Tag Archives: jacob woo

13 April, Thursday – Remembering the Lord’s Supper

13 April 2017

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Exodus 12:1-8,11-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:
‘This month is to be the first of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say, “On the tenth day of this month each man must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal for each household. If the household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his neighbour, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons requires. You must take into account what each can eat in deciding the number for the animal.

It must be an animal without blemish, a male one year old; you may take it from either sheep or goats. You must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month when the whole assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it between the two evenings. Some of the blood must then be taken and put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten. That night, the flesh is to be eaten, roasted over the fire; it must be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. You shall eat it like this: with a girdle round your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand. You shall eat it hastily: it is a passover in honour of the Lord.

That night, I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast alike, and I shall deal out punishment to all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord! The blood shall serve to mark the houses that you live in. When I see the blood I will pass over you and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. This day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in the Lord’s honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival, for ever.”’

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1 Corinthians 11:23-26

This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night that he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and he said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’ Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.

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John 13:1-15

It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’

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If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Holy Thursday has always held a special place in my heart. I remember first attending Holy Thursday as a Cathecumen, marveling at the humility of Jesus, who would kneel before His disciples to wash their feet. Furthermore, He washed their feet not for His own good, but for theirs. Like many of the things that God has done for us, it is always for our own good, for there is nothing that anyone can do for the good of God, who is Himself the personification of all goodness.

It is this humility and self-giving that continues to touch and amaze me every Maundy Thursday, as I watch the priest re-enact the washing of the disciples’ feet during mass. As we have seen on Palm Sunday, the Lordship of Jesus is one that defies all conventions and human understanding. While kings (and indeed, even our modern day leaders) desired to be served, Jesus chose instead to serve others. While a king would encourage his subjects to serve him, Jesus encouraged us to serve each other. This is why He said in today’s gospel, “so that as I have done for you, you should also do”.

More importantly, today’s gospel is a timely reminder, as we prepare for Good Friday, that Jesus suffered death on the cross not just for His disciples, but for all humanity. Indeed, Jesus has already called us to “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk 12:31). He did not say ‘love your Christian neighbour’, but to love all our neighbours, regardless of who they are. In a world that is rife with conflict and divisions, it is sometimes difficult to do so, especially when we face persecution for others.

But as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday, we remember that Our Lord has suffered even more persecution for us. What is a hostile glare or a nasty comment, compared to what He had gone through for us? Like Jesus, we have to focus on living and doing the will of God, even when doing so involves going against the grain of societal expectations. Yet we also know that it is so difficult and tiring to be swimming against the tides of the increasingly secular and materialistic societies that we find ourselves in.

Thankfully, we have been given a gift and a sacrament that can refresh our souls whenever we find ourselves weary from having to live our faith in a hostile world — the Holy Eucharist. On this night, we should keep in mind of the body and blood of Christ that was given to us on the last supper. As St Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes”. Let us never forget to proclaim His death, for He died not for Himself for for the salvation of our souls.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace and humility to continue serving each other, especially those who are most in need, whether physically or spiritually.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for giving us the Sacrament of the Eucharist, for continuing to give Yourself to us, so that in these troubled times, we may continue to receive Your love and graces.  

11 February, Saturday – Wants and Needs

11 Feb – Memorial for Our Lady Of Lourdes; World Day of Prayer for the Sick

Today is an optional memorial for Our Lady of Lourdes. The apparitions concerned began on Feb 11, 1858, when St. Bernadette Soubirous, then a 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes admitted, when questioned by her mother, that she had seen a ‘lady’ in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. Similar appearances of the ‘lady’ took place on 17 further occasions that year. Most Catholics believe that the ‘lady’ concerned is the Virgin Mary.

It was on the ninth appearance on Feb 25 that Bernadette was told by the Lady to dig under a rock and drink the water that she found. A day later, a spring began to flow from it. On Mar 1, the 12th appearance, Catherine Latapie reported that she bathed her paralyzed arm in the spring, and instantaneously regained full movement. This was the first of the scientifically unattributable events to take place.

On the 13th appearance on Mar 2, the Lady commanded Bernadette to tell the priests to “come here in procession and to build a chapel here”. The priests would not do so until they knew who the Lady was. On the 16th appearance on Mar 25, the Lady, with her arms down and eyes raised to heaven, folded her hands over her breast and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

To ensure claims of cures were examined properly and to protect the town from fraudulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau was established. About 7,000 people have sought to have their case confirmed as a ‘miracle’, of which only 68 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable ‘miracle’ by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church.

Because the apparitions are private revelation, and not public revelation, Roman Catholics are not required to believe them, nor does it add any additional material to the truths of the Catholic Church as expressed in public revelation. In Roman Catholic belief, God chooses whom He wants cured, and whom He does not, and by what means. Bernadette said, “One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith.”

  • Wikipedia

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Genesis 3:9-24

The Lord God called to the man. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’
Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,

‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’

To the woman he said:

‘I will multiply your pains in childbearing,
you shall give birth to your children in pain.
Your yearning shall be for your husband,
yet he will lord it over you.’

To the man he said, ‘Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat,

‘Accursed be the soil because of you.
With suffering shall you get your food from it
every day of your life.
It shall yield you brambles and thistles,
and you shall eat wild plants.
With sweat on your brow
shall you eat your bread,
until you return to the soil,
as you were taken from it.
For dust you are
and to dust you shall return.’

The man named his wife ‘Eve’ because she was the mother of all those who live. The Lord God made clothes out of skins for the man and his wife, and they put them on. Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, with his knowledge of good and evil. He must not be allowed to stretch his hand out next and pick from the tree of life also, and eat some and live for ever.’ So the Lord God expelled him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he had been taken. He banished the man, and in front of the garden of Eden he posted the cherubs, and the flame of a flashing sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.

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Mark 8:1-10

A great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.’

His disciples replied, ‘Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said.

Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them among the crowd. They had a few small fish as well, and over these he said a blessing and ordered them to be distributed also. They ate as much as they wanted, and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps left over. Now there had been about four thousand people. He sent them away and immediately, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the region of Dalmanutha.

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How many loaves do you have?

There is a wonderful symmetry in today’s readings. In the first reading, Adam is exiled from Eden for eating the fruit from the tree of life. He does so despite the fact that God had already provided him with everything that he needed in Eden. Convinced by Eve, who was in turn convinced by the serpent, Adam took the fruit because he wanted to. In contrast, we see Jesus multiplying the bread and fish for the crowd. In other words, he was giving them what they needed. This symmetry is anything but a coincidence.

 Indeed, don’t we see this symmetry played out in our everyday lives? Everyday, we are torn between our needs and our wants. Sometimes, our wants lead us to desire things that we should not. In other words, they lead us to sin. Such wants could be anything at all, from the latest designer clothes to a fancy meal, from a desire for accolades to sexual gratification. It seems that once our appetites are whetted, our wants are almost endless. But should we pare down on these wants, we will find that we need very little to live a good life.

Yes, we need the basic components of food, air, and water. But more than that, we also need purpose in our lives. This purpose cannot be found in material objects, nor can it be bought off the shelves of stores or bartered for online. Like the crowds in our gospel readings today, we can seek out our purpose in life, along with all our other needs, simply by asking the Lord for it. We are told that Jesus was filled with compassion for the people, fearing that they would starve and collapse.

In the same way, Jesus is filled with compassion with us, fearing that we may starve from a lack of spiritual food, or collapse from the existential turmoil that many of us find ourselves embroiled in. It is in these times that we must really get down on our knees to pray, and to ask Him for what we truly need. What we truly need as children of God, and not what the TV advertisements, fashion magazines or social media ‘influencers’ think we need.

Today, as I celebrate 33 years of life, I reflect on how truly little we need (materially), but how abundantly God gives (spiritually). On this day, I also cannot help but reflect on how Jesus celebrated His 33rd year on earth – through His passion. And now, we continue to celebrate with Him at Holy Mass with the Eucharist, for it was on that fateful night that He gave us His love, hope, and salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)
Prayer: O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference – Reinhold Niebuhr

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for always giving us what we need, for supplying us with His abundant love and blessings and, most importantly, for breathing life into our souls.

10 February, Friday – Ephphatha!

10 Feb – Memorial for St. Scholastica, virgin

Scholastica (480-543) was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. Born to Italian nobility, her mother died in childbirth. She became a nun and led a community of women at Plombariloa near Montecassino.

  • Patron Saint Index

From her earliest years, she had been consecrated to God. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year, and he would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day, she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things.

As night fell, they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated.

Sadly, he began to complain, “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

  • from Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great

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Genesis 3:1-8

The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. It asked the woman, ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.” ‘ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’

The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked. So they sewed fig-leaves together to make themselves loin-cloths.

The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

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Mark 7:31-37

Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’

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“He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”

Today’s gospel speaks of deafness in two dimensions. First, there is the reality of the deaf man who simply could not hear, and who needed Jesus to heal him and restore his hearing. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the gospel alludes to a collective and spiritual deafness, whether among the people who disobeyed His orders not to tell anyone about the healing of the deaf man, or among us, living in the world today.

How often have we been deaf to the word of God? How often have we continued to sin, even when we know that we ought not to? How often do we conveniently ignore the voices of our conscience, and tune in to the voice of the world (and social media) instead? All these are signs of spiritual deafness, an unwillingness and/or inability to listen to the word of God or to open ourselves to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says only one word: Ephphatha! Be opened.

Unlike the many self-help books and articles that can be found today (Buzzfeed anyone?) that promises to make us ‘feel good’ about ourselves, one word from Jesus (Ephphatha!) is enough to heal the deaf man. We remind ourselves of this every week at mass, when we say “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed”.

Only say the word. For those of us who are hurting inside, those of us who are spiritually deaf, all we need is to open our hearts and souls to the word of God. In other words, to pray and discern. Let the presence and love of God enter our souls, and to heal us. That is all there is to it. Jesus said: Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28-30). All we have to do is to go to the Lord, in prayer and humility, pray and ask for His healing touch.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: We pray to the Lord for His merciful love, that He will open all hearts to His word, and heal all souls who are in need of His mercy.  

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for blessing us with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for through His Sacrament, He grants us spiritual and emotional healing.

9 February, Thursday – The Order of Things

9 February 2017

Genesis 2:18-25

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed:

‘This at last is bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
for this was taken from man.’

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.
Now both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame in front of each other.

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Mark 7:24-30

Jesus left Gennesaret and set out for the territory of Tyre. There he went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not pass unrecognised. A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him straightaway and came and fell at his feet. Now the woman was a pagan, by birth a Syrophoenician, and she begged him to cast the devil out of her daughter.

And he said to her, ‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ But she spoke up: ‘Ah yes, sir,’ she replied ‘but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.’

And he said to her, ‘For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone out of your daughter.’ So she went off to her home and found the child lying on the bed and the devil gone.

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“… Let the children be fed first”

Today we live in a chaotic and disordered world. The proof of this is in the news, among the people demonstrating on the streets, in the eyes of the disenchanted and disenfranchised youth. Truly, we live in a chaotic and disordered world. It is tempting to point the finger at someone and say that it is all his or her fault, whether it is a politician, a social media provocateur, or even the devil. But that would be dishonest, and wrong.

Even when we are honest, for instance when we say that it is our own fault, we are only partly right. Yes, it is indeed partly our fault that people have gone hungry (when we avert our eyes from those who are suffering and focus instead on petty squabbles on social media); it is our fault when we find our world in chaos (when we fail to reach out to neighbours in need and focus instead only on those who are ‘one of us’); it is our fault that there is so much ill-will within our own community, when we fail to make peace.

You see, it was our sins of omission, and not necessarily those of commission, that often lead to the chaos that goes on around us. And such a sin of omission is often related to our inability to lead an ordered life. Philosophers and theologians throughout the ages have often emphasized ordering our lives around some ideal, whether this is reason (Socrates), virtue (Aristotle), duty (Kant), or God (Augustine). Even among these attempts, there is an order. For it is through reason that we perceive and understand virtue, and make it a duty to abide by it, and finally, learn that the origins of reason, duty, and virtue are none other than God Himself.

In learning to order our lives, we realise that we are doing nothing more (or less) than learning to order our lives around God, prioritizing Him in all that we do. One of my favourite meditations in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercise is that of the ‘Two Standards’. In the meditation, St Ignatius essentially asks us to imagine Christ and the devil, each holding a different standard (or banner) – one representing the way of God, and the other the way of the world.

Which way will you choose? The way of God, or the way of the world? We have to choose. For it is only in ordering our lives and souls around God that we can hope to be of service to our messy, broken world. And the first step is always and everyday to pick the way of God. We must choose; there are no two ways about it. As Jesus says: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). The Master has already made it abundantly clear.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: We pray for the world, that even amidst the chaos and disorder we find among us, God will continue to hold us lovingly in the palm of His hand, and to guide us along His way.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we thank you for showing us the way, for being the Light in our everyday lives, and for granting us the strength and the grace to remain in Your light.   

8 February, Wednesday – Seeking Sanctity

8 Feb – Memorial for St. Jerome Emiliani; Memorial for St. Josephine Bakhita, virgin

Jerome (1481–1537) was born wealthy, the son of Angelo and Eleanor Mauroceni Emiliani. His father died when Jerome was a teenager, and he ran away from home at age 15. After a dissolute youth, he became a soldier in Venice in 1506. He commanded the League of Cambrai forces at the fortress of Castelnuovo near Trevso. He was captured by Venetian forces on Aug 27, 1511, and was chained in a dungeon. Here, he prayed to Our Lady for help and was miraculously freed by an apparition. He hung his chains on a church wall as an offering. He became Mayor of Treviso while studying for the priesthood, and was ordained in the spotted-fever plague year of 1518.

He cared for the sick, and housed orphans in his own home. At night he roamed the streets, burying those who had collapsed and died unattended. He contracted the fever himself, but survived. He founded six orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes, and a hospital.

He founded the Order of Somaschi (Company of Servants of the Poor, or Samascan Fathers) in 1532. It is a congregation of clerks regular vowed to the care of orphans, and named after the town of Somasca where they started, and where they founded a seminary. The society was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 and it continues its work today in a dozen countries. Jerome is believed to have developed the question-and-answer catechism technique for teaching children religion.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI declared him the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children.

  • Patron Saint Index

Josephine (1868–1947) was born to a wealthy Sudanese family. At age 9, she was kidnapped by slave-traders who gave her the name Bakhita. She was sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum, finally purchased in 1883 by Callisto Legnani, an Italian consul who planned to free her. She accompanied Legnani to Italy in 1885, and worked for the family of Augusto Michieli as nanny. She was treated well in Italy and grew to love the country. She joined the Church as an adult convert on Jan 9, 1890, taking the name Josephine as a symbol of her new life.

She entered the Institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, Italy, in 1893, taking her vows on Dec 8, 1896 in Verona, and served as a Canossian Sister for the next 50 years. Her gentle presence, her warm, amiable voice, and her willingness to help with any menial task were a comfort to the poor and suffering people who came to the door of the Institute. After a biography of her was published in 1930, she became a noted and sought-after speaker, raising funds to support missions.

She was canonized on Oct 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and is thought to be the only saint originally from Sudan.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 2:4-9,15-17

At the time when the Lord God made earth and heaven there was as yet no wild bush on the earth nor had any wild plant yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth, nor was there any man to till the soil. However, a flood was rising from the earth and watering all the surface of the soil. The Lord God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden which is in the east, and there he put the man he had fashioned. The Lord God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it. Then the Lord God gave the man this admonition, ‘You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden.

Nevertheless of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat, for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die.’

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Mark 7:14-23

Jesus called the people to him and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’

When he had gone back into the house, away from the crowd, his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, ‘Do you not understand either? Can you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean, because it does not go into his heart but through his stomach and passes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.) And he went on, ‘It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

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“… but the things that come from within are what defile”

Today’s gospel alludes to a particularly difficult doctrine of the Catholic church — Original Sin. Indeed, the first reading is a precursor of this original sin, since God has already told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (but we know full well that he will). As Jesus tells His disciples, “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly” come from the heart of man.

As a neophyte, this doctrine is particularly difficult to accept. If God made us in His image, how is it possible that we are inherently bad or evil? For many converts, it is a difficult pill to swallow. Indeed, how can God make anything bad, if He is the pinnacle and representation of all that is good? Yet, we continue to get the nagging feeling that somehow, not all is well within us.

St Augustine says as much, when he ruminates on the crying baby, and how if given the ability to, a baby that is throwing a tantrum would wreak havoc and damage on the world around it. Yes, even a new-born baby, unsocialised and untainted by the things of this world, can possess so much anger and resentment, and even worse, a self-centred desire for comfort. Indeed, how does one square this circle?

As with all things, the answer lies in Jesus. Yes, we may be imperfect and filled with imperfect desires, but God loved us enough to send His Son to save us, to die for us. In that singular act, God has reconciled us to Him, but accepting, even assuming, our human form – the very same human form that had rebelled against Him in the Garden of Eden.

Furthermore, He has given us something else — our free will. Even if we are indeed filled with much evil and vileness, we can, through our free will, choose to reject these things and seek out sanctity instead, the very same sanctity that Jesus has taught us to seek out.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: We pray for the strength to resist and reject sin, and for the grace to continue living a good and holy life, even in our fallen state. We pray for God’s forgiveness for the times that we have fallen short of the graces that He has showered us within in abundance.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for always loving us, despite our sinful nature. Let us always give thanks for the God who loves us fully and unconditionally.

5 February, Sunday – The Light of the World

5 February 2017

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Isaiah 58:7-10

Thus says the Lord:

Share your bread with the hungry,
and shelter the homeless poor,
clothe the man you see to be naked
and do not turn from your own kin.
Then will your light shine like the dawn
and your wound be quickly healed over.

Your integrity will go before you
and the glory of the Lord behind you.
Cry, and the Lord will answer;
call, and he will say, ‘I am here.’

If you do away with the yoke,
the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry,
and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness,
and your shadows become like noon.

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1 Corinthians 2:1-5

When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.

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Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.

‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

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A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Living in the United States, it is easy to fall into one of two states. First, there is despair. The political climate today is particularly polarising. Driven by a ‘you-versus-me’ mentality, we find that it is increasingly hard to bridge opposing views and positions. The most obvious instance of this is the pro-choice versus pro-life dispute that continues to rage in the public sphere. It is easy to feel despair amidst all this discord and wonder — what good is there left?

This leads to the second state of mind that is so prevalent — anger. Faced with arguments and viewpoints that run counter to our faith and personal convictions, it is easy to respond in kind. That is, to perpetuate the polarisation of society by taking to arms in response to the ‘other’. An example of this is the recent women’s march that recently took place in Washington D.C.

But yet, we know that neither of these two states of mind are in any way helpful. Seen in the light of faith, they are not simply responses to some external event or ‘other’ viewpoint, but an ongoing spiritual battle within us. Despair and anger reflect our inability to resist what St Ignatius of Loyola called the ‘evil spirits’, hence dragging us into spiritual combat.

Rather than responding in anger or falling into despair, we need to focus on doing what Jesus called us to do. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own”. Do not turn your back on your own. Yes, even our enemies are God’s creations. Rather than fighting them, we are called to love them and be kind to them. That is how we can fight the good fight.

As Jesus has taught: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. The real struggle is not with people of differing opinions. No, the real struggle is an interior spiritual struggle with the evil spirit. Victory lies not in the number of shares and likes that we get, but in the spiritual consolation that we feel, having followed the Father’s will. And to do so, we must each be that city on the mountain, reflecting the light of Christ to all around us, through our deeds and actions.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for your forgiveness, for all the times that we have sowed discord among our brothers and sisters. And we pray for your strength to be Your light to the world.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His love and patience, for He continues to love us despite our shortcomings.

24 December (Saturday), Vigil Mass – Inheritance

24 December 2016

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Isaiah 62:1-5

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.

The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;

no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

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Acts 13:16-17,22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia, he stood up in the synagogue, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out.

‘Then he made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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Matthew 1:1-25

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

As Advent draws to a close and we enter Christmas, we are reminded that today is the day that we have long been waiting for. For four weeks, we have lit an advent candle each Sunday, waiting in hope and patience for our Lord to arrive. Yet, it is not simply in Advent that we wait. Indeed, we have waited generations for our Saviour, and He has finally arrived.

While the wait has been long, it had always been filled with hope. Indeed, Matthew recounts this wait for us, from Abraham to David, from David to Joseph. and finally from Joseph to Jesus. Of course, I over-simplify — we have waited 42 generations for our Lord to arrive. But the wait has been filled with sweet longing, for has Jesus’s coming not already been foretold in scripture?

So it is the same for us today. We are pilgrims awaiting the return of our Lord and Master. It is often easy to be lulled into a sense of ennui while waiting, perhaps to wile away the time with our little games and entertainment as we wait (Halo, anyone?). But when the Master arrives, will we be truly ready to welcome Him? How often have we been told in the Bible of what happens to those who are not ready when the Lord arrives?

Tonight as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we remember to always keep ourselves awake in prayer, ready to receive our Lord. Indeed, we have already been receiving Him in communion at mass. All we ever needed to do was to open our eyes to the reality of Christ in the Eucharist, then we will see that perhaps, just perhaps, we have been preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord all through the year.

Finally, Matthew’s gospel reminds us of the awesome inheritance that Jesus brings with Him, an inheritance that He shares with us. Through Him, we are one with all the holy men and women who have pleased God throughout the ages. It also reminds me of one of my favourite hymns:

Thou mine inheritance, now and always

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart

High King of heaven my treasure Thou art

Let us cherish and reverence the true treasure that is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray with joyful and faithful hearts for your saving grace in each and every one of our lives. May your birth at Christmas remind us of our own baptismal promises to You.

Thanksgiving: We are thankful tonight for our Lord Jesus Christ, who has come to save, redeem, and love us without end.

22 December, Thursday – Proclaiming the greatness of God

22 December

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1 Samuel 1:24-28

When Hannah had weaned the infant Samuel, she took him up with her together with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’
There she left him, for the Lord.

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Luke 1:46-56

Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

The Magnificat is a beautiful prayer familiar to many Catholics. It is an integral part of the Visitation, where Mary responds to Elizabeth’s exclamation that “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

The Magnificat has always been particularly memorable for me, because of a series of weekly talks that I once attended, during which a priest would explain the Magnificat. On the first week, the priest asked us a question that has stuck with me since: “Do you know what it means when your soul is proclaiming the greatness of God?”

It is one thing to proclaim something with your mouth, but to proclaim something with your soul is to believe in that thing wholeheartedly and unreservedly, with every fibre of your being. I would take it one step further to suggest that the soul could only truly proclaim the goodness of God, for if we are made in the image and likeness of God, and our souls were made out of His very goodness, then it could not be possible for the soul (having made the acquaintance of God before we were even born!) to proclaim anything else but His goodness.

But here’s the catch — we are often so caught up in our lives (or worse yet, in ourselves) that we do not listen closely enough to our souls’ deepest longings for God and His goodness. That is when the soul’s proclamations slowly die down to a whisper and finally, having found its voice fallen on deaf ears, wind down to a deafening silence. We must not let that happen.

We learn from scripture that Mary has often pondered many events (such as the words of the angel Gabriel during the Annunciation) in the silence of her heart. We also learn that Mary was extraordinarily obedient to God’s call. Perhaps all these are signs of a soul enraptured by God and deeply in love with Him. If your soul is already proclaiming the greatness of God, constantly saying yes to Him and praising Him at the same time, what need would there be for spoken words?

It is a well-worn cliche to say that we often speak but do not listen. But the problem is not simply speaking and not listening: it is speaking with the wrong part of ourselves. As we await the coming of our Lord in this advent season, let us focus on speaking to, and of, God through our souls. Let us proclaim His glory and goodness not just through spoken words or song, but through actions animated by a soul in love with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we praise you and we adore you from the depths of our souls. May our souls not fall into silence and despair, but in memory of Your loving providence, sing your praises forever.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His patience and love. For even in our waywardness, He continues to await the return of His beloved children.

16 November, Wednesday – Sharing God’s love

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

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

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

Patron Saint Index

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

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

Patron Saint Index

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Apocalypse 4:1-11

In my vision, I, John, saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, ‘Come up here: I will show you what is to come in the future.’ With that, the Spirit possessed me and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the Person sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby. There was a rainbow encircling the throne, and this looked like an emerald. Round the throne in a circle were twenty-four thrones, and on them I saw twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their heads. Flashes of lightning were coming from the throne, and the sound of peals of thunder, and in front of the throne there were seven flaming lamps burning, the seven Spirits of God. Between the throne and myself was a sea that seemed to be made of glass, like crystal. In the centre, grouped round the throne itself, were four animals with many eyes, in front and behind. The first animal was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third animal had a human face, and the fourth animal was like a flying eagle. Each of the four animals had six wings and had eyes all the way round as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing:

‘Holy, Holy, Holy
is the Lord God, the Almighty;
he was, he is and he is to come.’

Every time the animals glorified and honoured and gave thanks to the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves before him to worship the One who lives for ever and ever, and threw down their crowns in front of the throne, saying, ‘You are our Lord and our God, you are worthy of glory and honour and power, because you made all the universe and it was only by your will that everything was made and exists.”

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Luke 19:11-28

While the people were listening, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and they imagined that the kingdom of God was going to show itself then and there. Accordingly he said, ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to be appointed king and afterwards return. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds. “Do business with these” he told them “until I get back.” But his compatriots detested him and sent a delegation to follow him with this message, “We do not want this man to be our king.”

‘Now on his return, having received his appointment as king, he sent for those servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what profit each had made. The first came in and said, “Sir, your one pound has brought in ten.” “Well done, my good servant!” he replied “Since you have proved yourself faithful in a very small thing, you shall have the government of ten cities.” Then came the second and said, “Sir, your one pound has made five.” To this one also he said, “And you shall be in charge of five cities.” Next came the other and said, “Sir, here is your pound. I put it away safely in a piece of linen because I was afraid of you; for you are an exacting man: you pick up what you have not put down and reap what you have not sown.” “You wicked servant!” he said “Out of your own mouth I condemn you. So you knew I was an exacting man, picking up what I have not put down and reaping what I have not sown? Then why did you not put my money in the bank? On my return I could have drawn it out with interest.” And he said to those standing by, “Take the pound from him and give it to the man who has ten pounds.” And they said to him, “But, sir, he has ten pounds . . .” “I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

‘“But as for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and execute them in my presence.”’
When he had said this he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

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To everyone who has, more will be given.

As I was channel surfing on TV today, an old film that I had watched a long time ago came on. The film is Holy Man, starring Eddie Murphy and Jeff Goldblum. Having watched this with an old friend when I was 13, I decided to watch some of it. In the scene I was watching, Ricky Hayman (played by Jeff Goldblum) is using his editorial skills as television studio producer to shape G’s (a spiritual guru played by Eddie Murphy) televised message and turn it into a marketing campaign for a product.

Predictably, Ricky’s continued efforts to cash in on G’s spirituality results proves disastrous and the movie ends with Ricky turning over a new leaf (and in the process, winning over his love interest). Ignoring all the Hollywood cliches and tropes, this film clearly shows how Ricky’s misuse of his skills and talent as a producer can result in unethical decisions and unhappy outcomes. In the words of another character in the film, Ricky was ‘selling his soul’.

This is a dilemma that many people face in their lives. We only need to switch on the news and it will not be long before we hear of talented people using their skills and abilities for unethical purposes, such as embezzlement or fraud. Today’s gospel reading speaks directly to this. Indeed, the skills and talents that we possess are given to us by God, much like the gold coin that the nobleman gives to each of his servants. When the servant had made good use of his gold coin and made a good return for his master, that servant was rewarded.

Similarly, we need to make good use of our talents and capabilities by making a good ‘return’ on God’s ‘investment’ in us. But God is not interested in money or gold. Rather, His investment in us was made in love. He loved us into existence, and continues to love us in our everyday lives. In the same way, we are called to share these gifts that He has given us by sharing His love with others and of course, sharing the good news of our salvation in Christ. It is only when we do so that God’s love for us is magnified to others and ultimately, reflected back to Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

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Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your grace and guidance, as we seek to share our talents and gifts with others.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for every gift that He has given us, whether big or small. And we thank Him for always loving us despite our sins and faults.

15 November, Tuesday – Either/Or

15 November

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Nov 15 – Memorial for St. Albert the Great, bishop, religious, doctor

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

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

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

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Apocalypse 3:1-6,14-22

I, John, heard the Lord saying to me: ‘Write to the angel of the church in Sardis and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know all about you: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead. Wake up; revive what little you have left: it is dying fast. So far I have failed to notice anything in the way you live that my God could possibly call perfect, and yet do you remember how eager you were when you first heard the message? Hold on to that. Repent. If you do not wake up, I shall come to you like a thief, without telling you at what hour to expect me. There are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes from being dirtied, and they are fit to come with me, dressed in white. Those who prove victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot their names out of the book of life, but acknowledge their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

‘Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea and say, “Here is the message of the Amen, the faithful, the true witness, the ultimate source of God’s creation: I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say to yourself, ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want’, never realising that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too. I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich, and white robes to clothe you and cover your shameful nakedness, and eye ointment to put on your eyes so that you are able to see. I am the one who reproves and disciplines all those he loves: so repent in real earnest. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”’

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’

And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

We are called to make choices every day. From the most minute details – ‘What should I have for lunch? Should I get my coffee hot or iced?’; to important decisions of our lives — Should I stay at my job, or should I find a new one? Do we want to have children? Should I reach out to an estranged relative or friend?. In almost all cases, we end up facing two choices, and having to pick one out of these two.

It is the same with our faith lives. As disciples of the Lord, we are called to choose between light and darkness, good and evil, compassion and apathy. These choices beckon to us every single day. Do we comfort a colleague or a friend in need? Or do we shrug and turn back to our screens? Do we stop to listen to the homeless man? Or do we just keep walking? Do we choose to address the darkness in our souls, or do we continue to find comfort in our gadgets and entertainment?

The great Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was well aware of this binary nature of faith when he wrote his seminal work Either/Or. In the book, the reader is confronted with two vastly different narratives. In the first part of the book, we read about the aesthetic life of Victor Eremita, who seeks only pleasure in his life. This is juxtaposed by the second half of the book, which is narrated by Judge Vilheim and which espouses an ethical (rather than aesthetic or superficial) life.

Today’s readings place a strong emphasis on choices. In choosing to host the Lord and give up his belongings to the poor and needy, Zaccheus has chosen to follow the Lord and lead the Christian life. A starker warning is given in the first reading, where the lukewarm person, who is neither hot nor cold, will be rejected, while the one who heeds the voice of the Lord will be victorious by His side.

The message is clear. We cannot be lukewarm Christians, buffeted around by the tides of our times. Instead, we must stand firm on our beliefs. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me”. There are no two ways about it. Those who are familiar with the work of Kierkegaard will also know that Either/Or is really a false choice, for the philosopher subsequently wrote in Fear and Trembling that the goal for us, as Christians, is neither an aesthetic nor an ethical life, but a religious life.

This requires us to take, as Kierkegaard has famously said, a ‘leap of faith’ into the great unknown, knowing only that God our Father will reach out and catch us, so long as we are leaping into His way of life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

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Prayer: Lord, we pray for your wisdom and fortitude, so that we may always make the right choices in our everyday lives, and that we will always choose you.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for giving us our free will, so that we can freely love and serve Him from the depths of our souls.