Tag Archives: forgiveness

14 March, Saturday – Put Bitterness and Comparisons to Death

Dear Readers, we are sorry for the delay in sending out today’s Oxygen. 
We wish you a blessed weekend. In the midst of this pandemic of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), us at OXYGEN pray for all of you to be healthy and positive. Let us keep vigilant with personal hygiene, be mindful of the many vulnerable persons (the young and elderly, those with unseen comorbidity illnesses), and keep an open mind towards members of other ethnic communities with open hearts to empathise how each of us are enduring unique challenges in this ‘lock-down’ and ‘social-distancing’ climate that we are in. Many church communities around the world have started limiting or suspending religious services and the Mass to reduce the risk of wider community transmission. During this season of Lent, we recognise this as a common-passion with our fellow Christians who have long been facing religious persecution around the world.

Let us be united in our prayer for each other, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

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14 March

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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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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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:

  ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

  ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

  ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

  ‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

  ‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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It was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found

Bitterness in the midst of a life of faith. Whoever said that a life of faith is anything like a bed of roses? Whoever told us that the blessedness of Christians should only be a life of endless rewards and few challenges, or only the obviously surmountable ones?

Do you happen to be in the midst of such a bitter season now? You are not alone. I am here in the ditches with you. In fact, I have been here for quite a while it seems. This desert and wilderness we speak of in Lent – I am far-too familiar with this god-forsaken landscape.

The parable of the lost son is also the story of the prodigal father. It is also a story of the bitter, jealous, and petty elder son. The Great Wilderness we read about in this parable is a harsh landscape that all three of them experienced. The wilderness the younger son was lost in, is also the wilderness of loss that the sorrowful alienated father experienced, and it is also the wilderness of bitterness that the elder son was stewing in.

I hope to take us all through a few meditations on each of these characters.

The father
The division of the property between his two sons must have long hurt the father before the younger one set off for his life of debauchery. How many of us have felt the sting of being a rejected, disrespected parent? How many of us have felt the pain of a child who expresses “I am done!” with the family and leaves home, or seems to turn his/her back on the lessons and upbringing you have given? Sometimes we can never understand the choices our children make, try as we might. They may have forsaken our love and provision for a life so antithetical to ours and it hurts. Particularly, if their choices clearly bring real physical and emotional pain to themselves. However, the gift of understanding is also not lost to us parents – we only need to seek. Perhaps we have chasms in our memories that reveal our real foibles as parents too, where we have actually inflicted wounds on our children. Wounds that they still grief about as grown-ups. We pray to God to reveal the truth to us and grant us humility and forgiveness. 

The lost younger son

Some of us are the lost younger son. We may have lived a life of abundance and love in the house of our parents. Yet, we cannot explain why we crave the approval of the world and desire to try the ‘forbidden’ experiences that life outside of boring harmony has brought us. Perhaps we have been wounded very deeply by the very flawed persons our parents are, and experience a sort of internal rejection for the flawed people we feel we have inevitably become. We reject our present life and we want to claim ownership for our choices. We want to choose experiences that we have been denied of, or we sometimes choose paths that hurt us, thinking we could hurt the ones who have hurt us.

Maybe you are on the verge of turning home. You have been pricked by a dull sensation (and you hate to call it conscience, or a hardened heart), and you realise with age and experience (maybe even starting a family of your own) that parenting is seriously confounding and challenging work. You realise that maybe your parents didn’t know better back then. Perhaps, you still hate them because you have found that you are repeating some of their mistakes, against every fibre of your more enlightened self – and finally, you start to empathise with them. We pray to God for the grace of forgiveness and repentance.

The elder son
Are we the older child in the family who has grown up feeling side-lined, or felt we experienced unfair treatment when compared with our siblings? Do we feel that we had harsher punishments or have more was expected just because “you are older”? This has invariably led to strained relationships with your parents or other siblings. Perhaps when you were younger and had less of a ‘voice’ you were unable to make these feelings known. Yet as you have grown older, you cannot help but be triggered with bitterness over history and have no way of being released from this unhappiness. We pray for the grace of empathy, forgiveness, and for joy to be free from resentment. 

In this sense, we have all been estranged in one way or another, from the people we love the most (or should love the most). These are the relationships we first learn how to love and be loved from: our parents and siblings. And this why they are also the relationships that cause the first and greatest hurts that we ever experience in life.

There are no easy answers to resolve these longstanding wounds, but I am sure we all desire to be free from these difficult emotions. I truly believe the way forward for many of us is to break the ‘vicious cycles’ of familial and intergenerational wounds. We either work hard to heal from these, or we risk bringing these unconsciously into our future relationships and families. The first step is a great desire to heal, the further steps are a persevering willingness to keep on walking the path of healing no matter how challenging. Even if we don’t see immediate results. We are healing the past in order to build the future and a more beautiful legacy of love and freedom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  We are all on this journey to heal. We pray to God to grant us wisdom to see the truth, courage to respond to the call to change, and deep joy for the journey.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of understanding and empathy. It helps me to see how our lives are intertwined, and so it is with love and pain. Thank you for being our God of endless redemption.

13 March, Friday – Blessings from Rejection

13 March

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Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28

Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.

His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. ‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’

But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their violence. ‘We must not take his life’ he said. ‘Shed no blood,’ said Reuben to them ‘throw him into this well in the wilderness, but do not lay violent hands on him’ – intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his coat, the coat with long sleeves that he was wearing, and catching hold of him they threw him into the well, an empty well with no water in it. They then sat down to eat.

Looking up they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking down into Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.’ His brothers agreed.

Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces, and these men took Joseph to Egypt.

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Matthew 21:33-43,45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.

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The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone….

When I was applying for college – I wanted very badly to go to this one particular university. I even opted to put in an early admission application – committing myself to attend this school should I get an offer. But when I got the “thin letter” back informing me that my application was rejected – I was devastated.

Rejection can be a very bitter pill to swallow. It makes one feel as though they are not qualified enough to do certain things or good enough to be a part of something. Pain, sadness and anger usually forms in one’s heart after being rejected. If left unresolved, those feelings can lead to a crisis in one’s self-esteem and confidence levels. In order to cope, one might tend towards self-destructive activities that are harmful emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually.

However – we could also view rejection as an opportunity to grow and learn. Some of the most notable academics, athletes, politicians and business people had to face numerous failings before they achieved success. Rather than accept other’s subjective judgement about them – they pushed on, striving towards self-improvement each time. JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, was rejected by numerous publishers before finally being accepted by one. She struggled with depression, unemployment and the need to raise a child as a single mother. But in spite of all those challenges she continued to push ahead with her first book – which eventually led her to become one of the best-selling authors of all time. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K. Rowling

Rejection should also be seen as God’s direction in our lives. As with the story of Joseph – it was his brothers’ act of rejection that led Joseph to eventually end up in a position of authority in Egypt. When Joseph crosses paths with his brothers many years later, he had by then, the authority to punish them for their prior misdeeds – but opts instead to forgive them. For he understood that his personal trials and suffering had to occur in order to save God’s people from the famine that they faced at the time.

Friends – let us trust in the Lord when things in life aren’t working out exactly as we had hoped for and see these as opportunities where He reveal His goodness. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)  

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we pray for those experiencing rejection and persecution. We pray that You provide them sustenance while Your will be done.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks to You for the times when we eventually see the purpose of rejection. I thank You for my own personal journey and for remaining merciful to me even during the times I have rejected You.

24 November, Sunday- He came to serve rather than be served

24 November

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2 Samuel 5:1-3

All the tribes of Israel then came to David at Hebron. ‘Look’ they said ‘we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, “You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.”’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.

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Colossians 1:12-20

We give thanks to the Father who has made it possible for you to join the saints and with them to inherit the light.
Because that is what he has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.

He is the image of the unseen God
and the first-born of all creation,
for in him were created
all things in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and everything invisible,
Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers –
all things were created through him and for him.
Before anything was created, he existed,
and he holds all things in unity.
Now the Church is his body,
he is its head.

As he is the Beginning,
he was first to be born from the dead,
so that he should be first in every way;
because God wanted all perfection
to be found in him
and all things to be reconciled through him and for him,
everything in heaven and everything on earth,
when he made peace
by his death on the cross.

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Luke 23:35-43

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

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This is the King of the Jews.

As I reflected on today’s gospel, I imagined myself as one of the 2 criminals hanging on the cross there with Jesus, one on his left and the other on his right. Which one of the two criminals would I be? Would I be like the leaders who stood by watching Jesus, not believing that He is indeed the King of the Jews? If I were honest, I’d probably be the one who said “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  If I were that criminal, not having met nor encountered Jesus, I would probably be a bit sceptical, and also a bit anxious and afraid about my impending death. I may not go to the extent of expressing contempt, but I would surely be challenging him to prove himself and his ‘powers’ to save me from this painful death. In contrast, the other criminal was full of remorse for everything he had done in his lifetime. He recognized that Jesus is indeed the Lord and Saviour. His heart repentant, he humbly asked Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom. He didn’t demand this, he asked.

Unlike the 2 criminals, we don’t have to guess or wonder about Jesus’ power and royalty. We are blessed to have experienced the hand of God and Jesus in our lives, in big or small ways. Can we walk in faith that no matter what circumstances we face today, whatever challenges, pain and suffering, we can be assured that Jesus, the crucified King’s only aim is to help and protect the weak, and restore dignity to the poor and the helpless?

Today’s first two readings focus on kingdoms and power. In 2 Samuel, the tribes of Israel anoint David as king, following the will of the Lord who put him in charge of the Israelites even when Saul was still king. The Lord had, at the time, given David two charges, the second of which was to be “commander of Israel.” The first, however, was to “shepherd my people Israel” — to care for them, to love them, and to serve them. Power serves — it is not served. Jesus did not come to earth to declare a material kingdom of power and might, but came to serve us and save us. He came to serve rather than be served, and that service extends throughout time.

Just over the Deepavali weekend, social media was abuzz with news of a certain resident arguing and verbally abusing a security guard at his condominium. He was purportedly unhappy with a rule by the condominium’s management, which imposed a S$10 fee for visitors who park their cars there after 11pm. Being a guest of our country, he really upset many Singaporeans (and me) with the way he treated the innocent security guard, who was merely doing his job. He showed a disdain for those who live in public housing and had no respect for a fellow human being, deemed below his social status, I suppose. Like all fellow Singaporeans, I waited till the holiday weekend was over to see how this story would pan out. Would he lose his residency, his job and all credibility? His life must have been a living hell that Deepavali weekend – the backlash of his actions. Did he feel that his status in life gave him the power and ‘authority’ to treat others without respect? To demand service, without first serving?

As upset as I am over this incident, I am reminded that Jesus forgives those who wrong him — as he says, “…they do not know what they are doing.”

Can we step back, recognize what we are doing or not doing, and make a concerted effort to change? At the same time, can we extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for your Kingship. For being a perfect example of what love, compassion and service means. May our lives be a true reflection of what it is to be Christian. Thank you for being Lord of our lives.

16 November, Saturday – The view from the other side of the Cross

Nov 16 – Memorial for St. Margaret of Scotland; Memorial for St. Gertrude, Virgin

Margaret (1045–1093)was the granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside of England, and the great-niece of St. Stephen of Hungary. She was born in Hungary while her family was in exile due to the Danish invasion of England. Even so, she still much of her youth in the British Isles.

While fleeing the invading army of William the Conqueror in 1066, her family’s ship wrecked on the Scottish coast. They were assisted by King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland, whom Margaret married in 1070, and became Queen of Scotland. They had eight children, one of whom was St. Maud, wife of Henry I. Margaret founded abbeys and used her position to work for justice and improved conditions for the poor.

  • Patron Saint Index

Gertrude (1256–1302) may have been an orphan. She was raised in the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary of Helfta, Eiselben, Saxony from the age of five. She was an extremely bright and dedicated student, and she excelled in literature and philosophy. When she was old enough, she became a Benedictine nun.

At age 26, when she had become too enamoured of philosophy, she received a vision of Christ who reproached her. From then on she studied the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers. Gertrude received other visions and mystical instruction, which formed the basis of her writings. She helped spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her writings have been greatly praised by St. Teresa and St. Francis de Sales, and continue in print today.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Wisdom 18:14-16,19:6-9

When peaceful silence lay over all,
and night had run the half of her swift course,
down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word;
into the heart of a doomed land the stern warrior leapt.
Carrying your unambiguous command like a sharp sword,
he stood, and filled the universe with death;
he touched the sky, yet trod the earth.

For, to keep your children from all harm,
The whole creation, obedient to your commands,
was once more, and newly, fashioned in its nature.
Overshadowing the camp there was the cloud,
where water had been, dry land was seen to rise,
the Red Sea became an unimpeded way,
the tempestuous flood a green plain;
sheltered by your hand, the whole nation passed across,
gazing at these amazing miracles.
They were like horses at pasture,
they skipped like lambs,
singing your praises, Lord, their deliverer.

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Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

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“ But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”

I cannot recall when I first heard this phrase, but I do know that it has left a deep impression on me and I have cited it often in various circumstances of faith sharing. It goes like this, “Conversion happens from an experience of the mercy of God and not from the judgement of God”. Today’s parable is an interesting one and has various facets to it. From one angle, it alludes to the need for persistent faith. From another perspective (perhaps a slightly confusing one), it suggests our God to be one who finds us pretty much a nuisance which he can’t wait to get off His back.

The perspective I would like to offer in this sharing is for us to see the judge mentioned to be indeed that of an unjust judge which “neither feared God not cared what people thought” – a judge that is self-interested, self-serving, ungodly and indifferent and the only reason for attending to the cause of the widow is nothing more than simply to be rid of her persistent nuisance. However, let us then juxtapose this judge with our God – loving, self-sacrificial, whose justice over us is subjugated under His mercy and compassion for us. A God who sent His Son to die for us, to salvage a relationship that He treasures above all else. This is not a God that finds us to be a nuisance, but a God who can’t get enough of us in spite of all the nuisance we bring before Him … our incessant demands, our arrogance when our prayers are not answered or not answered in our way and in our timing, our unfailing infidelity to Him through sin, our blatant ingratitude and forgetfulness for all the times our prayers have been answered, our selfishness even to those dearest and closest to us, or total selfishness and difference to all others so much further away from our daily consciousness. Incomprehensible – this God of ours and how much He treasures us.

Sometimes when at prayer, especially when I am in front of the shrine of our Blessed Mother carrying baby Jesus, my eyes shift inadvertently to those who come up to pray to her and Jesus. And I wonder to myself, what goes through the mind and the heart of Mother Mary and Jesus when we pray before them. And always without fail, I get moved when I think that their response to us is always that of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, consolation – never judgement. Always accepting us for who we are, always understanding the sins we commit, the hurts we cause to others, our infidelity and ingratitude because of the woundedness within us that makes us hurt others, the bondage within us that leads to our helplessness against sin and addiction, the way the evil one has used the values of this world to keep us so helpless in our greed, our selfishness, our pride, our vanity, our lusts, our indifference to those around us who are hurting and dying and killing. No matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions, no matter how many times we keep falling, we need to keep coming before the Cross and before Your Mother.. That is the persistent prayer of the widow.

Compassion, forgiveness and love – that is what it looks like from the other side of the Cross. This is the lens by which Jesus and our Mother look upon us with. And that is why, despite ourselves, God still loves us, Mother Mary still embraces us, the Holy Spirit still fights for us, our Saviour still hangs on the Cross for us. This is the persistent grace of God. The persistent love of God. I am not sure how much faith He will find when the Son of Man comes to earth again; but I do know that when He comes, He will come, as He always has, with compassion, forgiveness and love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. You know what it is like to come to a place of discouragement so deep that it’s hard to pray any longer, hard to hold out hope. Some of our brothers and sisters are there right now and you are speaking to their hearts. Lift them, today, I pray. Turn their eyes to you afresh. Strengthen their faith, freshen their hope, enliven their prayers — until you come. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For the compassion, forgiveness and love which you keep showing to us, our loved ones and this world. Thank you for your insane, incomprehensible love and unbelievable fidelity to us. Thank you for not judging us. Thank you for only loving us.

15 November, Friday – The Cross and the Crucifix

Nov 15 – Memorial for St. Albert the Great, Bishop, Religious, Doctor

Albertus (1206-1280) was the son of a military nobleman. A Dominican priest, he taught theology at Cologne and Paris and was the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was an influential teacher, preacher, and administrator, and became the Bishop of Regensburg. He introduced Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to medieval Europe.

He is known for his wide interest in what became later known as the natural sciences – botany, biology, etc. He wrote and illustrated guides to his observations, and was considered on par with Aristotle as an authority on these matters. He was a theological writer, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.

“It is by the path of love, which is charity, that God draws near to man, and man to God. But where charity is not found, God cannot dwell. If, then, we possess charity, we possess God, for “God is Charity” (1 John 4:8)” – St. Albert the Great

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Wisdom 13:1-9

Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is,
or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.
Fire however, or wind, or the swift air,
the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven’s lamps,
are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.

If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods,
let them know how much the Lord of these excels them,
since the very Author of beauty has created them.
And if they have been impressed by their power and energy,
let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them,
since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures
we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.

Small blame, however, attaches to these men,
for perhaps they only go astray
in their search for God and their eagerness to find him;
living among his works, they strive to comprehend them
and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
Even so, they are not to be excused:
if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge
to be able to investigate the world,
how have they been so slow to find its Master?

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Luke 17:26-37

Jesus said to the disciples:

‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying wives and husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It will be the same as it was in Lot’s day: people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but the day Lot left Sodom, God rained fire and brimstone from heaven and it destroyed them all. It will be the same when the day comes for the Son of Man to be revealed.

‘When that day comes, anyone on the housetop, with his possessions in the house, must not come down to collect them, nor must anyone in the fields turn back either. Remember Lot’s wife. Anyone who tries to preserve his life will lose it; and anyone who loses it will keep it safe. I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed: one will be taken, the other left; two women will be grinding corn together: one will be taken, the other left.’ The disciples interrupted. ‘Where, Lord?’ they asked. He said, ‘Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather.’

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“…nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works…”

The coming of Christ at Christmas, and the remembrance of this ever since, is an event looked upon and experienced with much joy, celebration, herald. Secularization and commercialization aside, even to a non-Christian, albeit for the ‘wrong’ reasons, Christmas is nevertheless a time when spirits are lifted, there is celebration in the air and people seem to walk with perhaps a bit more lightness in their step. However, that’s where it ends.

The first reading talks about how man, in his foolishness in paying heed to created things, has lost sight of the more important thing – the Creator. And in the Gospel, God reminds man of the consequences of forgetting Him and turning his back from Him. Much like the tale of the Prodigal Father – where the love of the Father seems almost foolhardy in its over-indulgence of the Prodigal Son. So too, God in His infinite patience and love for His children, continues to accept, to forgive, to redeem and to hope against all hope but for divine hope, that one day His children will abandon their foolishness and begin to finally realize how much they are loved and cherished — and how undeservedly so. Till then, man continues in his sinful, unrepentant, ungrateful, unfaithful and ignorant ways. Brothers and sisters, judgement day WILL come. It’s like taking a roller-coaster zooming towards the peak of an up-climb, however, only to discover that the tracks end there … there are no more tracks for the rest of the journey back down. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah found this out the hard way. Many, if not most of humanity, will also sadly come to this when the end-times come – be it through the individual death of a person or when Christ comes again.

The second coming of Christ, will not be anything like the first. The world will not be converted when Jesus comes again. The earth will not be full of the knowledge of the Lord. The reign of peace will not have been established. The end times will be apocalyptic – any semblance of peace will simply be the calm before the storm. Scripture has said so. And in the midst of this, we are confronted with a cross and a crucifix before us. We have the cross and we have the Crucifix. Between these two, lies man’s eternity. What is the difference between the Cross and the Crucifix? It is simply this – the former is just an empty piece of wood whereas upon the other, hangs the Saviour of the world.

For those who profess the cross and not the Crucifix, theirs is an empty proclamation – empty, devoid of divine focus, nor the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. One that lacks identity, authority and a common theology that can truly save. Clinging to such a cross is clinging only to the delusion of salvation through the Word and that good works will never bring one to redemption and salvation. It points not to divine wisdom, but the foolishness of man that has allowed deception, pride, vain-glory and disunity in place of what should rightfully belong in its place – a Saviour’s sacrifice, a Redeemer’s justification. An empty cross can never be able to help a Christian understand why a loving God allows suffering in this world, why worldly prosperity is not an affirmation of one’s salvation, but rather in poverty do we find great treasures of divine grace, why giving up one’s life for love of a friend is not salvation from the Word alone but how the Word transforms one into making the ultimate act of sacrifice for the love of another, even for an enemy. Only when we are able to see Christ hung upon that Cross, does one truly embrace Christianity and become a Christian – and Catholic.

The Crucifix is where Christ hangs – a sign of unity of a Faith and a Church that finds its salvation not in the created icon of a cross, but in Jesus Christ — the Creator himself. This is the difference between a piece of wood symbolizing punishment, shame and defeat and a place of sanctification, redemption and salvation. And upon this Creator hangs true authority and a unity of identity, regardless who you and where you are on planet earth. Upon this Crucifix hangs the redemption that can only be won by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus. Upon this Crucifix hangs a reminder of our need to carry our own crosses as the only way of true discipleship.And on the Crucifix, we choose to find courage and strength and hope of a Saviour who carries our crosses for us –as much today as He did for us 2019 years ago, and since the beginning of time. And upon the Crucifix, we are reminded that we do not save ourselves, but that our salvation comes from allowing Him to save us. It is not the Cross that will save us, it is the one that hangs on the Cross that will do so. Who, or what, hangs on YOUR cross?

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. In the midst of the noise and foolishness of this fallen world, we struggle to find our way to you.  In the midst of so much that has been created by man, we can no longer see our Creator. We are lost and the end times bring us terror for we can no longer see you in the midst of all that turmoil.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your Crucifix which stands strong defiant in the midst of the storms of life and which defiant in the midst of the forces of this world and of evil which wants to snuff you out simply because it knows you are the truth, the light and the way.

 

 

19 September, Thursday – Tons of Love

Sep 19 – Memorial for St. Januarius, Bishop and Martyr

Januarius (d. 305) was arrested on account of his profession of the Christian religion during persecution of Christians. He was cast into the fiery furnace, through which he passed wholly unharmed. On the following day, along with a number of fellow martyrs, he was exposed to the fury of wild beasts, which laid themselves down in tame submission at his feet.

Timotheus, the governor who pronounced the sentence of death upon Januarius, was struck with blindness but was immediately healed by the powerful intercession of the saint, a miracle which converted nearly five thousand men on the spot. The ungrateful judge, only roused to further fury by these occurrences, caused the execution of Januarius by the sword to be forthwith carried out. The body was ultimately removed by the inhabitants of Naples to that city, where the relic became very famous for its miracles.

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1 Timothy 4:12-16

Do not let people disregard you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and your purity. Make use of the time until I arrive by reading to the people, preaching and teaching. You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and the body of elders laid their hands on you; do not let it lie unused. Think hard about all this, and put it into practice, and everyone will be able to see how you are advancing. Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

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Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee’s house and took his place at table, a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment. She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ Then Jesus took him up and said, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Speak, Master’ was the reply. ‘There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty. They were unable to pay, so he pardoned them both. Which of them will love him more?’ ‘The one who was pardoned more, I suppose’ answered Simon. Jesus said, ‘You are right.’
Then he turned to the woman. ‘Simon,’ he said ‘you see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. For this reason I tell you that her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man, that he even forgives sins?’ But he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

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It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love

A friend of mine described love as “affection towards another person.” I agree that it is affection. But I believe that love is not solely for another human. It can be affection to our pets or other earthly things. As much as we want to live a holy life, there are, or will be times, that we have to suppress our feelings from loving material things.

I remember one time when a classmate of mine accidentally dropped my laptop. Thankfully, it still had it sleeve on but there was a minor dent at the side. I was really angry because during that time, laptops were not that affordable. I had to spend a lot of time justifying the purchase to my parents because a desktop was way cheaper than a laptop.

I was a sophomore at the time and I think it was until my senior year in college when I was able to let go of that incident. Time heals, but it is also by the grace of God that I was able to overcome my attachment to material things. Imagine having that ill emotion for almost 3 years.  Another factor that added to it was my dislike for that person. But that is another story. Nonetheless, I know it was wrong to harbour that kind of feelings. I was young, self-centred, and always wanted everything to go my way. But I was wrong.

I was really glad that I was able to realise that I was wrong. And that is the first step to forgiveness. The next step is seeking forgiveness for what we did. As merciful as our God can be, forgiveness is not automatic. It must be asked for. Our Lord is always there, waiting for us to ask for His forgiveness.

I encourage everyone to go to confession frequently (at least once a month). It can help us be nourished spiritually and be healed emotionally.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

Prayer: Father God, please teach us to be humble and accept our wrongdoings and to ask for forgiveness. Please also teach us to forgive others as you forgive our sins. Amen.

Thanksgiving:  Heavenly Father, thank You for pardoning our sins though we are unworthy. Amen.

12 September, Thursday – Forgiveness is God’s medicine

Sep 12 – Holy Name of Mary

This feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3); both have the possibility of uniting people easily divided on other matters. The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.

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Colossians 3:12-17

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.
Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
‘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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Bearing with one another and forgiving one another

It’s just ironical or divine intervention that I am to write the reflection for today’s reading. I can’t forgive. Not always and not easily. It’s hard to forgive and sometime I don’t want to. What do you do when something in your life is too huge to forgive? This inability to forgive has caused me much grief. This led me to question and beat myself up – was I being a good Christian?

The gospel today is really hard to follow. As humans, we suffer rejection, betrayal, loss, abandonment, infidelity. The list is endless. We get wounded by the people we love most and those closest to us. Over the last few years, I went through a series of breakdowns in relationships and loss. One after another. Each time I steeled myself up and bulldozed myself to move ahead, something else happened. All that came to a resounding crash earlier this year. Everything came to a head. I felt utterly alone. My mental and emotional health were in shambles.

I dealt with these difficult situations by simply cutting them out. People come and go in our lives. Situations change. That’s life. That’s a fact. Over time, I stopped thinking about these things and they started to blur in my mind. Truth be told, I felt a sense of freedom, not having these people in my life. I no longer felt anger nor resentment. But one thing never went away – the hurt and pain was like an irritating pincer lodged in the flesh of my heart. A sermon I heard once stuck in my mind – no matter how you feel, offer up your prayer to those people you find hardest to love. I persisted in my ‘lousy prayer’ to the Lord for all of these people, even when I felt nothing.

If one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  Yup, it’s not easy to follow. While I felt guilty for my unforgiveness, I was in no capacity to be Christ-like, to forgive. In fact, in my emotional deficit, I could not find it within myself to give, to love, to care, to be compassionate. Truth be told, holding on to that anger and hate felt good.  It ‘vindicated’ my pain of being betrayed and wronged.

The biggest revelation for me is that the Lord doesn’t expect us to do this ourselves. It’s by His grace and timing that allows us to heal and forgive. He knows when the time is right and will create the time and place for restoration, mending and healing of brokenness. By my own strength, I could not possibly forgive these people for the hurt they caused me. But I declare today that God is real and working in our lives. Our God of love and compassion knows our circumstance, the depth of our wounds and how much we can take. Over the past few months, God has created 3 occasions for reconciliation with the people who hurt me tremendously. Each of these scenarios can only be explained as the work of God, for no amount of planning by anyone could have fabricated these occurrences. One by one, I feel that my heart has forgiven these people.

I learnt that forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to condone or accept what was done to you. It’s not ignoring your hurt or pretending that nothing happened. It’s not burying the pain that you forget about it. The journey to healing and forgiveness required me to face pain and suffering. I had to acknowledge these feelings within me and allow myself to feel these emotions. Forgiveness is choosing to put an end to my suffering and pain by allowing God’s light to shine on the situations. Forgiveness seems unfair because it requires me, the hurt party to show an act of compassion, to make the first move. But withholding forgiveness does not punish the other person. It actually exhausts me. Forgiveness has actually very little to do with the person that hurt me, and a lot to do with me. Forgiveness is God’s medicine. It healed me. It freed me from the prison of hurt and pain.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray to forgive through you. That our pain and suffering can be healed, so that we are free to give life to others. We pray for the people who have wronged us, and ask forgiveness if we have hurt others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the ultimate act of forgiveness is your dying on the cross. Thank you for laying down your life us. May we choose always to forgive, just as you have forgiven us.

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.