unforgiveness and not having room to receive forgiveness. He needed to forgive, even though he didn’t ‘deserve’ such a painful childhood  –  and leave it at the cross. Leaving it all at the cross is the only way to ‘have all we need’.

In today’s world, it is difficult to hold onto just God, to ‘have all we need’ because we continue to take back the things we don’t need, the things God never intended for us. And when we are carrying around the burdens of unforgiveness, anger, self-righteousness, comparing attitudes, shame, guilt, vices of wanting more, of believing what we have and what we are, isn’t enough… and all the burdens of human origin, we are not able to carry the grace, the mercy, the joy, the ‘all’ that God has for us in Him.

He is ALL WE NEED. And yes, it isn’t easy to live in this world and live those words; but it is possible. It is possible when we start and end each day in relationship with Him. When we choose daily to make time with Him our priority, make choices that honor Him. When we choose to trust instead of doubt that He really does have our back — that He will either not let us fall, or will catch us if falling is part of His plan. That our life has a purpose that is beyond our knowledge and understanding. When we choose to ask His forgiveness again, and again and again. When we choose to forgive again, and again and again. When we choose HIM instead of ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:   Father God, help us to remember how much you love us. To live daily in the belief of your words. Help us stay on your track, remembering that You are the Almighty Father, and in your hands we have all we need.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for all those you put in our life who help us to stay in your graces and mercy. Thank you for always calling us, blessing us and guiding us back to you, back to your sacrificial love and eternal life.  

7 June, Friday – Live with Love

7 June 2019

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Acts 25:13-21

King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus. Their visit lasted several days, and Festus put Paul’s case before the king. ‘There is a man here’ he said ‘whom Felix left behind in custody, and while I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and elders of the Jews laid information against him, demanding his condemnation. But I told them that Romans are not in the habit of surrendering any man, until the accused confronts his accusers and is given an opportunity to defend himself against the charge. So they came here with me, and I wasted no time but took my seat on the tribunal the very next day and had the man brought in. When confronted with him, his accusers did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected; but they had some argument or other with him about their own religion and about a dead man called Jesus whom Paul alleged to be alive. Not feeling qualified to deal with questions of this sort, I asked him if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to be tried there on this issue. But Paul put in an appeal for his case to be reserved for the judgement of the august emperor, so I ordered him to be remanded until I could send him to Caesar.’

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John 21:15-19

Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’

In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’

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Do you love me?

Imagine this for a moment – you did something so unforgivable and uncharitable to a very close friend of yours. Be it in a moment of weakness or a very calculated act on your part. How would your friend feel about your betrayal? Hurt, anger or sorrow? Could this friend forgive you? And can you ever forgive yourself for what you have done? Would you shy away from your friend in shame, unable to face him? Or would you push it aside, hoping that time would heal this wound you inflicted? Or are you so convinced that your act was justified.

Now imagine your friend, sometime later, in your most lost, despondent state, preparing breakfast for you. He asked how you are doing in the most loving gentle way. At first you are unable to recognise him, but by that one simple loving act, you recognised him – because this was the most recognisable characteristic of your friend – one who is ever ready to love and forgive you. You’d feel awful right?

This is the story of Peter. The last time they encountered each other was a sad occasion – Peter, betrayed Jesus 3 times. Yet after his death, the resurrected Jesus showed himself to his friends 3 times. And specifically to the one who betrayed him, Jesus forgave and loved him. Jesus takes Peter aside from the others and gives him the opportunity to affirm a threefold pledge of his love. The one, supreme condition for Christ to renew Peter’s commission to tend his sheep is Peter’s love for Jesus.

Recently, I found myself too in the position of Jesus. I had been hurt by an act of an individual. The breach of trust was so painful, so sorrowful, so shocking. To cope, I vowed never to come face to face with this person again. It was a pain I nursed for a few years. Over these years, I showed the classic symptoms of grief – irritable, numbness, bitterness, detachment, preoccupation of the loss, and the inability to show or experience joy. Try as I might to be Christ-like, I could not bring myself to forgive this person. Then one day, out of the blue, this person came to me and apologized so profusely. I was caught off-guard and didn’t know how to react. Days later, I was still holding onto the hurt and felt guilty for being un-Christ like.

It is so much easier to hold on to anger and resentment. But to love someone who has betrayed you – is simply too hard. God, in his mercy and grace, had pushed me to this comfortable space. I am learning that it’s only with God’s grace, that we can do what is deemed impossible.

Jesus too experienced betrayal. Yet He forgave and loved so much. He set an example for us. That is no doubt a tough act to follow. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4). However, to follow Jesus is to love. Love is the one, supreme condition for each of us who aspires to be an apostle. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man – (Proverbs 3:3-4). Our risen Lord gives us the opportunity again and again to love. If we have drifted away, due to whatever circumstance in life – be it hurt, betrayal or simply lack of interest. Jesus is asking us too today ‘Do you love me?’ Do you hear this invitation? Can we not live in the past, but live in the here and now? Live with love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for being an example of love. Having received your mercy, teach us Lord to be compassionate and forgiving to others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for your mercy, in showing compassion and love to us for the many times we betrayed you.

13 April, Saturday – All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing

13 April 2019

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Ezekiel 37:21-28 

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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What action are we taking?

There was an interesting story related by Scott Hahn at one of his talks, which I caught on youtube. It tells of how when at the Pearly Gates, Scott managed to get into heaven. However, a friend of his from high school, let’s call him John, did not. At the Pearly Gates, when St Peter showed John the path to the other door, John desperately pleaded for mercy, kicking and ranting. John caught sight of Scott at the other door and asked him how come he got into heaven. Scott replied because he had come to know and to love Jesus who redeemed and saved him. John then asked Scott why he did not tell him about this Jesus all these years that they had been friends. Scott’s reply was, “Well, I did not think it would have been ecumenically and politically correct, I did not want to impose myself on you, I felt I should mind my own business and you did not seem very open to it and I did not want to jeopardize our friendship or make you feel awkward.” And as the gates to the underworld slowly closed on John, he screamed out his last desperate curses at Scott, “Damn you Scott, damn you … you could at least have tried!”.

There is a saying — “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” — a phrase which may be familiar to some of you. I especially find this quote very provoking yet very empowering. Many of us may have experienced the frustrations of encountering apathetic individuals who, when faced with situations where affirmative action was needed, simply chose to look away, turn a blind eye, shrug a shoulder. Perhaps some of these situations may be familiar to us …

…a ‘friend’ whom we have not seen for some time, suddenly connects and seeks financial help in order to provide for his critically ill child and we do all we can to pretend we never knew him;

…when we spot a beggar from a distance and we change the route we walk to avoid him;

…when the frequent company of buddies over a few pints makes for more exciting and extended evenings, knowing a spouse or elderly parent or a child sits alone and lonely at home, hoping for your return to talk to and spend time with them;

…when self-righteousness and arrogance come before desperate calls for help from the Church for parishioners to step forward to help in the many areas which sorely lacked laborers in His vineyard;

…when this world’s pleasures come before silent adoration before Almighty God;

… when we refuse to forgive a spouse, a friend, a child when we are hurt by them and continue to treat them coldly and harshly in retribution, often leaving behind scars that would never heal.

Let us reflect on how easy and insidious our own journey towards self-deception, self-righteousness and self-indulgence is. Selfishness, pride and apathy are the roots of the sins of omission that strangle our Christian virtue but the ones that they choke are often those around us whom we failed to love, to help and to serve. These situations are indeed very familiar to me. I think you know why.

Let me end by drawing on another story which brings us to the gates of hell. The parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ in Luke 16:19-27 is a poignant reminder. Whilst the rich man was too busy maxing out on the indulgences of life, he was totally blind and indifferent to Lazarus who was at his gates, starving and with dogs licking his open sores. But Lazarus’ plight was not blind to God. God was the silent witness to all that was happening (and not happening). Precious in the eyes of God was the suffering of Lazarus. So much so that when Lazarus died, God sent angels to carry him tenderly into the bosom of Abraham. In life, Lazarus was a ‘nobody’, but he mattered to God. When the rich man died, he was just buried. No angels came for him. It would seem that the many sins of omission committed by the rich man against Lazarus made him the real nobody in the eyes of God. He remained a nameless, rich man who lived only for himself, died, was buried and was sent to Hell. God, it seemed, had long since turned his gaze away from him and focused his eyes on Lazarus instead, with a heart overflowing with mercy, compassion and love for him.

Unrepentance for grievous sins we commit will send us to hell one day; but so too will sins of not doing good when we could have and should have. Just ask the rich man, if you are ever unfortunate enough to go to the same place he ended up in.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We have sinned for all the chances we have missed, for all the graces we resist, for all the evil we have done and for all the good we have failed to do.

Thanksgiving: Father, for all the chances we have missed, for all the graces we resist, for all the evil we have done and for all the good we have failed to do, thank you for the mercy you give us through the Eucharist of your Son and through the sanctifying merits and graces of our Blessed Mother. For by these, you have redeemed us.

7 April, Sunday – Don’t Look Back

7 April 2019

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Isaiah 43:16-21

Thus says the Lord,
who made a way through the sea,
a path in the great waters;
who put chariots and horse in the field
and a powerful army
which lay there never to rise again,
snuffed out, put out like a wick:

No need to recall the past,
no need to think about what was done before.
See, I am doing a new deed,
even now it comes to light; can you not see it?
Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness,
paths in the wilds.

The wild beasts will honour me,
jackals and ostriches,
because I am putting water in the wilderness
(rivers in the wild)
to give my chosen people drink.
The people I have formed for myself
will sing my praises.

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Philippians 3:8-14

I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.

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John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

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No need to recall the past.  No need to think about what was done before

I was oddly touched by today’s readings. The parable of the adulteress is well known and often told. But it is the first and second readings that have struck a chord deep within my heart.

Upon reflecting on my life thus far, there are moments that I felt I was strong, have done the right thing and patted myself on the back. But more often than not, there were moments which I am none too proud of. There were things that I have done or said that are truly hurtful and I fully regret them. They have become a wound, not only to the people I have hurt or offended, but also to myself.

Not recognizing the wound for what it is, it festered until it infected all aspects of life. Like pneumonia, it takes over the whole body, and it will only clear with a heavy dose of antibiotics. The condition of my spiritual health was in a similar state. It wasn’t until I acknowledged the hurt, the wounds, the guilt, the sins, and asked for forgiveness from our loving God, did I begin to heal.

Still, it wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t move on, believing that I was unworthy of the love of God, and couldn’t understand that I can be forgiven so easily. Sometimes, our human psyche hinders us, deters us from believing what is good.

But the readings today are so encouraging. God is actually telling us that when we confess our sins, He has forgiven. We need to move on, we don’t need to look back. Because that is not where we are. We need to look forward and focus on what is ahead, keep our gaze in the direction of our Lord because that’s where we are heading and that’s where we want to be. This isn’t to say we are free to do more wrong or commit more sins. Although, we probably will do wrong despite our best efforts (due to the failings of our human nature), but the key is to try with our best effort to avoid sinning for the love of our God, who is ever loving and merciful. The intention of doing the right thing and striving for good, that is the key.

The journey isn’t over. We may take detours now and then, but the race isn’t finished yet and we mustn’t give up.  With God by our side, what do we have to fear?  Jesus is my strength and my all. When I stumble and fall, He is there by my side, encouraging me and helping me to continue on.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help us not to look back but look ahead in Your direction. Help us to focus our hearts, our minds and our soul on You as we journey. 

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for loving us even though we are unworthy and for never giving up on us.

5 April, Friday – Who am I?

5 Apr – Memorial for St. Vincent Ferrer, priest

Vincent (1350–1419) was the fourth child of the Anglo-Scottish nobleman William Stewart Ferrer and his Spanish wife, Constantia Miguel. His father is reported to have had a dream in which he was told that Vincent would be a world-famous Dominican friar.

The boy joined the Dominicans in 1367. He received his doctorate of theology from the University of Lleida. He was a priest and a missionary. He taught theology, and was adviser to the King of Aragon. During a severe fever in 1398, Vincent had a vision of Christ, St. Dominic de Guzman, and St. Francis of Assisi. It was a life-changing experience.

Vincent received supernatural gifts and believed that he was a messenger of penance, an “angel of the apocalypse” sent to prepare humankind for the Judgement of Christ.

He was a great preacher who converted thousands in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was invited to preach in Muslim Granada. He was counsellor to Pope Benedict XIII. He travelled through Spain, France, Switzerland, and Italy, working to end the Western Schism.

He slept on the floor, had the gift of tongues (he spoke only Spanish, but all listeners understood him), lived an endless fast, celebrated Mass daily, and was known as a miracle worker. He was reported to have brought a murdered man back to life to prove the power of Christianity to the onlookers, and he would heal people throughout a hospital just by praying in front of it.

He worked so hard to build up the Church that he became the patron of people in building trades.

– Patron Saint Index

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Wisdom 2:1,12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.

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John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.

As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.’

Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.

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The very sight of him weighs our spirit down; his way of life is not like other men’s

Today’s first reading profiles who is good and who is wicked. I suppose it also stems from which side you are on. There are always two sides to a story, from different viewpoints.

Our life is short and full of sorrow, and when its end comes, there is no escape. No one has ever been known to come back from the world of the dead. ….. Come on, then, let’s enjoy the good things of life, and live in this world the way we did when we were young and free of care!

How many times have our friends good naturedly told us whenever we lament about something or what someone did or did not do for us. “Life is short, don’t take things to heart and just enjoy yourself.” Isn’t that exactly what the verses in Wisdom are depicting? Are our friends wrong then? Well, everything needs to be taken into context. If we continue to read the entire chapter in Wisdom 2, we see that the ‘wicked person’ simply throws caution to the wind, enjoys life in debauchery and torments those who are not in line with their views (the just ones).

I had to read today’s first reading a couple of times before I really understood it. At first, I saw myself as the ‘just one, the good person because I am a child of God. As I read the verses again, I see traces of the wicked one in myself. I think about the many times I feel uncomfortable or irritated with a person because she is simply weird, attention-seeking or someone who seemingly is doing ‘good’ but really feeding their own agendas.

Recently, a member of our community decided to step away and pursue a different journey. This person had some grievances with our community – how the ministry is being run, how certain people within the community conducted themselves, and some other issues which were very subjective (in my opinion). Whatever the reasons, God had a new plan for my fellow sister. My last interaction with her was somewhat confrontational. I am not sure to this day what the cause was. I have searched my mind over this but cannot find an answer. I decided to just let it go. When she sent a message to all to say her goodbyes to our community, I replied with a private message to wish her well and asked for her forgiveness if I had hurt her in any way. She never responded.

So perhaps to her, the very sight of me or the mention of my name may weigh her down; irritates her. Today’s first reading might be the very words she uses to describe me. From my perspective she is the ‘godless one’. However, if I am being authentic for a moment, my first reaction to her non response and the way she has reacted to me the last few times we met – I felt that she was simply a very angry and hurt person. I also felt that her stepping away from community was a result of her anger and discontentment – from the community and God who gave her a new life. I decided to let it go and not let this rob me of my peace. But today on reading the first reading again, I realised that I too am the wicked one. Who am I to say that the way she chooses to lead her life now is not what God wants of her. They do not know the hidden things of God. God uses our pain and suffering and turns it into something good. This journey in life is what it is — a journey. Some paths come to an end and we make a turn and start on a new path. So while my fellow (or now ex) community member’s gifts and talents are clearly in music , she has chosen to heed the Lord’s prompting to exercise other gifts, and to use her to minister to others in a new way.

May the Lord always hold this sister in His love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, I pray you stay close to us who are broken-hearted. Help us in our weakness. Free us from the chains of anger, unforgiveness, and sadness from disappointments. Help us see others with your eyes of love. Help us to love you more.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for suffering for us. How painful it is for you to be condemned to such a death for us – especially for those of us who choose to stay away from you and not believe in you. Thank you for such unconditional love.

18 March, Monday – Come Back to Me

18 March 2019

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Daniel 9:4-10

O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.

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Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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Rescue us for the sake of your name

Come back to me with all your heart
Don’t let fear keep us apart
Trees do bend though straight and tall
So must we to others call

Long have I waited for
Your coming home to me
And living deeply our new life

The wilderness will lead you
To the place where I will speak
Integrity and justice
With tenderness
You shall know.

– Hosea (Come back to me) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czPF5B1aQ1Y

This beautiful hymn has been playing on in my head for the past week. It is after all, one of the Lenten staples. I am always struck with a quivering lip and hot tears welling in my eyes at the second verse “the wilderness will lead you, to the place where I will speak.” And I am speechless to explain why.

Perhaps, it is because I am going through a kind of wilderness now. At the same time, I know as well that the source of my tears are a deep longing for a closeness that I have missed with Christ my lover. This passionate love was so strong, that I would feel Jesus living in my heart every moment and I could commit to him with joy all my thoughts and feelings that happened throughout the day. I would visit him for daily morning or evening Mass and spend time in the quiet of the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was SO IN LOVE! Yet, even as I continue to do these things (although with less frequency), I had felt a distance and coldness in me.

How long have I felt estranged? I cannot be sure. I do know that several rough and tumbles of life and strained relationships have cast me into the wilderness.

As I read today’s Gospel passage where Jesus urged his disciples to be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. I realise that while I do not know how I got to this wilderness, God has the antidote to the dry and barren soil of my heart. We are called to water our souls with compassion just as God is compassionate to us. I realised that this compassion is not only to be given to others (although our love does need to be poured out), but restoratively, I need to be compassionate to myself!

Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. (Luke 6:38)

Notice the words of this hymn Hosea. It is a call to repentance that is borne out of a love and longing God has for us. He calls us to return to Him by casting aside our fears (of punishment, self-loathing, guilt, hatred, anger, unforgiveness)…

How often do we remember to be generous in forgiveness for ourselves and our own waywardness? Are we generous in giving ourselves time to truly rest, to freely play, to connect with the family and friends God has given to us in a deeply meaningful way? Or have we been distracted by the lesser but shinier things of this world?

Lent is a season for repentance. But it does not stop there. We repent because of love not fear. This Lent, try loving yourself (not in a selfish, prideful way) in all the parts of you within that feel unlovely – your sins, your imperfections, your bad temper, your insecurities. Believe that you are loved and wanted very much by your Heavenly Father.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: I seek God’s grace and mercy that I may see all my loveliness and to love my unloveliness, the way God sees me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the chance to repent and return to you.

5 March, Tuesday – Going Beyond 40%

5 March 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 35:2-15

A man multiplies offerings by keeping the Law;
he offers communion sacrifices by following the commandments.
By showing gratitude he makes an offering of fine flour,
by giving alms he offers a sacrifice of praise.
Withdraw from wickedness and the Lord will be pleased,
withdraw from injustice and you make atonement.
Do not appear empty-handed in the Lord’s presence;
for all these things are due under the commandment.
A virtuous man’s offering graces the altar,
and its savour rises before the Most High.
A virtuous man’s sacrifice is acceptable,
its memorial will not be forgotten.
Honour the Lord with generosity,
do not stint the first-fruits you bring.
Add a smiling face to all your gifts,
and be cheerful as you dedicate your tithes.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously as your means can afford;
for the Lord is a good rewarder,
he will reward you seven times over.
Offer him no bribe, he will not accept it,
do not put your faith in an unvirtuous sacrifice;
since the Lord is a judge
who is no respecter of personages.

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Mark 10:28-31

At that time Peter began to tell Jesus, ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.

‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

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Many who are first will be last, and the last first

I was reading this story about how this guy (Jessie) was running in a 100-mile (160 kilometres) race when he noticed an even bigger 120 kg man running the same race. The ‘big’ man did not have a typical build for ultramarathon running. Yet, complete it he did, despite breaking all the small bones in his feet.

Jessie subsequently hired this man to teach him the secret of his mental toughness. It was simple; when his mind told him it was time to quit, “he is only 40% done”.

While the anecdote above seems more suitable for a seminar on success, it does relate very much to our faith.

In the Gospel, Peter tells Jesus that the disciples have already given up everything to follow Him. While promising that all their sacrifices would be rewarded a hundredfold, our Lord Jesus also talked about persecutions when serving Him. This brings to mine Matthew 18:21-22, where Jesus told Peter that he needed to forgive those who sin against him. Not once, nor seven times, but seventy-seven times.

This passage tells me that as Christians, we WILL face challenges and persecutions and despite us thinking that we have given my all, it is our calling and our duty to continue serving our Lord and those around us.

Because in the end, once our days on earth are done, we are promised an eternal reward.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we may will be able to go beyond our own comfort zone and to serve You.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus for giving us Your all, even dying on the cross for us.

28 November, Wednesday – Justice — Because We Deserve Something Better

28 November

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Apocalypse 15:1-4

What I, John, saw in heaven was a great and wonderful sign: seven angels were bringing the seven plagues that are the last of all, because they exhaust the anger of God. I seemed to see a glass lake suffused with fire, and standing by the lake of glass, those who had fought against the beast and won, and against his statue and the number which is his name. They all had harps from God, and they were singing the hymn of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb:

‘How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
just and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord?
You alone are holy,
and all the pagans will come and adore you
for the many acts of justice you have shown.’

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Luke 21:12-19

Jesus said: Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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All the pagans will come and adore you for the many acts of justice you have shown.

I grew up in a family where many of my relatives are in adulterous or out of wedlock relationships. One of the phrases I usually heard from adults is how God ‘will understand’ why they had to be in such situations. That was their excuse for their choices. And I have wondered for a long time if God really understood as they have claimed.

When my brother, who was then legally married, got another woman pregnant, my grandmother laughed it off much to my disgust. I wished with all my heart that they would have stood up and told him that what he did was wrong. At that time, I wished someone stood up for what was right, rather than telling us that it was ‘ok’. I could not explain why I felt repulsed. Reading today’s first reading helped me understand a bit more.

One priest shared during one of his talks that because God is first just, that’s why he is merciful. You cannot separate the two. We need to understand how just God is first, before we can understand his mercy.

I feel that mercy is God’s way of meeting us where we are. Yes, he understands that we are weak creatures and that we fall short of what is expected of us. I think mercy is God’s way of telling us that he loves us where we are right now, where we were yesterday, and where we will be tomorrow.

Justice is God’s way of reminding us that we could be greater, that we were made for so much more, and that God has so much more he wanted to give us, if only we would do what we were meant to do. Justice is God’s way of making us feel how far we are from the goodness we’re meant to enjoy, and an invitation for us to walk towards that goodness and never settle.

Some of us might think that justice is punishment when it is really a display of tough love. Maybe it is God’s way of making the situation so uncomfortable that we are forced to journey towards the real comfort.

I have recently seen articles which encouraged the Catholic Church to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ, despite the cultural pressure. A lot of converts said that because the Church stood firm, they were attracted to convert and join the Catholic Church. Indeed, it was the proclammation of God’s justice that attracted people.

Let us learn to love God’s justice as much as we love his mercy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes, we hate it when we are corrected and when we receive your justice. Help us see it as an invitation for us to become better versions of ourselves. And give us the strength and courage we need to move forward.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for giving your tough love. It’s probably tough for you to do so, too.

8 November, Thursday – On Coming Home

8 November

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Philippians 3:3-8

We are the real people of the circumcision, we who worship in accordance with the Spirit of God; we have our own glory from Christ Jesus without having to rely on a physical operation. If it came to relying on physical evidence, I should be fully qualified myself. Take any man who thinks he can rely on what is physical: I am even better qualified. I was born of the race of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents, and I was circumcised when I was eight days old. As for the Law, I was a Pharisee; as for working for religion, I was a persecutor of the Church; as far as the Law can make you perfect, I was faultless. But because of Christ, I have come to consider all these advantages that I had as disadvantages. Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

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Luke 15:1-10

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.

‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’

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“… Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep”

Those of you reading this blog regularly will know that I stopped going to church briefly when the news of our Catholic Church’s scandals came to light. I have since found my way back to mass, albeit a little warily. The distrust that I feel for the ruling priestly elite hasn’t gone away. You can say that I have taken to heart Paul’s advice to “not put confidence in the flesh”. I am a committed Catholic. I identify myself as Catholic. I’m not afraid to speak of my faith, even now with all the scandal surrounding our Church. Outwardly, I tell everyone that this is surmountable, that we will emerge from this a stronger body of believers. But privately, I feel lost, like the proverbial sheep. The trust between myself and the political institution that is the Catholic Church has been broken. So, going to Mass has become challenging. Like the wife who has been cheated on, or the child whose innocence is lost, I am there physically — but things are not the same.

I have been re-reading the Bible a lot, grasping for a sign, for something. It’s ironic how familiar verses speak new meaning to us when our circumstances are different. I yearn for the homecoming that is described in today’s gospel, that great rejoicing when the shepherd finds his lost sheep. But to what exactly am I coming home to? God’s Church has been defiled. If this is our threshing moment, when wheat is separated from chaff, what will God’s Church look like when it is all over? And with all this anger, frustration and disillusionment in my heart, will there still be a place for me with Him?

As if to throw me a lifeline, God has led me to a small community of women that has formed within my own parish. We seem to all have this in common, this feeling of being scattered like sheep. We spend one morning a week, praying, poring over the Bible, processing our feelings of confusion about this whole thing – who knew what when, and what did they do about it. This must be what a support group feels like. Wow, am I thankful for it!! I’ve also taken to reading up on the history of the Catholic Church. We seem to go through cycles of renewal and purification; perhaps we are in the throes of one now. I wonder how it ends.

Christ’s words from the Book of Matthew have never been more significant to me than right now – “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves… a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then you will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7: 15-20). If this is to be a threshing moment for all believers, I hope that at the end of it, I will not be found wanting. I pray that God will help me to process these feelings I hold in my heart, so that going to Mass becomes less of a struggle. Because I want that homecoming, to be that lost sheep that is found. I want to reclaim that trust that was lost. Don’t we all?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are working towards healing the Church and restoring its credibility with believers.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people that God puts in our lives to get us through difficult moments.

4 October, Thursday – Faith in Crisis

4 October – Memorial for St. Francis of Assisi

Francis Bernardone (1181–1226) was the son of Pietro Bernadone, a rich cloth merchant. Though he had a good education and became part of his father’s business, he also had a somewhat misspent youth. He was a street brawler and some-time soldier. He was captured during a conflict between Assisi and Perugia, and spent over a year as prisoner of war. During this time, he had a conversion experience, including a reported message from Christ calling him to leave this worldly life. Upon release, Francis began taking his religion seriously.

He took the Gospel as the rule of his life, Jesus Christ as his literal example. He dressed in rough clothes, begged for his sustenance, and preached purity and peace. His family disapproved, and his father disinherited him; Francis formally renounced his wealth and inheritance. He visited hospitals, served the sick, preached in the streets, and took all men and women as siblings.

He began to attract followers in 1209, and with papal blessing, founded the Franciscans based on a simple statement by Jesus: “Leave all and follow me.” In 1212, Clare of Assisi became his spiritual student, which led to the founding of the Poor Clares. He visited and preached to the Saracens. He composed songs and hymns to God and nature. He lived with animals, worked with his hands, cared for lepers, cleaned churches, and sent food to thieves. In 1221, he resigned direction of the Franciscans.

While in meditation on La Verna (Mount Alvernia) in the Apennines in September 1224, Francis received the stigmata, which periodically bled during the remaining two years of his life. This miracle has a separate memorial on 17 September.

In the Middle Ages, people who were believed to be possessed by Beelzebub especially called upon the intercession of St. Francis, the theory being that he was the demon’s opposite number in heaven.

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” – St. Francis of Assisi

– Patron Saint Index

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Job 19:21-27

Job said:

Pity me, pity me, you, my friends,
for the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you hound me down like God,
will you never have enough of my flesh?

Ah, would that these words of mine were written down,
inscribed on some monument
with iron chisel and engraving tool,
cut into the rock for ever.
This I know: that my Avenger lives,
and he, the Last, will take his stand on earth.
After my awaking, he will set me close to him,
and from my flesh I shall look on God.
He whom I shall see will take my part:
these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof.

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Luke 10:1-12

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

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I am sending you out like lambs

“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” The existing and potential members of the harvest expect the labourers of the harvest to be like lambs, but how should they react when these trusted labourers turn out to be like wolves instead? As the church in America reels from the sex abuse scandals, possibly the most serious in its history, the rest of the faithful in other parts of the world are also grappling with the shockwaves from this crisis that is rocking the church.

It is natural to expect religious leaders, as shepherds of the flock, to hold themselves accountable to high moral standards. Alas, although chosen, they too are not perfect, and many have succumbed to temptations of the flesh. While there are those outside and within the church who will use the scandals to condemn the institution, this is a good time for the faithful to ask ourselves who it is that we are following, and why we are following Him.

Being over two millennia in age, the church has weathered many storms and crises. A recent article by the Catholic News Agency suggests that the faithful seek guidance from Saint Catherine of Siena in these troubled times. St Catherine lived in a time of great division and corruption in the church. The pope was estranged from Rome and living in France. She was a simple laywoman, but her love for Christ and His body was so strong that she took action in writing to the pope to convince him to return to Rome.

The church is not here to serve us; rather, we are here to serve the body of Christ. There is not much that most of us can do in this context, except to hold firm in the faith and remain unified in prayer for the victims and the church.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the victims of abuse, that they find healing and forgiveness through the love of Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gift of faith, especially in times of crisis.