Tag Archives: jacob woo

16 June, Friday – Cutting off the hand that is distraction

16 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15

We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day, for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus, too, may be openly shown. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But as we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be, to the glory of God.

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Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’

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If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away

There is very little doubt that we live in a time of great distraction. Everywhere we look, we see people distracted – whether absorbed the little glowing screens of their smartphones or mesmerized by the latest fashion or products that our shiny cities have to offer. Yes, it is a time of great distraction, and we are a people dying to be distracted. How often have you felt that sinking feeling of helplessness, when you realize that you have left your phone at home? Or the urge to check out the latest season in your favourite apparel store?

Yet, this constant state of distraction is dangerous for us, for we are absorbed in an artificial environment of social media posts, shares, and likes. Worse yet, our life choices come to be defined by these distractions. I often see couples, and even families, sitting at the dining table, everyone mindlessly scrolling through their smartphones. How did we get here? When did social media posts and 800-word blogposts or commentary pieces become more important than the thoughts and feelings of our loved ones or an 800-page literary classic?

Worse yet, we have allowed such distraction to affect our spiritual and faith lives, for in our distraction, we are no longer able to discern the wonders of God in our everyday lives, whether in terms of our familial relationships, the world around us (the actual physical world around us, mind you), or perhaps more importantly, the needs of the people around us. One does not need to look very far to find a homeless person or a lonely soul in our midst.

If our gadgets and distractions are truly distracting us and keeping us from performing our roles and duties as children of God and disciples of Christ, then perhaps it is time to consider giving them up. For Jesus in today’s Gospel exhorts us to tear out the eye or cut off the hand that causes us to sin. Isn’t it so much easier simply to put away that phone or look away from the store display, rather than cutting off a hand or tearing out an eye? Yet for some, it is just as difficult to put down the phone as it is to cut off a hand.

In that case, we need to ask ourselves: what is more important? Our personal pleasures and desires? Or our commitment to Christ and the Kingdom of God?

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your strength and fortitude, so that we can reject sin and Satan, especially in the distractions that keep us from living out our Christian duties.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for the wonders and beauty of His creation, set in the world around us, as a pleasing reminder of His love and providence. May we never become so distracted as to forget these gifts from our heavenly Father.

15 June, Thursday – The Veil of Ignorance

15 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1,3-6

Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds. It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.

Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part. If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

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Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’

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go first and be reconciled with your brother

I have often witnessed disagreements among fellow Catholics, especially as it pertains to the ‘right’ form of liturgy or the ‘right’ teachings of the church. In many cases, these disagreements can turn quite ugly. While there is no doubt that on both (or sometimes multiple) sides there are good intentions (after all, who doesn’t want to be sure that he/she is practicing his/her faith correctly?), such disagreements can distract us from the reality that faith needs to be lived.

Indeed, in focusing on the forms or practices of worship, we often neglect what we need most: an encounter with the Lord. Such disagreements are therefore like the ‘veils’ that St Paul warned us against. Yes, it is only right for us to gain a good understanding of scripture and uphold liturgical tradition. However, and as is the case with most things in life, moderation is key. An overly-zealous focus on these aspects of our faith-life can come at the detriment of the spiritual, and interior, aspects of our faith.

For instance, quibbling over the type of liturgical music used at mass distracts us from the very key and purpose of mass: the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. As St Paul says, “whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over the hearts of the children of Israel, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. We therefore need to keep our gaze directed onto the Lord Himself, above the fray of petty squabbles that serve to divide, rather than unite.

Yet, at the same time, we are to treat those who do not agree with us with love and patience, for Jesus also said in today’s Gospel that we are to reconcile with a brother (or sister) whom we may have a disagreement with, before offering any sacrifice to the Lord. To help us do this, there is another veil that may help us immensely. The Cambridge philosopher John Rawls taught that true fairness and equality can emerge if we put on a ‘veil of ignorance’. The veil of ignorance is a thought experiment that requires one to imagine that she is about to be born into the world without knowing where she may end up, but has a choice as to which what kind of world she will end up in.

Given such as choice, it is only logical to hope for a world that is fair and equal to all, so that regardless of what conditions one were to be born in, there would still be a chance to survive, and even thrive. To apply this to our daily lives, we would need to put on a veil of ignorance and ignore the differences that may exist around us, and focus instead on the things that can unite us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your guidance and wisdom, that we may always seek to unite rather than divide.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His church, which continues to nourish and sustain her members.

14 June, Wednesday – There is space in Heaven still

14 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 3:4-11

Before God, we are confident of this through Christ: not that we are qualified in ourselves to claim anything as our own work: all our qualifications come from God. He is the one who has given us the qualifications to be the administrators of this new covenant, which is not a covenant of written letters but of the Spirit: the written letters bring death, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the administering of death, in the written letters engraved on stones, was accompanied by such a brightness that the Israelites could not bear looking at the face of Moses, though it was a brightness that faded, then how much greater will be the brightness that surrounds the administering of the Spirit! For if there was any splendour in administering condemnation, there must be very much greater splendour in administering justification. In fact, compared with this greater splendour, the thing that used to have such splendour now seems to have none; and if what was so temporary had any splendour, there must be much more in what is going to last for ever.

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Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.’

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I have come not to abolish but to fulfill

As I read today’s gospel, I am comforted by a reality that is so fundamental to our Christian faith: Obedience. Today, Jesus taught that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heave”. The opposite is, of course, also true, i.e. disobeying the commandments will also lead to one being called least in the Kingdom of heaven. There are two interesting dimensions to today’s gospel passage.

First, in teaching about the importance of obeying the commandments, Jesus Himself exhibits a deep obedience to God. Indeed, Jesus started off by saying that “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”. Yes, even God Himself (incarnate as Jesus) is obedient to His own commandments. This is an example of the sort of interior consistency that we, as Christians, need to display as well. In other words, we need to practice what we preach.

Second, Jesus makes an interesting point when He says that “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven”. He did not say that those who break a commandment will be condemned. Rather they will simply be called least, albeit still in the Kingdom of heaven, where the last is supposed to come first. How do we square this circle? The key to understanding this seeming conundrum lies in mercy.

While Jesus makes clear that breaking the commandments is an act of sin, He does not condemn the sinner. As always, the hope of salvation and forgiveness is held out, like an olive branch from God Himself. For those of us who have sinned (it is safe to say that all of us fall into this category, unless you are reading this from heaven – in which case, please pray for me), Jesus is telling us that there is space in Heaven for us still.

There is space in Heaven for us. There is no greater assurance of God’s love for His children, no greater cause for hope than the gates of Heaven left open to us always. All we need to do is to take a step towards those pearly gates, and that first step is to repent – to repent for our sins and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. As Jesus promised, He has come not to abolish, but to fulfil. He was not simply talking about the commandments. He has also come not to abolish us, we who have sinned so woefully, but to fulfil our destiny as children of God and co-heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for Your forgiveness, for in the depths of our hearts, we are sorrowful for all the times that we have let You down. But we are weak, often even too weak to admit our failings. We pray for your love and patience.  

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His everlasting love and forgiveness, for granting us admittance to His Kingdom, and asking of us no more than our love and repentance.

13 June, Tuesday – Pange Lingua Gloriosi

Jun 13 – Memorial for St. Anthony of Padua, priest, religious, doctor

St. Anthony’s (1195-1231) wealthy family wanted him to be a great nobleman, but for the sake of Christ he became a poor Franciscan. When the remains of St. Berard and his companions, the first Franciscan martyrs, were brought to be buried in his church, Anthony was moved to leave his order, enter the Friars Minor, and go to Morocco to evangelize.

Shipwrecked at Sicily, he joined some other brothers who were going to Portiuncula. One day when a scheduled speaker failed to appear, the brothers pressed him into speaking. He impressed them so that he was thereafter constantly travelling, evangelizing, preaching, and teaching theology through Italy and France.

A gifted speaker, he attracted crowds everywhere he went, speaking in multiple tongues. Legend says that even the fish loved to listen. He was a wonder worker. As one of the most beloved saints, his images and statues are found everywhere. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 1:18-22

I swear by God’s truth, there is no Yes and No about what we say to you. The Son of God, the Christ Jesus that we proclaimed among you – I mean Silvanus and Timothy and I – was never Yes and No: with him it was always Yes, and however many the promises God made, the Yes to them all is in him. That is why it is ‘through him’ that we answer Amen to the praise of God. Remember it is God himself who assures us all, and you, of our standing in Christ, and has anointed us, marking us with his seal and giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts.

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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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your light must shine before others

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses two images to remind us of our mission as Christians in the world. First, He likens us to ‘salt of the earth’. However, we are to be salt that has flavour and hence is good for seasoning food. Second, He says that we are “light of the world”. But this is a light that is not meant to be hidden, but sent out to the world. At first glance, it would appear that the Lord is telling us to go out to the world and evangelize. However, there is more to this than simply going out to spread the Gospel (though that is important as well). Rather, being the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ requires some sort of service to the world.

This is why Jesus uses the images of salt that is flavoured and light that is not hidden. Yet, this is not always an easy task to carry out, whether spreading the gospel or serving others. In the secular, and often hostile, environments that many of us often find ourselves in, our desire to do the work of God can often be faced with hostility and rejection. How then are we to obey the call of our Lord? Fortunately, there are Saints who can teach us a thing or two.

Given that it is his feastday today, it is fitting that we look to St Anthony of Padua for inspiration. The Franciscan saint is known for both the simplicity and eloquence of his teachings. The story goes that when a group of heretics refused to listen to him, St Anthony went to preach to the fish. When his critics saw the fish gathering, they apparently began to take closer notice of his teachings. The holiness of St Anthony’s preachings is evident in the fact that his tongue is incorrupt and remains housed in the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua.

Like St Therese of Lisieux, St Anthony did not need fancy rhetoric or platitudes to preach the word of God. Rather, it is the simplicity of his teaching (and his life) that attracted people to this humble friar. Indeed, there is an important lesson for us here. In order to best serve God, we must humbly live out our faith and like St Anthony, continue to be faithful even if the world rejects us for who we are. Like preaching to the fish, we must learn that our faith is not contingent on the approval of others.

Rather, it is for the love of God, and His delight, that we continue to live, in all our little ways, our lives as His faithful children. So it is not always necessary to win every battle. Sometimes, all we need is to pray for our opponents and detractors, rather than try to overcome them. Sometimes, all we need to do is to lift up our daily chores and work to God, entrusting His providence, rather than try to overcome them by sheer human will. At all times, all we need to do is to love and trust in the Lord. For through Him, all things are possible.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the simplicity and humility to live our lives as Your faithful children. We ask also for the prayers and intercessions of our Saints: May we seek to emulate your holy examples.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His Saints, who continue to inspire us and lead us in our daily lives.

12 June, Monday – Living as Spiritual Beings

12 June 2017

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2 Corinthians 1:1-7

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from Timothy, one of the brothers, to the church of God at Corinth and to all the saints in the whole of Achaia. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves. Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow. When we are made to suffer, it is for your consolation and salvation. When, instead, we are comforted, this should be a consolation to you, supporting you in patiently bearing the same sufferings as we bear. And our hope for you is confident, since we know that, sharing our sufferings, you will also share our consolations.

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Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven: this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.’

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Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”

Today’s Gospel reading is my favourite passage from the Bible. To me, it encapsulates all that Jesus has taught. It prepares us for the suffering that we will face in our faith, but at the same time, reveals to us the gifts that will be showered upon us if we follow in the Lord. In other words, Jesus is giving a pep talk to His pilgrim church, and His words resonate through the ages to us. In fact, the Beatitudes have inspired me so deeply that my wife and I picked it as our Gospel reading for our wedding.

At the heart of the Beatitudes is Jesus’s reminder to us that we are children of God, and hence should be seeking the things of God. Nowhere in the Beatitudes does Jesus promise us material wealth or comfort. Rather, He tells us that those who suffer the opposite of material comfort are the very ones who are blessed. More importantly, the rewards that Jesus holds out to us are spiritual ones – entering the Kingdom of Heaven, being shown mercy, being called children of God, being comforted, etc.

Seen in this light, the Beatitudes resonate in St Augustine’s City of God and St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, both of which have also played crucial roles in my faith and spiritual formation. In their writings, both Saints are essentially reminding us that we are spiritual beings living in a material world, made in by God in His own image. All material goods and possessions pale in comparison to this fabric of divinity that we have been lovingly crafted from. While St Augustine has taught us to cast our eyes to the City of God, St Ignatius continuously reminds us, both in his teaching and in his life, that we are all pilgrims in this life.

So we must act like spiritual beings, rather than material beings. After all, God made us out of His own love and spirit, not mere clay or stone. In today’s secular society, it is often too easy to become enamoured with the wealth and glamour that money and material possessions can bring. But deep inside, we know that none of these could ever compare to the love of God. After all, why do we continually chase these material possessions? Having attained an object of our desire (whether this be money, cars, or handbags), we find ourselves unsatisfied and looking to attain yet another object.

Contrast this with the saints, all of whom have given up their material possessions and found the satisfaction of their lives in doing God’s work. If the Kingdom of Heaven is what we seek, then this is what we must do as well. No amount of money and no number of handbags can ever gain us admission to the loving embrace of our Father in Heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the grace and strength to live out your Beatitudes as Your faithful disciples.  

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His love and mercy, for it is through these that we are constantly saved from our own waywardness and granted admission to our eternal home.  

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.