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11 November, Saturday – Heart Matters

Nov 11 – Memorial for St. Martin of Tours, bishop

Martin (316-397) was born to pagan parents. His father was a Roman military officer and tribune. Martin was raised in Pavia, Italy, where he discovered Christianity and became a catechumen in his early teens. He joined the Roman imperia army at the age of 15, serving in a ceremonial unit that acts as the emperor’s bodyguard, and was rarely exposed to combat. He became a cavalry officer and was assigned to garrison duty in Gaul.

Trying to live his faith, he refused to let his servant wait on him. Once, while on horseback in Amiens in Gaul (modern France), he encountered a beggar. Having nothing to give but the clothes on his back, he cut his heavy officer’s cloak in half, and gave it to the beggar. Later, he had a vision of Christ wearing the cloak.

Martin was baptized into the Church at the age of 18. Just before a battle, Martin announced that his faith prohibited him from fighting. Charged with cowardice, he was jailed and his superiors planned to put him in the front of the battle. However, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service at Worms.

On a visit to Lombardy to see his parents, he was robbed in the mountains – but managed to convert one of the thieves. At home, he found that his mother had converted, but his father had not. The area was strongly Arian, and openly hostile to Catholics. Martin was badly abused by the heretics, and at one point even by the order of the Arian bishop. Learning that the Arians had gained the upper hand in Gaul and exiled St. Hilary of Poitiers, his spiritual teacher, Martin fled to the island of Gallinaria (modern Isola d’Albenga).

In 361, Martin learned that the emperor had authorized Hilary’s return, and Martin ran to him and became a hermit for ten years in the area now know as Ligugé. A reputation for holiness attracted other monks, and they formed what would become the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé. He preached and evangelised through the Gallic countryside. Many locals held strongly to the old beliefs, and tried to intimidate Martin by dressing asthe old Roman gods, and appearing to him at night, but Martin continued to win converts. He destroyed old temples, and built churches on the land.

When the bishop of Tours died in 371, Martin was the immediate choice to replace him. Martin declined, citing unworthiness. Rusticus, a wealthy citizen of Tours, claimed his wife was ill and asked for Martin. When he arrived in the city, he was declared bishop by popular acclamation, and was consecrated on Jul 4, 372.

He moved to a hermit’s cell near Tours. Other monks joined him, and a new house, Marmoutier, soon formed. He rarely left his monastery, but sometimes went to Trier to plead with the emperor for his city, his church, or his parishioners. Once, when he went to ask lenience for a condemned prisoner, an angel woke the emperor to tell him that Martin was waiting to see him; the prisoner was reprieved.

Martin himself was given to visions, but even his contemporaries sometimes ascribed them to his habit of lengthy fasts. An extensive biography of Martin was written by Sulpicius Severus. When he died, he was buried, at his request, in the Cemetery of the Poor. Martin was the first non-martyr to receive the cultus of saint. His relics rested in the Basilica of Tours, a scene of pilgrimages and miracles until 1562 when the cathedral and relics were destroyed by militant Protestants. Some small fragments on his tomb were found during construction excavation in 1860.

St. Martin of Tours is patron against poverty; alcoholism; hotel-keepers; quartermasters; soldiers, among others.

Prayer to Continue to Fight for God

“Lord, if your people still have need of my services, I will not avoid the toil. Your will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough. Yet if you bid me continue to hold the battle line in defense of your camp, I will never beg to be excused from failing strength. I will do the work you entrust to me. While you command, I will fight beneath your banner.” – St Martin of Tours, Italian Soldier, Hermit, Bishop

  • Patron Saint Index

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Romans 16:3-9, 16, 22-27

My greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked death to save my life: I am not the only one to owe them a debt of gratitude, all the churches among the pagans do as well. My greetings also to the church that meets at their house.

Greetings to my friend Epaenetus, the first of Asia’s gifts to Christ; greetings to Mary who worked so hard for you; to those outstanding apostles Andronicus and Junias, my compatriots and fellow prisoners who became Christians before me; to Ampliatus, my friend in the Lord; to Urban, my fellow worker in Christ; to my friend Stachys; Greet each other with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

I, Tertius, who wrote out this letter, greet you in the Lord. Greetings from Gaius, who is entertaining me and from the whole church that meets in his house. Erastus, the city treasurer, sends his greetings; so does our brother Quartus.

Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith. This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be. He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.

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Luke 16:9-15

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?

‘No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and laughed at him. He said to them, ‘You are the very ones who pass yourselves off as virtuous in people’s sight, but God knows your hearts. For what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God.’

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“You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Recently, we had fellowship tea after a community meeting. Each of us contributed an item of food to share with the group. One of our ministry members brought 3 curry puffs (of which he downed one) to share amongst some 20 of us. We all joked that that’s how rich people get richer. I could not help but be a little disgusted with him. He has got to be one of the more well of people in the group and yet he was less than generous.

A year ago, I was the co-chairperson of our parish’s fund raising committee, raising money needed for the renovation of our new church annex building. I was very nervous and unsure if we could raise the amount needed because of donor fatigue – there were many other churches also raising money, and we were tapping on the same Catholics to contribute. However, I was humbled by the generosity of our parishioners and friends of the parish. They contributed so generously that we met our target amount and more. Yes, we have some well-to-do donors who were very generous. But what touched me most were the contributions from the everyday, working class parishoners who pitched in so wholeheartedly. Many donated anonymously, and they contributed generously according to their means.

I am reminded of the story of the widow’s mite – the humble gift of a poor widow. Jesus said she had contributed more than anyone else that day. But how could it be when the rich people had contributed large sums? The difference is one of proportion. The rich were giving large sums, but they still retained their fortunes; the widow put in everything, all she had to live on. Hers was a true sacrifice; the rich had not begun to give to the level of her sacrifice.

Why do I share these 3 stories? The theme of good stewardship continues from my sharing of yesterday’s readings. Whatever we possess today, belongs to God – our wealth, our health, our jobs, our homes… everything. We are called to be generous in the way we use these gifts. It’s not about how much we give to others but it’s the intent and what’s in our hearts that matter to God. Are we fair and just as employers in how we remunerate our staff? Are we giving monies to the school fund so that we can ‘buy’ a place in that school for our kids? Why do we choose certain charities to contribute to? Because it is a good cause or for the tax incentives? Are we only good and kind to people because we genuinely love them or is it because they are ‘important’ and of use to us? When we see a brother or sister struggling, do we render our help?

Brothers and sisters, we are all sinners and we certainly fall short of His glory. But as we mature in our faith and grow closer to Him, God shows us our sins and ugliness and purifies our heart. Will we shut our eyes to what He is showing us, or allow Him to work in our lives? Our God is an omniscient God. He knows and sees everything. There is nowhere we can hide. I am not perfect and, in many areas, I know I fail miserably. But today I choose God. He leads and guides me. It’s not always where I want to go, but He knows best.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, you know and see everything, past and future. You see the condition of our hearts. Though we hide behind masks of love and charity, you see the ugliness and the selfishness. Help us to be more giving and loving. Teach us to be faithful and honest in the small things today. Prepare us for the true riches of heaven.

Thanksgiving: For everything that we have today, we thank you. Thank you for giving us a discerning heart, to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And with this knowledge, may we always do what’s right, just and life giving.

10 November, Friday – Stewardship

Nov 10 – Memorial for St. Leo the Great, pope, doctor

Leo (c.400 – 461) was born of Italian nobility. He was a strong student, especially in scripture and theology. As a priest, he was an eloquent writer and homilist.

He was pope from 440-461 during the time of the invasion of Attila the Hun. When Attila marched on Rome, Leo went out to meet him and pleaded for leave. As Leo spoke, Attila saw the vision of a man in priestly robes, carrying a bare sword, and threatening to kill the invader if he did not obey Pope Leo. As Leo had a great devotion to St. Peter, it is generally believed that the first pope was the visionary opponent to the Huns. When Genseric invaded Rome, Leo’s sanctity and eloquence saved the city again.

Pope Leo called the Council of Chalcedon to condemn the heresies of the day, which were Nestorianism (Christ as a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son), Monophysitism (Christ’s human nature ceases to exist when the divine person of God’s Son assumed it), Manichaeism (Gnostic system resting on a dualistic concept of the world’s structure), and Pelaianism (no supernatural grace is needed for one to choose good).

He built churches and wrote letters and sermons encouraging and teaching the flock, many of which survive today. It is for these writings that Leo was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1574.

“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” – Pope St. Leo the Great

 – Patron Saint Index

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Romans 15:14-21

My brothers, I am quite certain that you are full of good intentions, perfectly well instructed and able to advise each other. The reason why I have written to you, and put some things rather strongly, is to refresh your memories, since God has given me this special position. He has appointed me as a priest of Jesus Christ, and I am to carry out my priestly duty by bringing the Good News from God to the pagans, and so make them acceptable as an offering, made holy by the Holy Spirit.

I think I have some reason to be proud of what I, in union with Christ Jesus, have been able to do for God. What I am presuming to speak of, of course, is only what Christ himself has done to win the allegiance of the pagans, using what I have said and done by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus all the way along, from Jerusalem to Illyricum, I have preached Christ’s Good News to the utmost of my capacity. I have always, however, made it an unbroken rule never to preach where Christ’s name has already been heard. The reason for that was that I had no wish to build on other men’s foundations; on the contrary, my chief concern has been to fulfil the text: Those who have never been told about him will see him, and those who have never heard about him will understand.

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Luke 16:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”

Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”

‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’

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Being wasteful with his property

The parable of the dishonest steward has stumped me for a long time. Why would the master praise the steward for his astuteness? Didn’t he just ‘double cross’ his boss again, using his boss’ resource for his very own gain? How is that astute? I would have kicked his butt up to high heaven.

However, if we understand that everything we have and own comes as a gift from God, then we are simply stewards and God is the owner of all things. So be it wealth, talent or time, we are called to be good stewards and use these to benefit others.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, I had plans for everything in life. And most of my career and financial goals fell into place. I was really pleased with myself, feeling that I had done well. At that young age, it was all about me. But as I grew older, I had to be responsible for my family, as most of you are. And as I grew in my faith journey, I began to see that it was God who gave me all I needed, it was not by my own steam.

One incident that showed His providence remains vivid on my mind. It was during a most trying period – I was extremely busy at work. I was in the midst of moving homes, finding a suitable temporary rental and renovating a new one. To top it all, my helper was due for her trip home and my wheelchair-bound dad needed a place to go. 2 weeks before everything had to happen, I still hadn’t sorted out anything. The date was looming and I was panic-stricken. I prayed so hard to God and in his mercy, He found me the perfect apartment that would allow dad to move around freely. He also led me to a Catholic nursing home which dad was happy with. It isn’t just that he gave me the solutions to my problems; He also provided me with the means to do those things. For the first time in my life, I learnt that I cannot control everything. He does. And it is He who provides. Not by my own efforts.

God can give us what we need today, and if we are not good stewards, He can quite quickly take it from us. Brothers and sisters, you may be blessed with wealth, a good job, health and talents.

But are you good stewards of his gifts? Are you thinking that this is all from your own efforts? Are you making good use of all that you have to benefit others?

Whatever we possess today is a responsibility. How we use them is test of character, values and stewardship. So if we have not been trustworthy in handling possessions that produce unrighteousness, who will trust us with true riches?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: God, giver of all good things, help us to remember that everything we have and possess comes from you. Help us to be good stewards of the gifts and talents that you have given us, for the benefit of others, especially those in need. Teach us to be humble and giving.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for everything you have blessed us with today. Let us not take anything for granted.

8 November, Wednesday – Love Is A Two-way Street

8 November 2017

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Romans 13:8-10

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

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Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’

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Love is the answer to every one of the commandments.

Ahhh love…… It’d so easy to love those who are lovable, likeable, those who reciprocate your love. However, when faced with challenging situations and difficult people, it is another thing altogether. We’ve all heard homilies preached by our priests to: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, ‘Love and pray for those who persecute you’ and ‘Love those difficult people’.

I know I have been in those pews, rolled my eyes in my mind and said ‘Right, easier said than done.’ But Jesus tells us that love is the greatest commandment!

Of all the commandants, this one must be the hardest for me to follow. Even priests find it hard to keep that commandment, so we are in good company. Love has been described as a ‘two way street’. Many friendships and relationships end in disaster when one party forgets, and assumes that it has become a one-way expressway.

Recently, I was faced with a situation that put my faith to the test. I have had a business relationship with a very close relative of mine for the past 3 years. Though we are relatives, we are both like chalk and cheese — in personality, in the way we approach life and also how we approach business. Over time, I think we learnt to adjust to each other’s working style. However, because of issues which festered, she chose to sever our working relationship; and on my birthday to boot!

I believe that the way our little venture started is God’s gift to us. And working together would be beneficial to us and our clients. However, it is what it is and I have to honour the decision made and to move on. If the decision made was simply a difference in personality and ways we dealt with things, it would be easy for me to accept. However, the split was because of ‘personal motivations’. Even that I could accept. What hurts me most is the betrayal and the person I thought I’d known and loved all my life, turn into someone I barely know. What hurts me most is we are both Christians who continue to hurt each other.

With any cessation of a relationship, we have to deal with the difficult topic of ‘the split’. This has been an incredibly difficult process, you’d imagine. I liken it to a divorce. It brings out the monster in us. I have been praying about this and asking God what I should do. ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’(Rom. 12:9). I know that I have to be fair and Christ-like in handling this and I am trying really hard. Every hour of the day, I need his grace to carry me through. If it were my old self, I would fight tooth and nail and drive a really hard bargain. But as a Catholic, I keep asking myself “What would Jesus do?” But each time I receive a downright rude and war-declaring WhatsApp message, I feel like someone punched me again and I just want to throw this ‘Love your neighbour’ thing out the window and punch right back.

Remember the phrase, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’ I read in some article that whether you’ve been betrayed or not, don’t resort to betraying another. Following Christ is indeed not easy. It requires us to hate our father, mother, wife, children, brother, sisters, yes our own life too.

Don’t take it too literally, what Jesus is telling us is to put Him first above all other relationships and things. It asks that I give up my own ways of doing things and lean on Him to lead me. It continues to be an uphill climb today. But I know that I cannot deal with it on my own. For now, ironically, love is a one-way street. This makes no sense in the outside world. But with God, it’s the way. I have to forgive, let go and move on. Forgiving does not mean accepting the wrong behaviour of others; it means detaching from the pain, frustration, and bitterness buried within.

I continue to pray for her daily.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, in our humanness, we struggle each day to love, especially those who hurt and persecute us. But only if we walk with you, can love be possible. We pray for your grace to carry us through, especially through seemingly impossible situations. We pray to be more like you – when Peter betrayed you and yet you continued to love him.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for the trials that come our way. In these times, you show us you are closer to us than ever. And also in these times, you teach us how to love and forgive as you do.

4 November, Saturday – Conducting Our Affairs With Humility

Nov 4 – Memorial for St. Charles Borromeo, bishop

Charles (1538-1584) was born to a wealthy, noble family, the third of six children, and the son of Count Giberto II Borromeo and Marghertita de’ Medici. He was the nephew of Pope Pius IV. He suffered from a speech impediment, but studied in Milan, and at the University of Pavia, at one point studying under the future Pope Gregory XIII.

He became a civil and canon lawyer at the age of 21, and a cleric at Milan, taking the habit on Oct 13, 1547. He became Abbot of three different abbeys until Jan 13, 1560. He was protonotary apostolic participantium and referendary of the papal court to Pope Pius IV. He was also a member of the counsulta for the administration of the Papal States on Jan 20, 1560. He was appointed abbot commendatario for an abbey in Portugal, and an abbey in Flanders on Jan 27, 1560.

On Jan 31, 1560, he was apostolic administrator of Milan, Italy, on Feb 8, 1560, then a papal legate to Bologna and Romandiola for two years beginning on Apr 26, 1560. He was made a deacon on Dec 21, 1560, and appointed Vatican Secretary of State. He was made an honorary citizen of Rome on Jul 1, 1561, and founded the “Accademia Vaticana” in 1562.

He was finally ordained on Sep 4, 1563, and helped reopen the Council of Trent, and participated in its sessions during 1562 and 1563. He was ordained Bishop of Milan on Dec 7, 1563 and was President of the commission of theologians charged by the pope to elaborate the Catechismus Romanus. He also worked on the revision of the Missal and Breviary, and was a member of a commission to reform church music.

He participated in the conclave of cardinals in 1565-66 that chose Pope Pius V, and he asked the new pope to take the name. Due to his enforcement of strict ecclesiastical discipline, some disgruntled monks in the order of the Humiliati hired a lay brother to murder him on the evening of Oct 26, 1569. He was shot at, but not hit.

He also participated in the conclave in 1572 that chose Pope Gregory XIII. He worked with the sick, and helped bury the dead during the plague outbreak in Milan in 1576. He established the Oblates of St. Ambrose on Apr 26, 1578, and was a teacher, confessor, and parish priest to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, giving him his first communion on Jul 22, 1580.

Charles spent his life and fortune in the service of the people of his diocese. He directed and fervently enforced the decrees of the Council of Trent, fought tirelessly for peace in the wake of the storm caused by Martin Luther, founded schools for the poor, seminaries for clerics, hospitals for the sick, conducted synods, instituted children’s Sunday school, did great public and private penance, and worked among the sick and dying, leading his people by example.

He is patron saint for bishops; catechists; catechumens; seminarians; spiritual directors; and spiritual leaders.

Prayer to St. Charles Borromeo

O Saintly reformer, animator of spiritual renewal of priests and religious, you organized true seminaries and wrote a standard catechism. Inspire all religious teachers and authors of catechetical books. Move them to love and transmit only that which can form true followers of the Teacher who was divine. Amen.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29
Let me put a further question: is it possible that God has rejected his people? Of course not. I, an Israelite, descended from Abraham through the tribe of Benjamin, could never agree that God had rejected his people, the people he chose specially long ago. Do you remember what scripture says of Elijah – how he complained to God about Israel’s behaviour? Let me put another question then: have the Jews fallen for ever, or have they just stumbled? Obviously they have not fallen for ever: their fall, though, has saved the pagans in a way the Jews may now well emulate. Think of the extent to which the world, the pagan world, has benefited from their fall and defection – then think how much more it will benefit from the conversion of them all. There is a hidden reason for all this, brothers, of which I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do. One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered, and then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. As scripture says: The liberator will come from Zion, he will banish godlessness from Jacob. And this is the covenant I will make with them when I take their sins away.
The Jews are enemies of God only with regard to the Good News, and enemies only for your sake; but as the chosen people, they are still loved by God, loved for the sake of their ancestors. God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

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Luke 14:1,7-11
On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do.
Most of my friends will call me a no-nonsense kind of a person; take no prisoners. I simply cannot stand it when someone is constantly late for appointments or meetings. When something needs to get done, I see through a person’s excuse for not putting in their fair share of work.      I hate it that people worm their way out of things. I used to give my colleagues and friends the killer look or a sarcastic one-liner. They would know when I am annoyed.
But there is another side of me not many people see – I am a real softie at heart. I hate seeing the wee old man selling tissue packs (though I know that it’s a syndicate fleecing us), or the little old lady painstakingly collecting cardboard boxes and peering into trash bins looking for cans. My heart aches just a little when I hear personal stories about how they give up ‘normal lives’ that you and I take for granted, for far more noble vocations.
I have been a benefactor of sorts for a particular individual for some time. Simply because this person has given up much. It gives me immense joy to be able to do something for this person and I really do not expect anything in return. Or so I thought. Recently, I felt a little taken for granted. And I started to resent what I was doing. I started to resent the person as well. Why was I doing so much without getting a single ‘Thank you. That was nice of you!’ In fact, to this person, I am hardly visible. So for a long while, I simply stopped. I harboured hurt, indignation and disappointment.
Today’s gospel reading tells us that the person who deems himself distinguished, may well have to take a hit in his own self-importance.  But the humble will be exalted. In both scenarios, I am far from humble.
In Scenario 1, I was judging people by my own ridiculously high standards, refusing to see or acknowledge that there might be a really good reason for people being late, or not doing something they were meant to do. Even if they were really just lazy or disrespectful of other people’s time, who am I to judge?
As for Scenario 2, I was brought down to earth! One afternoon, I was reflecting on Luke 16: 19-31 (The story of the rich man & Lazarus). “Who would have gladly eaten his fill of scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” At this time, I was still in ‘resentment’ mode. These words sprung to my mind….Be humble and not haughty. You think you are generous?  For it is easy to be generous with those we love. Are you doing this for them or yourself? It appeared I was being reprimanded by our Lord. As I thought about it more, was I really doing this for the love of a brethren? Or was I doing this to feel good about myself?
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a lavish giver. The greater you are, the more humbly you should behave, and then you will find favour with the Lord; for great is the power of God, by the humble he is glorified” Sirach 4:17-19.
In today’s first reading, Saint Paul told the Romans ‘I do not want you to be ignorant, in case you think you know more than you do.’ Do I know everything and the circumstances about the person who has hurt me? Am I being too quick to jump to conclusions and thus end up judging someone indiscriminately?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: Father, teach us to not be so judgmental and self-important that we don’t take the time to walk in the other person’s shoes. Forgive us for our wilful and stubborn ways. May we not get so caught up in getting things done in the busy-ness of life that we hurt and trample upon others with our callous words. Teach us Lord, humility, in every aspect of our lives.
Thanksgiving: Thank You Lord, for caring for each and every one of us as individuals. Though You are perfect, You are God; You never expected us to be perfect. Flawed as we are, You still love us so much. Thank You, Lord.

3 November, Friday – Immense Love

Nov 3 – Memorial for St. Martin de Porres, religious

Martin (1579-1639) was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman, Juan, and a young freed black slave, Anna Velasquez. He grew up in poverty and spent part of his youth with a surgeon-barber from whom he learned some medicine and care of the sick.

At the age of 11, he became a servant in the Holy Rosary Dominican priory in Lima, Peru. He was promoted to almoner and begged more than $2,000 a week from the rich to support the poor and sick in Lima. He was placed in charge of the Dominican’s infirmary, and was known for his tender care of the sick and for his spectacular cures. His superiors dropped the stipulation that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or profession of our order” and Martin took vows as a Dominican brother in 1603.

He established an orphanage and children’s hospital for the poor children of the slums. He set up a shelter for the stray cats and dogs and nursed them back to health. He lived in self-imposed austerity, never eating meat, fasting continuously, and spent much time in prayer and meditation with a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He was a friend of St. John de Massias.

He was venerated from the day of his death. May miraculous cures, including raising the dead, have been attributed to Brother Martin, the first black saint from the Americas.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 9:1-5

What I want to say now is no pretence; I say it in union with Christ – it is the truth – my conscience in union with the Holy Spirit assures me of it too. What I want to say is this: my sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood. They were adopted as sons, they were given the glory and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them. They are descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh and blood came Christ who is above all, God for ever blessed! Amen.

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Luke 14:1-6

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. ‘There in front of him was a man with dropsy, and Jesus addressed the lawyers and Pharisees. ‘Is it against the law’ he asked ‘to cure a man on the sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent, so he took the man and cured him and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a sabbath day without hesitation?’ And to this they could find no answer.

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I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood.
Which of us would not do anything in our power to pull our loved ones out of a difficult situation no matter what it takes? Which parent would not gladly trade their lives for that of a terminally ill child? I know I would.
In today’s first reading, we see the anguish and grief Saint Paul felt for the Jews because of their stubborn persistence, and rejection as a nation, and the many miseries which he foresaw to be coming upon them. Yet his affection was so great for his brothers and sisters that he was willing to be condemned, disgraced and be in the deepest distress and cut off from Christ. All this he would suffer, if it meant he could rescue them from destruction that was about to befall them because of their unbelief.
Recently, I came across a story which moved me so much that it stuck in my mind. This is about what a child would go through, not only for herself, but for her parent. I felt a mixture of sadness and anger at our affluent society.
This is the story of a young 17 year old girl. Her parents divorced and their lives turned upside down. Both mother and daughter were left without a home. They had no financial means to rent one and no one could offer them a place to stay. Mother and daughter had to separate – a relative took the mother in, while the daughter stayed for short periods with whomever could offer her a place to sleep for the night. At times, when there was no place she could go, she would stay up at void decks or at the beach.
At the time, she was also on scholarship at a local arts academy. Her monthly allowance could not cover her mother’s medical bills and other expenses; not to mention her school materials. With the pressing issues at hand, she found herself skipping classes. She simply did not have resources to go to school. The school threatened to expel her. The local education ministry was going to pull the scholarship and wanted her to pay back what they had invested in her. She begged the school and the ministry to give her a second chance, determined to finish school.
She worked several jobs to make ends meet. The money she made enabled her to be reunited with her mother again – she was able to rent a room for them. It did not matter that it was a modest space, what was important was – they were together. To cut short the story, she eventually graduated with help and encouragement from her teachers and friends. Today she has a roof over her head together with her mother and is an art teacher.
This is a story of determination, courage and immense love for loved ones. She could have gone the other way. She could have given up and fallen in with unsavoury company. She could have fended for herself and not cared for her mother. Despite what our society threw at her, no help, no empathy, no support but pain and humiliation – she remained steadfast, determined and committed.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a Sabbath day?’ The Pharisees were so caught up in rules and legalism that they failed to see God’s intention for the Sabbath — which is to do good and to heal!
What have we, as part of this Singaporean family done to help her? Are we so caught up in legalism that we have lost all sense of compassion?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, may our lives be testimony of the love and affection You have for us. Increase our faith, hope and charity. Fill us with Your love, that we may never hold back our love and compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters.
Thanksgiving: God of all blessings, thank You for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. Thank you for this very day, one more day to love, one more person to love and by whom be loved. For these, and all blessings, we give you thanks, eternal, loving God, through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

9 September, Saturday – Seeing beyond ourselves and our motivations

Sep 9 – Memorial for St. Peter Claver, Priest

He was born in Catalonia and studied at the University of Barcelona. He became a Jesuit and while he was studying philosophy in Mallorca, the door-keeper of the college, Alfonso Rodríguez, saw that his true vocation was to evangelize the New World and encouraged him to fulfil that vocation. (Rodríguez was later canonized on the same day as Peter Claver himself).

He arrived in Cartagena, in what is now Colombia, in 1610, and after his ordination six years later, he became ‘the slave of the Negroes forever’; labouring on their behalf for 33 years, attending to both their spiritual and material needs. The slave trade was repeatedly condemned by the Popes, but it was too profitable to be stopped and on the whole, the local church hierarchy kept quiet about it, much as they did in North America in the 19th century.

He brought fresh food to the slave-ships as they arrived, instructed the slaves and baptized them in the faith, followed their progress and kept track of them even when they were sent to the mines and plantations, defending them as well as he could from oppressive slave-owners. He organized teams of catechists who spoke the many languages spoken by the slaves. He worked in hospitals also, looking after lepers among others, and in prisons.

Naturally he made himself unpopular by his work. As his superior said, “unfortunately for himself he is a Catalan, pig-headed and difficult”. Opposition came from both within the Church and outside it, but there were always exceptions. For instance, while many fashionable ladies refused to enter his city churches because they had been profaned by the presence of the blacks, a few, such as Doña Isabel de Urbina, became his strong and lifelong supporters.

At the end of his life, he fell ill with a degenerative disease and for four years, he was treated neglectfully and brutally by the servant whose task it was to look after him. He did not complain but accepted his sufferings as a penance for his sins.

– Universalis

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Colossians 1:21-23

Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies, in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body. Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure and blameless – as long as you persevere and stand firm on the solid base of the faith, never letting yourselves drift away from the hope promised by the Good News, which you have heard, which has been preached to the whole human race, and of which I, Paul, have become the servant.

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Luke 6:1-5

One sabbath Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples were picking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. Some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?’ Jesus answered them, ‘So you have not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry how he went into the house of God, took the loaves of offering and ate them and gave them to his followers, loaves which only the priests are allowed to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

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Why are you doing something that is forbidden?

We’ve had some changes at our parish lately. We have a new parish priest and with new ‘management’, things are bound to change. For the first month or so since the new parish priest took over, he made quite a few changes to the church and the way things are done. Not everyone was happy with the changes. This has led to some drastic reactions by some ministry members. As a result, people in ministries have dropped out. And we seem to see a migration of sorts among the parishioners. Some of the usual faces have since disappeared and there are some new faces too.

The ‘plight’ my parish faces today is nothing new – in our workplace, our communities, or even in our very own homes. We become so comfortable with the way things are done. ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ attitude leads us to resist change.

I feel that some change is good. It keeps us on our toes and leads us out of our comfort zones.  I myself am a creature of habit but in this case, some of these changes were a long time coming.

Have we become a community so used to ‘the way things are done’ that we resist new ways even if it’s for our own good or for the good of the community?

In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees were quick to point out to Jesus “Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the Sabbath day?” They were so caught up in the strict observance of the traditional and written laws, of what is right. They were so legalistic that it became oppressive to the community at large. But Jesus was quick to point out what King David did when his followers were hungry – they took loaves from the house of God and ate them, loaves meant only for the priests. Here, Jesus demonstrates that he has power and authority over all things that hold people back and trip people up.

I am not saying that our new parish priest is ‘changing the laws’ in our parish. But sometimes, what used to work in the past may not be right for today, and so we must be ready to embrace change that is good. Change that deepens our faith, makes our church more vibrant, change that allows everyone in our community a fair chance to make a difference.

Brothers and sisters, are we too caught up today in sticking to what we deem is ‘right’? Can we not go beyond ‘the laws’, beyond ourselves and our motivations to allow God to work in our lives for our good and the good of our Church?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: “For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God?” Galatians 1:10. Jesus, if we have become legalistic in our faith, forgive us. Teach us to see beyond ourselves and what is comfortable for us and see the greater good that You are doing for us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for teaching us your ways. For opening our hearts and minds to receive You.

7 September, Thursday – God’s Providence

7 Sept

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Colossians 1:9-14

Ever since the day we heard about you, we have never failed to pray for you, and what we ask God is that through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding you should reach the fullest knowledge of his will. So you will be able to lead the kind of life which the Lord expects of you, a life acceptable to him in all its aspects; showing the results in all the good actions you do and increasing your knowledge of God. You will have in you the strength, based on his own glorious power, never to give in, but to bear anything joyfully, thanking 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.

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Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

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We worked hard all night long and caught nothing.

This week, I met up with a good friend of mine to celebrate his birthday with a quiet lunch. We’ve known each other for some 20 odd years and I’ve seen him in various stages of life. My friend leads a pretty good life. I don’t remember him going through any major challenges in life. Having retired from a lucrative corporate job some years back, he leads a life that most people would envy. He has time to pursue his passions; run marathons around the world, buy art and travel. To top it off, he manages to make his money ‘work’ for him by investing in several businesses.

At lunch, we caught up with each other and what’s been happening. I haven’t seen him in about a month as we have been both busy. My friend told me that he has been consulting for a company in his industry. The project keeps him busy and he travels quite a bit now because of it. He told me that if this deal comes through, he would never have to work again for the rest of his life! Wow!

I have to admit, instead of being genuinely happy for my friend, deep in my heart, I could hear myself saying “As if you need even more money??!!” I was not only envious of his position but that day, I complained to God “Why is it that those who already have everything, have even more?” And why it that people who work their butts off to just survive the day, get into deeper problems? We worked hard all night long and caught nothing. I generally never really feel envious over what people have, hence my own reaction surprised me. Where did this come from? I shared this incident with 2 friends and they both said to me – can you not be contented? And something welled up within me. I told them, it’s not about being contented. It’s a matter of survival and fairness! I got even more upset. But as I reflected on it a little more, Jesus is really using these 2 people to tell me that I should just be happy with who I am and not to measure my own ‘success’ using others’ barometer.

But if you say so, I will pay out the nets. In today’s gospel, Jesus invites us to see beyond what our human eyes see and minds understand and to trust him. Step out of our comfort zones. Jesus calls us to different paths in life. This week, one homily I heard stood out for me and stayed with me throughout the week. The priest said ‘Jesus wants our dependence on Him. Not our own strength. Trust in His providence for us.’ Simon Peter followed what Jesus told him and he went on to net a huge number of fish. So it’s not a matter of being contented. Today’s gospel challenges us to trust in the Lord and, in faith, follow where He leads us. He knows our needs.

Today’s first reading, we hear ‘through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding, you should reach the fullest knowledge of His will. So you will be able to lead the kind of life which the Lord expects of you, a life acceptable to Him in all its aspects.

Can we just let go controlling our own lives and its outcome and let Jesus lead us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, we pray that you will give us the wisdom and understanding to live out the life that you have intended for us. Give us the courage to let go, give us the trust and faith in You.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Jesus, for your providence in all aspects of our lives. You indeed know what is needed.

6 September, Wednesday – Let ourselves be loved

6 Sept

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Colossians 1:1-8

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy to the saints in Colossae, our faithful brothers in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We have never failed to remember you in our prayers and to give thanks for you to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you show towards all the saints because of the hope which is stored up for you in heaven. It is only recently that you heard of this, when it was announced in the message of the truth. The Good News which has reached you is spreading all over the world and producing the same results as it has among you ever since the day when you heard about God’s grace and understood what this really is. Epaphras, who taught you, is one of our closest fellow workers and a faithful deputy for us as Christ’s servant, and it was he who told us all about your love in the Spirit.

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Luke 4:38-44

Leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever and they asked him to do something for her. Leaning over her he rebuked the fever and it left her. And she immediately got up and began to wait on them.

At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to him, and laying his hands on each he cured them. Devils too came out of many people, howling, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.

When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place. The crowds went to look for him, and when they had caught up with him they wanted to prevent him leaving them, but he answered, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, because that is what I was sent to do.’ And he continued his preaching in the synagogues of Judaea.

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Made his way to a lonely place

Our Spiritual Director just attended a pastoral care course called ‘Empowering the Wounded Healer’. He was all fired up, full of passion and energy. I could tell from the tone of his WhatsApp messages to us. However, he did ‘escape’ the retreat one evening to come and conduct the ‘Revival Friday’ session for us; but went back straight after to the retreat. Very disruptive for him I’d imagine.  But he did this out of love and his commitment to us — his community.

For those who know him, our Spiritual Director is a very fiery and passionate shepherd. And over the years, his passionate ‘showmanship’ became less about himself and more because he genuinely loved his community family. (He only stepped into this role some 2 years ago).

Last evening, during our weekly music practice, he came to pray with us. I had braced myself for another fiery session, having had feedback from a previous evening’s session with another ministry. But what surprised me was it was it turned out exactly the opposite. He was actually very calm, serene and peaceful.

Last night he shared with us that in ministry service, we get so caught up with the doing that we sometimes forget to care and love ourselves. We push aside a part of our lives (that child, that teenager) that was painful, shameful or downright degrading. We suppress that child to forget that part of our history and move forward. Yes, sometimes we get a conversion experience and we feel we are healed – then we charge forward and serve! We do so much, serve at the parish, a community and we get disillusioned. And that pain and the hurt of our childhood or growing up years never really goes away, right? In reality it makes us who we are today. ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’ as the saying goes. But being ‘stronger’ in that sense sometimes makes us really hard people. We are hard and tough because we don’t want anyone to see that vulnerable side of us. That combination of a wounded person, thinking that they are healed and ministering to others – can sometimes do more harm than good.

For me, it means accepting a part of my growing up years when suddenly that cushy carpet was drastically pulled from under my feet. I always felt anger, sadness and shame about those years of my life that drove me to working harder and accumulating. What we need is to come to terms with, and to accept and love that ‘child’. Only when we accept our past, can we really move on. And to do that we need Jesus’ help. To meet Him in prayer and let Jesus just love us.

In today’s gospel, we see how Jesus is so busy in His ministry; preaching the Good News, healing the sick and oppressed. Yet He always made time to be alone and prayed. Jesus continually withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of his ministry to be alone with the Father and pray.

I felt that calmness I saw last night in our Spiritual Director come from time spent alone with Jesus. I felt that he was beginning to let go of what is expected of him — as a priest, being judged and watched by others, as a spiritual director, as a person who is wounded. He is finally learning to get off that stage and just be. Maybe he just learnt to cut himself some slack. And in that calmness, I saw a real love shine through him.

Can we spend some time in the adoration room today? Be silent, no need to babble and pray in many bombastic words, but just bask in God’s love?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, help us to learn from you. To not rely on our own strength, to navigate the challenges in life or simply to get through the day. Teach us to turn to Our Father in silent prayer.

Thanksgiving:  Jesus, we thank you for your constant and ever available presence in our lives. We thank you for the gift of a quiet place, in our adoration chapels, our rooms or simply in the quietness of our hearts, where we can run to at any time – to just bask in your love. To draw strength from you.

8 July, Saturday – Learning new tricks

8 July 2017

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Genesis 27:1-5, 15-29

Isaac had grown old, and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see. He summoned his elder son Esau, ‘My son!’ he said to him, and the latter answered, ‘I am here.’ Then he said, ‘See, I am old and do not know when I may die. Now take your weapons, your quiver and bow; go out into the country and hunt me some game. Make me the kind of savoury I like and bring it to me, so that I may eat, and give you my blessing before I die.’

Rebekah happened to be listening while Isaac was talking to his son Esau. So when Esau went into the country to hunt game for his father, Rebekah took her elder son Esau’s best clothes, which she had in the house, and dressed her younger son Jacob in them, covering his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skins of the kids. Then she handed the savoury and the bread she had made to her son Jacob.

He presented himself before his father and said, ‘Father.’ ‘I am here;’ was the reply ‘who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your first-born; I have done as you told me. Please get up and take your place and eat the game I have brought and then give me your blessing.’ Isaac said to his son, ‘How quickly you found it, my son!’ ‘It was the Lord your God’ he answered ‘who put it in my path.’ Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come here, then, and let me touch you, my son, to know if you are my son Esau or not.’ Jacob came close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice but the arms are the arms of Esau!’ He did not recognise him, for his arms were hairy like his brother Esau’s, and so he blessed him. He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ And he replied, ‘I am.’ Isaac said, ‘Bring it here that I may eat the game my son has brought, and so may give you my blessing.’ He brought it to him and he ate; he offered him wine, and he drank. His father Isaac said to him, ‘Come closer, and kiss me, my son.’ He went closer and kissed his father, who smelled the smell of his clothes.

He blessed him, saying:

‘Yes, the smell of my son

is like the smell of a fertile field blessed by the Lord.

May God give you dew from heaven,

and the richness of the earth,

abundance of grain and wine!

May nations serve you and peoples bow down before you!

Be master of your brothers; may the sons of your mother bow down before you!

Cursed be he who curses you;

blessed be he who blesses you!’

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Matthew 9:14-17

John’s disciples came to him and said, ‘Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of mourning as long as the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunken cloth on to an old cloak, because the patch pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; if they do, the skins burst, the wine runs out, and the skins are lost. No; they put new wine into fresh skins and both are preserved.’

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New wine into fresh wineskins and both are preserved.

For years I have read this verse and wondered how this is relevant to our lives today. Wine is not made this way in this day and age. Today, wine is fermented in large fermentation tanks and aged in stainless steel or oak barrels. Of course I am simplifying the process here. But you get the point – it’s not in wineskins.

Today, we are faced with change every day. The way we view the workforce, structure our companies, work and interact with each other – these are changing. Millennials and the iGeneration will be faced with a different work environment – automation and new technology ‘taking over’ traditional jobs. Organisations will be looking at replacing the traditional structures and the way we work with more cost effective models. Our world spins faster and keeps on shifting gears. People stuck in the ‘old way’ of doing things start getting more and more frustrated. They get stuck, get dizzy and the world spits them out in the process. Bleak isn’t it?

In the secular world – that’s what happens if we don’t constantly improve and upgrade ourselves. That’s why our government implemented SkillsFuture – to get us to change and move with the times. To change our perspective on how we can make a living.

Are we stuck in old ways or are we people who enjoy the ride, the speed, the new experience. Do we explore new opportunities, new ways of working? The people who do, will grow and thrive!

As I reflected on this further today – somehow the line ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ came to mind. Only that in our Christian faith, we are indeed able to learn ‘new tricks’ if we let God work in us. Most of us live a transactional kind of faith – go to church on Sunday, do good works and think that we can win God’s favour. That’s living a false Christian life. That is not what God wants of us. Our old habits and religious practices no longer matter here. When we go to church each Sunday and then proceed to lead our superficial, lukewarm or worse still, sinful lives the moment we walk out of church, we are like old wine. Our faith walk will not go very far.

Our Christian faith calls us to be more agile, spontaneous and open to where He wants to lead us. We say we are not good enough, not holy enough. Sure, we all need work in our spiritual lives; we need mending, healing and building. But if we are not open enough to God’s calling, too afraid and fear change, how are we to live out God’s purpose for us? Surrender our pain, fear, anger, addictions, stress and worries to God. He is calling us to a life with greater purpose, to be much more than our tiny minds can fathom. We are called to be new wineskins – elastic and flexible. Allow God to stretch, build, and grow us. Only then can we soar and thrive according to His plan for us. We were not meant to be void, empty and helpless.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: God, make us into new wineskins. May your greater plans for us be fulfilled in our lives. Use us and give us a deeper purpose. May we live a life of devotion to You and share sincere love for others.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, that your will is always for our happiness. Teach us to abandon our old ways and allow your good works to begin in us. Thank you for stretching, building and growing us for our greater purpose.

7 July, Friday – The unconditional love of God

7 July 2017

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Genesis 23:1-4, 19, 24:1-8, 62-67

The length of Sarah’s life was a hundred and twenty-seven years. She died at Kiriath-arba, or Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went in to mourn and grieve for her.

Then leaving his dead, Abraham spoke to the sons of Heth: ‘I am a stranger and a settler among you,’ he said. ‘Let me own a burial-plot among you, so that I may take my dead wife and bury her.’

After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah opposite Mamre, in the country of Canaan.

By now Abraham was an old man well on in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. Abraham said to the eldest servant of his household, the steward of all his property, ‘Place your hand under my thigh, I would have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not choose a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. Instead, go to my own land and my own kinsfolk to choose a wife for my son Isaac.’ The servant asked him, ‘What if the woman does not want to come with me to this country? Must I take your son back to the country from which you came?’ Abraham answered, ‘On no account take my son back there. The Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, took me from my father’s home, and from the land of my kinsfolk, and he swore to me that he would give this country to my descendants. He will now send his angel ahead of you, so that you may choose a wife for my son there. And if the woman does not want to come with you, you will be free from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.’

Isaac, who lived in the Negeb, had meanwhile come into the wilderness of the well of Lahai Roi. Now Isaac went walking in the fields as evening fell, and looking up saw camels approaching. And Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac. She jumped down from her camel, and asked the servant, ‘Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?’ The servant replied, ‘That is my master’; then she took her veil and hid her face. The servant told Isaac the whole story, and Isaac led Rebekah into his tent and made her his wife; and he loved her. And so Isaac was consoled for the loss of his mother.

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Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus was walking on he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

While he was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’

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‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Recently, Archbishop William conducted a Clergy Renewal Retreat for some priests from Johor and Malacca. He turned down conducting this retreat several times but Bishop Bernard convinced him. And so, for the love of his brother priests and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, the first retreat for priests was held.

I was blessed to be part of the lay team supporting this retreat, our very first outreach retreat in several years. How excited and nervous we were. In all there were 20 of us. Normally a retreat like this for the lay people, would see a 2:1 support – 2 volunteers to every retreatant. For this special retreat, as we were not on home ground, we were lean in support and had to learn to go back to basics; minus the ‘bells and whistles’. Our team had to double and triple up in several roles. In addition to our usual music ministering role, we were intercessors, catchers, lectors, sacristans … etc.

For the first couple of days, we were met with 29 stoic faces. They are shepherds and pastors themselves – a bishop, a monsignor, and some very seasoned priests. Surely a retreat like this would be nothing new to them. They were hard to read the first three days, especially during praise and worship sessions, when most of them just stood and mouthed the words, expressionless; some even looked bored. Maybe they were just reserved and shy. I think our Archbishop must have felt the pressure at some point in time. As we were not allowed to sit into the talks, we asked excitedly each day how the priests were doing and his reply was “Well, I don’t know what’s going on in their heads, but we leave it to the Holy Spirit and try our best.”

Then came the day when they were to make a deathbed confession. They could go to the 3 Singaporean priests who had come to help, or confess among themselves. Frankly, I was a bit sceptical as to whether they would go. Thinking back on my own confession experience, it must be hard to acknowledge your deepest most shameful sins to a priest, let alone your own brother priests.

In today’s gospel, Jesus said ‘It is not the healthy who needs the doctor, but the sick.’ Not that our priests are sick. But in their priestly ministry, they too meet with struggles, hurts and pain – with the laity, the demands and expectations placed on them; the daily requirements of ministry; stress and loneliness taking their toll on them — leaving them little time for themselves, for prayer and to bask in the love of Jesus. Many are burnt out and have forgotten their first love and their vocation.

After the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a transformation occurred. The unemotional, apathetic faces turned to smiles; a little more relaxed and free. We were even able to coax them into silly childish action songs and they gamely participated. No inhibitions. They were joyous and free. No longer conscious of themselves. The testimonies on the last day were nothing short of amazing – the unconditional love of God, the healing that took place and the renewal of their priestly passion. Indeed God showed his love and mercy towards his priests sons.

But not just for the priests, for we too received a lot from this retreat. It was indeed an honour to be called to journey and minister with our beloved priests. It gave me a fresh perspective – that beneath the cassock, they are just like you and I. They too need healing, encouragement, love and compassion.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, in your mercy you have forgiven us for our sins. We pray that we too may show the same mercy and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of priests. These men that you have raised up for the priesthood. We thank them for the sacrifice of their lives for the Church. May you continue to anoint them and nourish them with Your love.