Tag Archives: humility

21 March, Saturday – Have mercy on me, a sinner

21 March

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Hosea 5:15-6:6

The Lord says this:

They will search for me in their misery.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds;
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.’

What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What am I to do with you, Judah?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears.
This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets,
why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth,
since what I want is love, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not holocausts.

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Luke 18:9-14

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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God, be merciful to me, a sinner

In this period where we are not able to attend mass and receive the Eucharist, I have been reading articles and listening to podcasts in an attempt to fill the spiritual gap. One of the recommendations I came across is to pray the Jesus prayer. The prayer goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” It originated from the desert fathers, who repeated the prayer continually (akin to reciting the rosary) as part of their ascetic practice. The Jesus prayer is a combination of three bible verses from Philippians 2:6-11, Luke 1:31-35 and the parable in today’s Gospel passage.

In his boastful “prayer” to God, the Pharisee gauged the level of his sinfulness by the sins that he did not commit. There was no mention of his own sins, and he also took the opportunity to take a dig at the tax collector whom he obviously despised. He also seemed to take pride in his “holy” actions of fasting and tithing, as if these would protect him from sin. The tax collector, in contrast, simply opened his heart to God, acknowledged his sins and appealed to God for mercy and forgiveness.

We may think that we are not like the Pharisee, so self-absorbed in his rituals and religious practices. The recent unprecedented absence of mass attendance in my life has led me to realise that I have always relied on my participation at weekly mass as a kind of crutch to assure myself that at least I am in contact with God once a week. Whether I do my daily prayers and reflections may not be that important. Now that my crutch is gone, I am forced to re-look at my own spirituality. I was also struck by an article I read that described how people in the past had little access to priests and would receive the Eucharist only once a year. That really led me to wonder how I take the Eucharist for granted. Mass is always a privilege, and should come on top of daily communion with God through constant prayer and surrender. “What I want is love, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not holocausts.” (Hosea 6:6)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the opportunity to grow closer to Him, to ponder in silence at His will, while we continue to pray for greater wisdom in dealing with the current pandemic.

13 March, Friday – Blessings from Rejection

13 March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matthew 21:33-43,45-46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)  

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

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

11 March, Wednesday – Contentment with my Portion

11 March

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Jeremiah 18:18-20

‘Come on,’ they said, ‘let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.’

Listen to me, O Lord,
hear what my adversaries are saying.
Should evil be returned for good?
For they are digging a pit for me.
Remember how I stood in your presence
to plead on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.

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Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

  When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant

Comparison is an easy exercise to slip into the moment I start to feel dissatisfied with my lot in life. I am compare what I now have with the best case scenario in my mind, or how it appears others may not struggle as much as I do. In these past couple of years, my family has encountered two life-threatening illnesses and moved homes and countries more than three times. I have also gone through a real stripping of my own identity as to whether I am to become a stay home mother or a working mother, or somewhere in between – and I battle with the accompanying rollercoaster understanding of my self-worth with each choice.

The Gospel readings of Matthew today reveal to me the great illusion we can often make out of the choices we have in life – the illusion that we have control over our lives are when we are able to choose the things we like or dislike. But is our control over these things really all that it is cut out to be? What happens when things just ‘happen to us’? Like in the case of a tragedy in the family or loss of job.

I have often ‘bargained’ with God for the things I would rather happen. But in this reading, I hear His answer to me: ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?… you shall drink my cup, but as for the seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father’ (Matt 20:22-23). How easy it is to hypothetically cherry-pick our successes and tribulations.

In other words, I only have a very finite and incomplete understanding of the will of God when I try to dictate my ‘foresight scenarios’ to Him. I see it from my human point of view, which is very tiny and flawed, especially in accepting my portion with humility. Certainly, like the mother of Zebedee’s sons, I would rather choose the better portions for my loved ones – that they would not have to suffer grave illnesses and I would rather not suffer the challenges I face. The portion of the underdog constantly fighting fires is a very exhausting place to be. Like the other ten disciples, I have found myself asking God if my ‘hour of triumph’ over my setbacks will ever come and when?

Jesus replied to them: ‘Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matt 20:26)

If you are also struggling with your flaws, accepting and rolling with your hardships, and believing in the larger meaning of what you are going through, know that you are absolutely not alone. You have a fellow companion in me. We are not alone. I know that I have still much to grow in my faith in God. Let us trust that our suffering and trials are of service to God in this far bigger tapestry of God’s plan for our life. Not just in our limited lifetime, but in the legacies of our family, our children and children’s children. What matters more, is how we have chosen to stay the course of our faith and how we live in contentment and humility.

Christ came to serve God through each very present moment of serving his fellow man – the disciples who followed him and the multitude who sought healing for him. I desire to grow in understanding of my self-worth within God’s plan. A self-worth which is not tied to the elevation of my career status, praise for my works, or even how ‘put-together’ a person or woman I am, in the eyes of this world.

Instead, I am enough. It is enough that I am alive. It is enough that I am loved by my family. It is enough that I can serve the very domestic needs of my family. It is enough that I am here today, wherever that I am. It is enough that I am trying to grow each day. It is enough to be a child of God and infinitely loved.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: May we pray daily for the grace of contentment for our portion in life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father for making me, me.

5 November, Tuesday – Self Satisfaction

5 November 2019

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Romans 12:5-16

All of us, in union with Christ, form one body, and as parts of it we belong to each other. Our gifts differ according to the grace given us. If your gift is prophecy, then use it as your faith suggests; if administration, then use it for administration; if teaching, then use it for teaching. Let the preachers deliver sermons, the almsgivers give freely, the officials be diligent, and those who do works of mercy do them cheerfully.

Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of spirit. If you have hope, this will make you cheerful. Do not give up if trials come; and keep on praying. If any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.

Bless those who persecute you: never curse them, bless them. Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor. Do not allow yourself to become self-satisfied.

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Luke 14:15-24

One of those gathered round the table said to him, ‘Happy the man who will be at the feast in the kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, ‘There was a man who gave a great banquet, and he invited a large number of people. When the time for the banquet came, he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come along: everything is ready now.” But all alike started to make excuses. The first said, “I have bought a piece of land and must go and see it. Please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out. Please accept my apologies.” Yet another said, “I have just got married and so am unable to come.”

‘The servant returned and reported this to his master. Then the householder, in a rage, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” “Sir” said the servant “your orders have been carried out and there is still room.” Then the master said to his servant, “Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full; because, I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet.”’

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Do not allow yourself to become self-satisfied

If I must be completely honest with myself, and with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ; I am guilty of self-satisfaction. Let me explain. On the surface, I go to church every Sunday, try to say my prayers every day, try to adhere to the Ten Commandments and don’t break any laws (maybe I use swear words now and then), but overall, I thought I was a fairly decent person. In my mind’s eye, I am a sinner, but not that bad of a sinner; definitely better than the myriad of sinners out there.

Then I read today’s First Reading plus the homily of our parish priest. I realize that I am far, far from where I ought to be. Jesus commanded us to love God above all else and love our neighbours as ourselves. Well, turns out I am not doing that well in either category.

In the today’s first reading, it says “Do not let your love be a pretence….Bless those who persecute you, never curse them, bless them…” Easy to say, but very hard to do. During this morning’s rush hour, at an intersection, a man who was at a ‘stop’ sign on a side street and was trying to turn left onto the main street on which I was traveling ‘flipped the bird’ or saluted me with his middle finger. I had previously let two other cars turn in front me and started moving forward. I felt his behavior was unjust and abhorrent.  After all, what God-given right did he have to assume I should let him in? Before I could think, my hand raised a similar salute. Almost immediately, I felt a voice inside of me saying, “Ahem, that is not the appropriate response if you claim to love me”. Sheepishly, I lowered my hand and reflected on my behavior. I do desire and profess to love our Lord with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength. If that is the case, how can I not even accept the seemingly injustice I encountered? Compared that to the injustices that Christ encountered on our behalf, my little interlude is so insignificant. The better choice would be for me to let it go and say a prayer and offer it to God.  This would for sure be pleasing to God and reflecting His mercy and love.

Now that I am aware of my fallibility and imperfections, I will watch out for it more and try even harder to become what Christ wanted us to be. Our Lord is perfect and He wants us to strive to become perfect too. I will try, I will stumble, I will fall, but I will not be self-satisfied when I focus on God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, teach us to be humble and recognize that there is always room for improvement. Help us to rely on Your grace and mercy to finally become more like the person You wish us to be.

Thanksgiving: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us Jesus and all the saints, to show us how we should behave.

1 September, Sunday – Humility

1 Sep 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21,30-31

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business,
  and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
  and then you will find favour with the Lord;
for great though the power of the Lord is,
  he accepts the homage of the humble.
There is no cure for the proud man’s malady,
  since an evil growth has taken root in him.
The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables,
  an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.

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Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.

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Luke 14:1,7-14

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.’

Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’

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Humble yourself more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God

I thought a lot about whether to share this story today, and perhaps it might turn out to be something that may resonate with someone out there. This is a true story of a person I know who rose up the career ladder at a meteoric pace. I will give him the credit of his hard work and perseverance that got him there. As such, his efforts were recognized and he was duly given positions of importance and seniority. Through the years, his success doubled but sadly, I felt that his character changed. The thought that he could do anything seemed to get to his head. He was less patient, less courteous. I don’t know why, but I tried to reason with myself that perhaps people with important decisions to make don’t have time to be as patient as we would like them to be. Why I tried to justify his behavior is beyond me. The day I realized his position went over his head was when he told me that I tried to “leverage on his power”. I was utterly gobsmacked. I remember replying that I was in no way the kind of person to do so, and I reiterated my position during our conversation. We parted ways eventually – amicably enough – though for my part I felt that I had been truly wronged. I could have stewed about it for days if I had chosen to, but with sheer force and lots of prayer, I redirected my energy to move forward instead. I took it as a sign from God that it was time to move on, and I lifted my woes to Him instead and decided to leave it to God to defend me against the injustice that was meted out against me.

Recently, I learnt that this person had lost his position of power and had since been relegated to a lesser position. Wow…I was gobsmacked again. I couldn’t believe it. Was it karma? Was it a case of him having to eat his words? I still hadn’t forgotten what he had said and done to me and wondered if God had a hand in this. I didn’t realise it then, but when his name came up in conversation, my words were still laced with bitterness even though I thought I had been mature enough to put it behind me. I stopped short of rejoicing in his downfall, although I think I was still too stunned at what happened to contemplate it. But I was still hurting and dare I say, bitter.

So what does this have to do with today’s reading? I suppose the most apparent answer is that it resonates with Sirach 3:18: “Humble yourself more, the greater you are”, in that being in a position of power exposes you to the risk of being drunk on power. Perhaps it really was God’s doing. But no, the point that I would like to make is the one of myself — God had vindicated me, yet I was still bitter. It took a friend of mine to remind me that as long as I still criticized him, I would only be hurting myself. I would never be free from the chains of resentment. I would not be doing God any justice by giving in to the power of resentment when He had so graciously given me the strength and perseverance to move forward. If He would say something to my oft-deaf ear, it would probably be “Why are you holding yourself back? Are you waiting for these people to fall? Don’t you trust that everything is as it should be?” My friend also reminded me that negative energy begets negative energy. The resentment I have will just undo all the good work that I have done. And it made me realise that the message of humility is not for this person – that is his own personal business with God. The humility lesson is for me: to be humble in the presence of all that God has done for me. To be humble enough to give thanks to God for deliverance, yet be compassionate enough to pray for the people who have wronged me. To realise that the bigger the grace that God has given me, the more humble I must be. Humility in my prayers, humility in my thanksgiving. And I had been lacking that. Yes, I had put my faith in God and trusted Him to lead me on the right path, but I know now that that is not enough. I had to pray for this person, for those who had done me wrong, because they are hurting now.

There is no happiness in this kind of hurt, no ‘winners’ in this kind of war. But even we can turn this around and be humble in the face of vindication. When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, the celebration by his followers and disciples was not a case of shoving it and showing it to those who had wronged him, rather it was a celebration of Jesus who lives. Let our humility be a sign to others that Jesus is truly alive in us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for all those who have wronged us, those who have oppressed us and lied against us. We pray for those who did not stand up for us but put us down instead. We pray for forgiveness for them, and forgiveness for our bitterness. We pray that they may turn around and find their way back to You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the strength and perseverance that you have given me to move forward instead of allowing myself to be swallowed up in despair. Thank you for the grace You have given me, even though I realise I am not worthy of it. Thank you for counting me worthy to be saved.

 

13 Aug, Tuesday – Like Empty Vessels

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

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

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Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Moses proceeded to address these words to the whole of Israel, ‘I am one hundred and twenty years old now, and can no longer come and go as I will. The Lord has said to me, “You shall not cross this Jordan.” It is the Lord your God who will cross it at your head to destroy these nations facing you and dispossess them; and Joshua too shall cross at your head, as the Lord has said. The Lord will treat them as he treated Sihon and Og the Amorite kings and their land, destroying them. The Lord will hand them over to you, and you will deal with them in exact accordance with the commandments I have enjoined on you. Be strong, stand firm, have no fear of them, no terror, for the Lord your God is going with you; he will not fail you or desert you.’
Then Moses summoned Joshua and in the presence of all Israel said to him, ‘Be strong, stand firm; you are going with this people into the land the Lord swore to their fathers he would give them; you are to give it into their possession. The Lord himself will lead you; he will be with you; he will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear, do not be disheartened by anything.’

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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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the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven

When I was in my late teens, about 18 or 19, I had a group of friends who enjoyed debating and thinking about the faith, especially the ‘debating’ part. We would talk about faith issues, and extend these arguments about how they would apply to social justice. We talked about the things that should be done. In my mind, these were the ways we should take in order to change the world.

One day, I was reading the Gospel of today and it hit me that perhaps my approach had been wrong.

As I was reading, I put myself in the shoes of a little child before our Lord… and waited. I looked within myself, at what I would do then. How would I behave? What would I think?

What came out surprised me. Firstly, I was curious. I sat there, expectantly looking at our Lord; waiting for Him to show me so I would know what to do. Secondly, I could hear… silence. Rather than opinions coming from me, I was waiting for instructions. Thirdly, I could sense no ego coming from myself. I was just me. There was nothing to prove, nothing to show off, nothing to impress anyone with.

This realisation changed the way I looked at my faith. Rather than bringing a full glass, I now (do my best) to empty this glass, and empty it continually. I sit at the foot of my Lord, and simply wait.

Another thing I realised is that children change their world by directly influencing what is within their immediate sphere of control. When they play and engage their peers, they are immediately able to change their world. Rather than holding lofty ideals and “doing big things”, children change their immediate environments. How I want to be like one again.

Let us pray that we may always remind ourselves to be like little children at the feet of our God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we will always be able to surrender our ego and be like little children again. Help us Father to just ‘be’, and not be focused on the ‘doing’.

Thanksgiving: We bless You and thank You for reminding us, Lord Jesus. Thank You for showing how we should be living our lives and for showing how to be like You.

27 July, Saturday – Adversity Is Proportional To Your Destiny

27 July 2019

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Exodus 24:3-8

Moses went and told the people all the commands of the Lord and all the ordinances. In answer, all the people said with one voice, ‘We will observe all the commands that the Lord has decreed.’ Moses put all the commands of the Lord into writing, and early next morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve standing-stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he directed certain young Israelites to offer holocausts and to immolate bullocks to the Lord as communion sacrifices. Half of the blood Moses took up and put into basins, the other half he cast on the altar. And taking the Book of the Covenant he read it to the listening people, and they said, ‘We will observe all that the Lord has decreed; we will obey.’ Then Moses took the blood and cast it towards the people. This’ he said ‘is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you, containing all these rules.’

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Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus put another parable before the crowds: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’

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We will obey 

How does one obey when all around them, things are falling apart – a marriage, a sudden death, a business venture gone bust – how does someone who is desperate, ignore the temptations of a quick-fix solution such as ill-gotten cash, or redemption at the expense of innocent people? Many of us have been there before and wherever you are now, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, how do you think you made it through the turbulent times?

For me, it was a case of adversity being proportionate to my destiny. Because during one of the most turbulent times in my life, this writing ministry became my stabilising force. And because I chose to obey the call of the Holy Spirit (which I wasn’t even aware of back then), I am where I am today in my life. This, I believe, has always been God’s plan for me – to use my talents and gifts to help proclaim His word to as many as possible.

At the recent Hillsong Conference in Sydney, Pastor John Gray preached these words, that we can never run away from adversity in our lives. We just need to trust that God has a divine plan for us and that He will reveal what that plan is as long as we trust in Him and let His spirit work within us. Pastor Carl Lentz also exhorted that because we have chosen to be Christians, it is inevitable that the Spirit lives within us. We just need to wake up and work with Him in order to fulfil our promise.

Brothers and sisters, how many of us can truly and actually say that we live in full obedience of His commandments and as true disciples of our Creator? Yup, I thought so. Most of us are ‘shy’ to admit it but the key is not to be afraid to own up to our weaknesses and openly raise our hands in surrender. Because it is in the humbling of ourselves that He can come and fill us. In order for Him to increase in our lives, we must decrease. We must shed our pride, declutter our material wants/needs/pleasures, reach out to our neighbours in need and offer a loving hand, or just simply give way – on the road, in the mall, at the park, in the elevator, or in the coffee queue.

Try it in your church compound tomorrow and see how it feels. There is no shame in giving way, because Jesus stooped low to wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus, in His ultimate expression of love for us, allowed himself he indignity of death on the cross for you and me.

What can you and I ‘give up’ today as a sign of His presence in our hearts?

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Dear Abba Father, you care for us as your sons and daughters because you love us so much. Be with us in our times of need and fill us with your presence when we are weak.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for being our Saviour and Redeemer.

16 July, Tuesday – Every Turning Point Happens ‘Now’

16 July 2019

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Exodus 2:1-15

There was a man of the tribe of Levi who had taken a woman of Levi as his wife. She conceived and gave birth to a son and, seeing what a fine child he was, she kept him hidden for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him; coating it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child inside and laid it among the reeds at the river’s edge. His sister stood some distance away to see what would happen to him.

Now Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the river, and the girls attending her were walking along by the riverside. Among the reeds she noticed the basket, and she sent her maid to fetch it. She opened it and looked, and saw a baby boy, crying; and she was sorry for him. ‘This is a child of one of the Hebrews’ she said. Then the child’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and find you a nurse among the Hebrew women to suckle the child for you?’ ‘Yes, go’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her; and the girl went off to find the baby’s own mother. To her the daughter of Pharaoh said, ‘Take this child away and suckle it for me. I will see you are paid.’ So the woman took the child and suckled it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter who treated him like a son; she named him Moses because, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

Moses, a man by now, set out at this time to visit his countrymen, and he saw what a hard life they were having; and he saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew, one of his countrymen. Looking round he could see no one in sight, so he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. On the following day he came back, and there were two Hebrews, fighting. He said to the man who was in the wrong, ‘What do you mean by hitting your fellow countryman?’ ‘And who appointed you’ the man retorted, ‘to be prince over us, and judge? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Moses was frightened. ‘Clearly that business has come to light’ he thought. When Pharaoh heard of the matter he would have killed Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and made for the land of Midian.

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Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent.

Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’

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Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains 

Saying “Sorry” is not an easy thing to do. Saying “Sorry” and meaning it from a deeply contrite heart is an even tougher task. I am someone who needs a ‘cooling off period’ before I can apologise and mean it. I know it sounds strange to admit this, but I’d like to think that I am not the only one who struggles with this.

We apologise for various reasons. Sometimes the word “I’m sorry” rolls off our tongues because we are trying hard to diffuse tense situations. Or sometimes it is merely an approximation for “I am afraid so”, or to express embarrassment, or regret for causing others an inconvenience. Obviously, I am not referring to those situations. Even so, some may already have trouble with that.

I am talking about the gut-wrenching, jaw-gritting, eye-rolling, sideways-glancing kind of apologies. Yep. Those sickening moments where ego is like parasitic worm winding its way in the tummy and Contrition and Justification are like the warring states of your heart and mind.

Jesus warns us of this in the Gospel passage today. He is chastising the towns of Chorazin. Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their stubborn unrepentance. In his wrath, he warns them that even those states that appear most evil (Tyre and Sidon) would sooner repent and be spared on Judgement Day than them! Interestingly, the First Reading today of Exodus relates the story of Moses’ birth and adoption into his Egyptian family. It draws the brief arc of Moses’ life until the point of his grievous sin of killing another Egyptian and burying the dead fella’ in the sand. Yes, Moses’ one of God’s chosen prophets was a murderer. But the reading stops us short with Moses deciding to flee and go into hiding after fearing his crime had been known. We know that Moses repented in the end.

But Moses himself did not know that he would eventually repent and believe in God’s redemption enough to turn around and serve Him.

The truth is, all of us are often at this turning point that Moses was in. This ‘inflexion point’ of our choice to turn away from sin and turn towards our Saviour. This is the purpose of the free will we are given. We are given the space to choose – and choose, we must. God does not accept fence-sitters into His kingdom.

In the daily tussle between Contrition and Justification for the sins and wrongs we have chosen to do in our lives, we need to be aware that in order to turn towards God, we need to turn away from sin and temptation. It can be something so simple (yet gut-twisting) as choosing to turn away from reacting with anger by spouting vicious words at the person triggering us.

Let us seek God in every moment, while we are still poor in spirit and struggling with our imperfections, so that we may draw on His strength to restore our weary and sinful hearts.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the grace and resolve to turn away from my human ego in order that I can turn towards your redeeming love and to seek reconciliation.

Thanksgiving: We appreciate all the people who have taught us to withhold from sinning by their humility in conflict.

30 March, Saturday – Humility as a Leadership Characteristic

30 March 2019

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Hosea 5:15-6:6

The Lord says this:

They will search for me in their misery.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds;
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.’

What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What am I to do with you, Judah?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears.
This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets,
why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth,
since what I want is love, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not holocausts.

 

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Luke 18:9-14

Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted

In the past month, I have heard four outstanding women deliver speeches. They were all leaders and two of them stressed on the importance of humility as a vital leadership attribute, while another mentioned it as a 21st century skill. The fourth lady resonated with me the most because though she did not mention the word “humility”, she was charismatic yet humble in her approach.

She hosted a very successful conference and on the day of the conference she greeted people, making everyone feel welcome and despite a very long day, she presented the closing speech on behalf of her superior, while she continued to smile and remain gracious.

It is possible that all these four ladies were humble, yet much like the tax collector in the gospel today, she was the only one whose actions, spoke louder than words.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we are second guessed by others for being supportive of others through our humble submission. As I am a keen supporter and cheerleader of people’s achievements and efforts, someone commented that the activities I attend are targeted at those in the lower ranks. I was taken aback, but I was reminded by the echoing voices of the women leaders who singled out humility as a leadership characterise. If we are to be one with the ‘lowly’, there, right there, is an opportunity to stir in some humility in our daily cups.

Being humble is not easy but it is not impossible. Let us make an effort to be humble but not lowly and defeated. Let us learn how to listen and see the world through someone else’s eyes for a change. Let us allow ourselves to grow out of insecurities and fear that hinder humility in us. Whatever it is that stands in the way of humility, let us give it to the Lord.

Because once we are humble, the dear Lord promises to exalt us as stated in today’s gospel.

(Today’s Oxygen by Josephine Dionisappu)

Prayer: O Jesus! When You were a Pilgrim on earth, You said: “Learn of Me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.” O Mighty Monarch of Heaven, yes, my soul finds rest in seeing You, clothed in the form and nature of a slave, humbling Yourself to wash the feet of Your apostles. I recall Your words that teach me how to practice humility: “I have given you an example so that you may do what I have done. The disciple is not greater than the Master … If you understand this, happy are you if you put them into practice.” Lord, I do understand these words that came from Your gentle and humble heart and I want to practice them with the help of Your grace.

I beg You, my Divine Jesus, to send me a humiliation whenever I try to set myself above others. I know, O my God, that You humble the proud soul but to the one who humbles oneself, You give an eternity of glory. So I want to put myself in the last rank and to share Your humiliations so as “to have a share with You” in the kingdom of Heaven. But, You know my weakness, Lord. Every morning I make a resolution to practice humility and in the evening I recognise that I have committed again many faults of pride. At this I am tempted to become discouraged but I know that discouragement is also pride. Therefore, O my God, I want to base my hope in You alone. Since You can do everything, deign to bring to birth in my soul the virtue I desire. To obtain this grace of Your infinite mercy I will very often repeat: “O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like Yours!” – St Theresa of Avila

Thanksgiving: Heal me and bind my wounds, O Lord.

25 March, Monday – True Obedience

25 Mar – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on Mar 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

  • Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then he said:
Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means ‘God is with us.’

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Hebrews 10:4-10

Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin,and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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Let what you have said be done to me

How many times have we said ‘Yes’ to our parents or to our superiors and then acted against their orders, thinking either that we know better or that those who have instructed us have lost touch with reality? Many of us face that dilemma at work, especially those of us in middle management who have teams reporting to us or groups of colleagues working on a particular project, which we just want to complete without too much ‘interference’ from our superiors.

I cannot imagine the turmoil within Mother Mary when she first heard the words of the archangel Gabriel. And while she posed a fair question, I for one would have been thinking to myself, “Alright, how can I get out of this? There is no way I will be able to do this no matter what this strange figure with wings says. What are my exit strategies going to be?” Unlike Mary, we lack absolute faith in God and the humility to trust in His hand within our lives.

So how can we reconcile this tension within us to live a life that is dedicated to God yet having to deal with the various challenges that seem to surface just when we think we’ve struck a balance? It is something that I have not been able to put my finger on until a recent testimony given by a retreatant who attended CER61. He testified that after not stepping into a church since he was 12 years old, he now found solace in reciting the rosary after his conversion. He said that he had always been skeptical about having to repeatedly say the prayers but now, he found comfort in saying the rosary each day. He began to understand humility required in order to bow down and accede to God’s call each day, and as a result, he is a much calmer, more loving individual who now cares for his family.

Brothers and sisters, let us embrace the humble rosary and make a pledge to say it every day. Because it is the one thing the devil fears – this devotion to our heavenly Mother. When our hearts are focused on Mother Mary, the Lord will mould us to become humble of heart and teach us true obedience to Him so that we can live the lives that He intended for each and every one of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for giving us Mary as our loving Mother.