Tag Archives: God’s grace

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.  

25 December, Mass At Dawn – The Gift Of Grace

25 December

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Isaiah 62:11-12

This the Lord proclaims
to the ends of the earth:

Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look,
your saviour comes,
the prize of his victory with him,
his trophies before him.’
They shall be called ‘The Holy People’,
‘the Lord’s Redeemed.’
And you shall be called ‘The-sought-after’,
‘City-not-forsaken.’

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Titus 3:4-7

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.

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Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

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So that we should be justified by his grace

 “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The shepherds had been paid a visit by an angel proclaiming the birth of a saviour. They were told that the sign is an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. As they repeated these to Mary, I wonder if she had felt an overwhelming sense of reassurance, to have received confirmation of the message that she was given nine months earlier. After a long period of what is presumably silence from divine messengers, it must have been a great relief and comfort to hear that other people had received the same divine revelation.

As the year draws to a close, besides starting to plan for what’s ahead, I think it will be helpful to look back at events of the past year, especially at the times when God’s grace was clearly at work. I had kept a written log of the examens I did over the past year, and it served as a useful reference. There were things I had prayed for but had forgotten about, but which were fulfilled later in the year. There were instances of unexpected blessing, some of which went in the opposite direction of what I had initially dreaded. Even when I had consciously hardened my heart against feeling for a lot of things, God’s grace continued to flow, reminding me of His loving presence.

“…it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us…”. It is hard to shake off the thinking that in our constant state of sin, we do not ‘deserve’ the grace of God, so we sometimes do not see the grace for what it is, or we reject it. I think that if we can only pause and recognise God’s grace in our lives, it would be taking a step towards God, and away from sin.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we can be conduits of divine grace in our daily living.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the times we were open to His grace.

4 November, Friday – Finding Art in Anything

4 November – 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, 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 Saints Index

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Philippians 3:17-4:1

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

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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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‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness.’

When I was younger, I learned that it is not good to lie or to cheat. Though I know it is wrong, there are instances where I have cheated to get the job done. I could argue that it was a ‘white lie.’ Still, it is a lie.

Our Gospel today teaches us to apply ingenuity in life. It talks about a master who found out that his servant was wasteful of his property. He called that servant and asked for the account of his management because he was going to be dismissed. That servant had been thinking hard about what he would do next.  He was not strong enough to dig and too ashamed to go begging. Then he thought of something so that people will welcome him in their homes. When he collected the notes from the people who owed his master, he reduced the amount unknown to his master.  It may be right to say that he just slashed off his commission. The indicated amount was the actual sum owed by the debtors. By his actions, the servant and the debtors would have a good relationship.

The master applauded his servant. This is not to condone the dishonesty of the steward. Rather, his being resourceful. He was able to think of what to do to save him.

The Gospel reminds us that our resourcefulness quickly surfaces in times of need. Being creative and resourceful is truly a great quality. They are tools that can lift us in any situation. But it is suggested that the use of our resourcefulness and creativity is not for our own good only. We should extend our capabilities to others who need our help.

Another thing to remember is our responsibilities. As a servant, there is a master. We must remember our status and be obedient to our master. We must always instil in our hearts the faithfulness and trustworthiness, not just as a follower but as a person.  We may face a lot of trials tempting us to shatter our values. But when we completely surrender ourselves to God, we can continue to be faithful and trustworthy servants of the Lord.

Coincidentally, today is the memorial for St. Charles Borromeo. He is an example of a creative person.  His artistic sense contributed to the reformation of the Catholic Church. He initiated the steps for people to have a conversion to a better life. He set an example by living a life with humility and charity. He did a wonderful job as a pastor while entrusting everything to God.

Let us be like St. Charles Borromeo to live a life in conformity to the Divine will.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

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Prayer: Father God, I ask for the grace that my heart always seeks to do Your will. Please guide us as when we encounter our struggles and choices in life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the gift of wisdom and for the gift of strength, which enables us to face our trials.

11 September, Sunday – Mercy Unto Us

11 September

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Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: “I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.”’
So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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1 Timothy 1:12-17

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus. Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Luke 15:1-10

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

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

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

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The Lord relented

Ever so often we see God in such a dictatorship kind of way. That we are being watched by Him, and there is this set of rules set out by God and the church talk about behaviours and the ‘Don’ts’ that are sinful in the eyes of God. We probably grew up thinking, we should not do this or that, otherwise, it is a great sin. Some of us might even think that we are condemned for life. In today’s readings and Gospel, the message is clear that God our Father is a merciful one and He listen to our plea.

The Church is currently celebrating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In today’s readings, the Lord relented after Moses pleaded to God about saving His people from Egypt and despite their behaviour of worshipping a false god, that they be forgiven for their behaviour. In the Gospel, our loving God do not require great acts to gain back his trust and love, all He favour is a change of heart and us sinners be repentant for the wrong we did. It is essentially our behaviour towards others. We are called to be witnesses of Christ, because of what He has done for us. It is because we have lived in difficulty for Christ gave us the hope to live fully and be at peace. Therefore, we should be of a good example in character, to be merciful to those who have wronged us, to be able to forgive and be open to the many difficult situations in our world.

We will never know the reasons and stories behind others just by looking at them and judging their behaviours against ours. Be loving and kind to our neighbours, be patient and humble, and so we look unto others with an openness and Christ-like approach. It is actually very difficult to forgive and be merciful when I am in fit of anger, only over time, do I realise that if I am to behave just like how Jesus is, being the loving and merciful Father that He is, forgiving will make the surroundings better.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Austin Leong)

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Thanksgiving: In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we pray for those who are in conflict, that a peaceful solution will come soon to resolve their issues.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for forgiving us the wrong that we have done, and continue to grace us with the behaviour that is like your son Jesus.

9 August, Tuesday – Rank and title

9 August – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ezekiel 2:8-3:4

I, Ezekiel, heard a voice speaking. It said, ‘You, son of man, listen to the words I say; do not be a rebel like that rebellious set. Open your mouth and eat what I am about to give you.’ I looked. A hand was there, stretching out to me and holding a scroll. He unrolled it in front of me; it was written on back and front; on it was written ‘lamentations, wailings, meanings.’ He said, ‘Son of man, eat what is given to you; eat this scroll, then go and speak to the House of Israel.’ I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, ‘Son of man, feed and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you.’ I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey.

Then he said, ‘Son of man, go to the House of Israel and tell them what I have said.’

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Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14

The disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said, ‘I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.

‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

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Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The pursuit of recognition, status and title is often a popular one amongst people who believe that these things are how we can be recognised by all around us. This happens in all cultures, settings and across various millennia. Yet, if we reflect upon the purpose and meaning of why we are doing such an action, we will discover that all these will become like straw blown away by the wind. There will not be anything left at the end of our lives. Jesus reminds us of whom we need to follow to become the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The child is often used as an example because it is assumed that he does not have any prejudices and trusts in the behaviour and outcomes of the world. What is it that causes a child to evolve from being trusting, without doubting, to a cynical adult who is careful of what he says and does so as not to appear to be irresponsible? I believe it is the fear of being hurt. There are people amongst us who have a propensity to hurt people through either their actions or words. It is through this process that we ask God for the wisdom to discern the intentions of the person and to show us what we need to do to overcome what is before us.

God loves us for who we are, just as we are. Following the way of the child in loving God is important and something we must share with all around us in spite of what they do to us. Yet, it is not just a matter of willpower but a matter of asking God to work within our lives to effect that change. To paraphrase a quote often attributed to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “God does not call us to do great things to love him but to do small things with great love” Let us continue with our Christian journey in sharing this important lesson of life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for your grace to illuminate our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who seek you with a sincere heart.

27 May, Friday – God Doesn’t Call the Qualified

27 May – Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury

Augustine (d. 605) was a monk and abbot of St. Andrew’s abbey in Rome. He was sent by Pope Gregory the Great with 40 brother monks, including St. Lawrence of Canterbury to evangelize the British Isles in 597. Before he reached the islands, terrifying tales of the Celts sent him back to Rome in fear, but Gregory told him he had no choice, so he went. He established and spread the faith throughout England; one of his earliest converts was King Æthelberht who brought 10,000 of his people into the Church.

He was ordained a bishop in Gaul (modern France) by the Archbishop of Arles. He became Bishop of Canterbury, and was the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He helped re-establish contact between the Celtic and Latin churches, though he could not establish his desired uniformity of liturgy and practices between them. He worked with St. Justus of Canterbury. The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury are still referred to as occupying the Chair of Augustine.

-Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 4:7-1

Everything will soon come to an end, so, to pray better, keep a calm and sober mind. Above all, never let your love for each other grow insincere, since love covers over many a sin. Welcome each other into your houses without grumbling. Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God; if you are a helper, help as though every action was done at God’s orders; so that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus Christ, since to him alone belong all glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.
My dear people, you must not think it unaccountable that you should be tested by fire.

There is nothing extraordinary in what has happened to you. If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed.

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Mark 11:11-26

After he had been acclaimed by the crowds, Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked all round him, but as it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the fig tree. ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’ he said. And his disciples heard him say this.

So they reached Jerusalem and he went into the Temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, ‘Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robbers’ den.’ This came to the ears of the chief priests and the scribes, and they tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching. And when evening came he went out of the city.

Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered. ‘Look, Rabbi,’ he said to Jesus, ‘the fig tree you cursed has withered away.’ Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself into the sea,” with no hesitation in his heart but believing that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. I tell you therefore: everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.’ But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your failings either.’

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There is nothing extraordinary

Today, I had the privilege of spending some quality time with a friend. We hadn’t had time to catch up over the last few months. We shared how ironic it was that God would call us to do the very things that we were uncomfortable with.

My friend is quite an active ministry member at a community where we both serve at. She has also just been asked to serve at her parish– to which she readily accepted. She explained that being an introvert, she was happy to be a ‘wallflower’ and just work behind the scenes. Hence any work that entails administration, organizing activities and operations suited her fine. As my friend’s ministry in our community was on a hiatus, she was recently asked to discern where she would like to continue serving. The choices open to her – choir, operations or cell group leader. My friend was ‘okay’ with anyone of those choices. Cause she could perform any of these ‘with her eyes closed’.

But my friend has a special gift. And that is the gift of evangelization. I am always in awe when I hear her speak. How could someone possibly know so much and be so passionate when she speaks. So naturally, I thought she would make a great cell group leader, right? Well, our God is a humorous God. He has other plans for her. She felt prompted to go beyond what she was comfortable with. She was promoted instead to be a worship leader – a role she is still fighting hard against, given her introverted nature. When she told me this, I thought that it was brilliant! She would be a great worship leader!! But my friend is still resisting – never in her wildest dream would she entertain the thought of being one. I told her (in all my ‘wisdom’) that God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. Later this evening, she sent me a text message saying that that was the exact line was used in a worship session this evening. Now, is that a message from God or what?

In today’s first reading, St. Peter said ‘Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others.’ We are all given different talents and gifts. We are called to exercise our gifts for the service of God. And as we grow in faith, we are called to go deeper into the unknown. Faith cannot be stagnant. God leads us into a different phase of our faith formation. Yes, we all fear the unfamiliar and the unknown. I too am fighting my own spiritual battle of where God is leading me today. The gospel reading tells us today ‘everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already’. So we never asked to be led into the unknown. But will you let God shape and mould you? Will you let God lead you to be the spectacular being that He intends for you to be? Will you let Him lead you out of your comfort zone, step out of the boat and walk on the water? Pray, my brothers and sisters for the grace to let go and let God lead.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, as we grow in our faith journey, You call us to go where we don’t want to, into the unknown. We fear what You are asking of us. We feel inadequate and unqualified. Give us the grace to heed Your calling and give us the courage to take that very first step, knowing that You will lead us as we go along. We want to be the wondrous person You intend for us to be.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for believing in us. For being ever so patient with us, whenever we resist Your calling. You Lord are the Master Potter, and we are but lumps of clay. Thank you for calling us to your side. Teach us Lord to live our lives through your eyes.

24 May, Tuesday – Free Your Mind

24 May

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1 Peter 1:10-16

It was this salvation that the prophets were looking and searching so hard for; their prophecies were about the grace which was to come to you. The Spirit of Christ which was in them foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would come after them, and they tried to find out at what time and in what circumstances all this was to be expected. It was revealed to them that the news they brought of all the things which have now been announced to you, by those who preached to you the Good News through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, was for you and not for themselves. Even the angels long to catch a glimpse of these things.

Free your minds, then, of encumbrances; control them, and put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Do not behave in the way that you liked to before you learnt the truth; make a habit of obedience: be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and scripture says: Be holy, for I am holy.

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Mark 10:28-31

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

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

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Free your minds… of encumbrances; control them…put your trust in nothing but the grace that will be given you

Sometimes I put people and situations in boxes. I put parts of myself in neat boxes too. It is my way of taming things I do not fully comprehend. It is my way of control. I have a crippling habit of over-analysing conversations and happenings that destabilise me. I need to get a hand on stuff, and the best way I know how is to label them – whether rightly or wrongly. On one hand it helps me troubleshoot and fix things. On the other, it can be an obstacle to freely receive and understand things from another perspective.

The scriptures seem to point out that in order to be a channel for the grace of Christ’s Spirit, one must free the mind of encumbrances. Saint Peter was giving the early church an account of their Jewish prophet forefathers. He spoke of their wisdom which allowed them to prophesy about Christs’ coming sufferings and glories. But he gave credit to the Holy Spirit at work within them, which they generously transmitted to latter generations.

To experience this freedom of mind and spirit, our minds need to be controlled. Not to control things, events, people. But to control our inward frenetic thoughts, incessant distractions, and self-centred schemes. How much of our time spent over-strategising and plotting to tackle ‘worst case scenarios’ is also time spent stressing out ourselves and the people around us with things truly beyond our control? God did give us our mental faculties to calculate and make effective plans. But often, our strong suit can also be an Archilles’ heel. Have we ever experienced the breakdown of communication and plans, simply because we sought to control and tame every aspect of relationships and situations? This is when both our hearts and minds are enclosed and not free to receive and respect others.

We hear the first disciples remind Jesus of all the relationships they have given up to follow him, after they witnessed the poor rich man going away sadly. They say: Look at how much we have given up already! It is not easy. Jesus does not make light of our sacrifices – he replies solemnly but firmly that our ‘repayment’ is not in equal value and terms, but “a hundred times over – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29). Indeed it is impossible to predict the rewards of a life following Christ. It truly overflows.

If our hearts and minds are free from the encumbrances of always ensuring a fail-safe plan, strategising to come in first, and getting the better end of all deals, we are more likely to take the risks that Jesus beckons us to in order to join him in eternity. Because this does not come easy, Jesus teaches us to make a habit of obedience to follow him. Obedience in small mundane things leads to obedience in big plans, and therefore even grander works. But step by step. What are the acts of obedience the Lord is calling you to today? Is there a situation of control which you find hard to give up on and put your trust in nothing but the grace of God?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to relinquish unhealthy control on the way people around me behave or on the way my plans turn out. I trust that you are the Lord of my life and you are the one holding the world and my life together.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus for always giving me better gifts than the ones I try to pick out for myself.