Tag Archives: joy

20 August, Sunday – Joy in Service

Aug 20 – Memorial for St. Bernard, abbot, doctor

Bernard (1090-1153) founded and led a monastery which had over 700 monks and 160 daughter houses. He revised and reformed the Cistercians, and was advisor to, and admonisher of, King Louis the Fat and King Louis the Young, and spritual advisor to Pope Eugenius III, who had originally been one of his monks. Every morning Bernard would ask himself, “Why have I come here?”, and then remind himself of his main duty – to lead a holy life.

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Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.

Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

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Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

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

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Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

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…I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.

After nearly 5 months, I served at the most recent Conversion Experience Retreat #57 where, due to some last-minute pullouts, we were whittled down to a team of just over 20. But over the 5 days, we experienced such joy in service (and lots of laughter as well), so much so that I didn’t feel tired at all on the last day. In fact, some of us went out for a nice dinner after the thanksgiving mass as we continued to share and laugh at some of the more ‘lighthearted’ moments during our meals in the retreat.

In spite of the usual stresses and physical strains, I enjoyed myself thoroughly over the five days, with a light heart and He spoke to me through the bible verses I drew before we began each session. The verses brought smiles to my heart as I reflected during quiet moments, listening to Him speak encouraging words to me. Truly, our God is a joyful God who relishes seeing us serve with humility and giving cheerfully of our time and effort.

Brothers and sisters, there are many of us who serve in ministry and if we have lost some of the joy in serving, I encourage you to lift your worries, fears, anxieties and troubles up to God so that He can give you back the initial fervour and joy when you first decided to serve Him. Over the years, it is easy to get disillusioned, hurt or disappointed for one reason or another. We must always remind ourselves why we are serving in the first place. It is certainly not for our own glory but rather we must focus our gaze on Jesus.

For it is only when we have Jesus at the center can we truly proclaim that we are serving God in His vineyard. And when our hearts are humble, that is when the true joy of serving the Lord fills us and when we truly bear fruit that is good.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, we pray that you continue to sustain us in our service to you so that we bear good fruit that is lasting.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the times you have called us to serve in your vineyard.

13 June, Monday – Preaching with Love

13 June – 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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1 Kings 21:1-16

Naboth of Jezreel had a vineyard close by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria, and Ahab said to Naboth, ‘Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden, since it adjoins my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it or, if you prefer, I will give you its worth in money.’ But Naboth answered Ahab, ‘The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors!’

Ahab went home gloomy and out of temper at the words of Naboth of Jezreel, ‘I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.’ He lay down on his bed and turned his face away and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came to him. ‘Why are you so dispirited’ she said ‘that you will not eat?’ He said, ‘I have been speaking to Naboth of Jezreel; I said: Give me your vineyard either for money or, if you prefer, for another vineyard in exchange. But he said, “I will not give you my vineyard.”’ Then his wife Jezebel said, ‘You make a fine king of Israel, and no mistake! Get up and eat; cheer up, and you will feel better; I will get you the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel myself.’

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, sending them to the elders and nobles who lived where Naboth lived. In the letters she wrote, ‘Proclaim a fast, and put Naboth in the forefront of the people. Confront him with a couple of scoundrels who will accuse him like this, “You have cursed God and the king” Then take him outside and stone him to death.’

The men of Naboth’s town, the elders and nobles who lived in his town, did what Jezebel ordered, what was written in the letters she had sent them. They proclaimed a fast and put Naboth in the forefront of the people. Then the two scoundrels came and stood in front of him and made their accusation, ‘Naboth has cursed God and the king.’ They led him outside the town and stoned him to death. They then sent word to Jezebel, ‘Naboth has been stoned to death.’ When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, ‘Get up! Take possession of the vineyard which Naboth of Jezreel would not give you for money, for Naboth is no longer alive, he is dead.’ When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel and take possession of it.

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Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said, ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.’

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The kingdom of God is very near you

St Anthony of Padua is a saint well-loved by the most Catholics. Be it because he helps us find lost items or maybe we like the way he preaches, St Anthony has an important message for all of us – the kingdom of God is near us and we should be ready to share that joy with others regardless of the persecution and incorrect messages being preached.

St Anthony was known to be the “Hammer of Heretics” and Catholics at that time were surprised at how despite his fierce public rebuttals of the proponents of the Albigensian heresy, he was gentle with sinners and practiced much self-mortification and penance for the sins of the people. One lesson we can draw from St Anthony would be the need to be clear on the need to share our faith firmly but with charity. This requires two things from us: knowing what our faith teaches and a deep prayer life to allow God the Holy Spirit to guide us in all our actions. There needs to be a sense of humility within us to let God the Holy Spirit work in us.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah shares with us the gifts of the Holy Spirit which we can use to spread the word of God to all around us. St Anthony had used these gifts totally in the service of God and ensured that God’s message was shared to all who were willing to hear. In this year of mercy, let us pray to St Anthony to show us what it means to love with compassion and let our actions guide our preaching

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the wisdom to follow St Anthony in sharing your message to the world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who share God’s word despite being persecuted.

25 May, Wednesday – Our Transcendent Nature

25 May 

Dear Oxygen Readers, we welcome Jacob Woo, a new guest writer with us today. Jacob has just joined our Catholic family with his Baptism this Easter. We pray he will grow in strength and wisdom in his newfound faith and life with Christ. God bless to all!

Jacob is a relatively recent convert to the Catholic faith. He is by day a Professor of Political Science and by night an ardent student of Philosophy. Deeply inspired by Ignatian spirituality, he hopes to find God in all things and to serve God in all ways.

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Memorial for St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Worker; Memorial for St. Gregory VII, Pope; Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

Bede (672-735) was born around the time England was finally completely Christianized. He was raised from age seven in the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and lived there the rest of his life. He was a Benedictine monk, and the spiritual student of the founder, St. Benedict Biscop. He was ordained in 702 by St. John of Beverley. He was a teacher and author; he wrote about history, rhetoric, mathematics, music, astronomy, poetry, grammar, philosophy, hagiography, homiletics, and Bible commentary.

He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing. He was declared a Doctor of the Church on 13 November 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

Gregory (1020-1085) was educated in Rome, Italy. He was a Benedictine monk, and chaplain to Pope Gregory VI. He was in charge of the Patrimony of St. Peter. He was a reformer and an excellent administrator. He was chosen the 152nd pope, but he declined the crown. He was chief counsellor to Pope Victor II, Pope Stephen IX, Pope Benedict X, and Pope Nicholas II. He eventually became the 157th pope.

At the time of his ascension, simony and a corrupt clergy threatened to destroy faith in the Church. Gregory took the throne as a reformer, and Emperor Henry IV promised to support him. Gregory suspended all clerics who had purchased their position, and ordered the return of all purchased church property.

The corrupt clergy rebelled; Henry IV broke his promise, and promoted the rebels. Gregory responded by excommunicating anyone involved in lay investiture. He summoned Henry to Rome, but the emperor’s supporters drove Gregory into exile. Henry installed the anti-pope Guibert of Ravenna, who was driven from Rome by Normans who supported Gregory; the Normans were, themselves, so out of control that the people of Rome drove them out. Gregory then retreated to Salerno, Italy, where he spent the remainder of his papacy.

Catherine (1566-1607) had a religious upbringing. She was initially sent to a convent at the age of 14, but was taken back home by her family who opposed her religious vocation and wanted her to marry well. They eventually gave in, and Catherine became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at 16, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene. She as a mystic, and led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the renewal of the Church and encouraging the sisters in holiness. Her life was marked by many extraordinary graces.

–  Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 1:18-25

Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ; who, though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God.

You have been obedient to the truth and purified your souls until you can love like brothers, in sincerity; let your love for each other be real and from the heart – your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God. All flesh is grass and its glory like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. What is this word? It is the Good News that has been brought to you.

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Mark 10:32-45

The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?

As Catholics, we are constantly reminded by both our priests and the Saints who have graced this world of the (necessary) presence and purpose of suffering. Indeed, Blessed Mother Teresa has often taught that suffering can be redemptive, both for ourselves and for others.

These are thoughts that have occupied me of late, as I struggle with a series of health ailments that have forced me to slow down my pace of life. With each visit to the doctors and with every ache that I experience, I am forced to face the reality of human existence – the bodily and emotional struggles that accompany our physical frailty.

Yet as Catholics, we know that beyond this physical reality lies a far deeper and more comforting spiritual reality. This is the reality that Jesus is trying to exhibit to His disciples in today’s Gospel reading. When James and John asked if they could sit by the Lord’s side in His Glory, they are rebuked with the question, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?”

Our Lord was not merely referring to a physical ‘cup’ or ‘baptism’, but something deeper and more spiritual. And yes, it involves a great deal of suffering. In today’s readings, Jesus is asking His disciples (and us) to focus on a deeper reality, one of obedience to God and service to others, over their daily material concerns and egos. As children of God, we are already imbued with a spiritual and transcendent nature. It is this God-given nature that Jesus is reminding us of today.

As we face our daily struggles and suffering, may we also remember to focus our attention on that deeper spiritual reality that our Lord offers us. May we, like Mother Teresa, raise up our suffering to our Lord, so that even our suffering should be of service to God. May we remember that we are more than our bodies and our possessions. We are children of Spirit and Light. All the joys and sufferings that we face in our earthy existence should be no more than reminders of the true joy that a life with God can bring us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we dedicate all our days to you. We lift up our joys and sufferings to You, trusting that in the sweetness of Your love, may we find the peace and joy that the world could never give us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the loved ones whom You have placed in our lives, and for the chance to reflect Your love in our families and friendships.

27 April, Wednesday – Declaring Our Dependence

27 April

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Acts 15:1-6

Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.

  All the members of the church saw them off, and as they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders, and gave an account of all that God had done with them.

  But certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers objected, insisting that the pagans should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said:

‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’

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Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

As a father, I really like it when my kids come to me to ask for help. It makes me feel like I’m needed in their lives. It’s good to know that my kids place their trust in me to help them through the problems that they otherwise couldn’t (yet) solve on their own. However, as a son, I find it quite difficult to turn to my own parents for help. The last thing I want them to think is that I’m incapable of figuring out problems for myself. The dilemma we all face is our constant desire for independence, while still remaining in a loving situation with the ones closest to us.

In the Gospel reading from today, Jesus is trying to teach His disciples about the importance of remaining connected to Him through the Word. Even Jesus declared that He was only doing what His Father had commanded Him “so that the world may learn that I (Jesus) love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” Whoever loves Christ should lean on Him for strength, ask Him for wisdom and obey His commands.

That is quite a contrast to how most of us are conditioned to live by our society. We are told that as individuals, we need to be independent and to love ourselves first; that our primary goal is for our own self-fulfillment. That we are entitled to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is there anything wrong with that?

Nothing. Except that it fails to see that the road to eternal happiness is the road paved by the Lord. And as we travel that road, we either opt to follow the world or be led by Jesus Christ. Even as undeserving, sinful people, we are blessed with the goodness and mercy of a God who has promised us eternal salvation when we remain in Him. As the United States Declaration of Independence states – “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Brothers and sisters, let us be reminded that the Lord has granted us numerous blessings, especially the freedom of choice. Do we choose to worship the fleeting things of this world or be slaves to Christ?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)

Prayer – Lord, we ask that You soften our stubborn hearts and help us to constantly seek You out in our daily lives.

Thanksgiving – Father, we thank you for being an eternal God that has blessed us more than we can possibly understand. May the truth of Your sacrifice be self-evident to all men and women of this world.

25 April, Monday – Humility and Miracles

25 April – Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

St. Mark is believed to be the young man who ran away when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52), and the “John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:25). He was a disciple of St. Peter who travelled with him to Rome, and was referred to as “my son Mark” by the first Pope. He was the author of the earliest canonical Gospel. He travelled with his cousin St. Barnabas, and with St. Paul through Cyprus. He evangelized in Alexandria, established the Church there, and founded the first famous Christian school.

-Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 5:5-14

All wrap yourselves in humility to be servants of each other, because God refuses the proud and will always favour the humble. Bow down, then, before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things. You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen.

I write these few words to you through Silvanus, who is a brother I know I can trust, to encourage you never to let go this true grace of God to which I bear witness.

Your sister in Babylon, who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son, Mark.

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

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Mark 16:15-20

Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’

And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.

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Seeing the miracles of Jesus

In the gospel text today Jesus mentioned miracles that would come with those who believed in Him – “in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover”. As a Catholic for six years now, though six years could be seen as a short period, I find that I have gotten used to the habits and rituals of being a Catholic and forget that Jesus is all about miracles. He not only performed miracles of manifestations and healing; the fact that God would become man to live among us and die as a sinless human being to atone for our sins, is one big miracle itself.

Because God came as flesh in all humility, so too are we reminded to keep humble and serve God and one another. We are never too big or high to help someone in need. And we will never be bigger or higher than the Lord our God. Humility keeps us grounded so that we can see rightly, and in seeing rightly recognize the miracles that God performs in our everyday lives. For there is no reason that flowers should bloom, or that the ocean knows where its limits are, or that you and I should be alive and enjoying our meals; these things that we take for granted are our everyday miracles that we ought to thank God for.

In looking back at the past six years since my baptism, I have my personal miracles to thank God for, which I would like to share with you all. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I thought that would be the end of me. How wrong I was! As I learned to trust in God, follow His promptings and rest in His love, I found myself growing a sense of rootedness, identity and self-confidence that had not been there before. I found a job and got promoted while at it. I regained old friends whom I had lost touch with, because they were true friends and wanted to see me get better. I found medication that suited me and worked well with my brain chemistry. And of all the miracles God has performed in my life, I am most thankful for Him granting me my husband, who has been healing and loving and good in my life.

Keep growing in God’s wisdom and have faith that your own miracle is around the corner. God bless you all!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Serene Frances Wong)

Prayer – Dear Jesus, help us see You as our own personal miracle – God’s gift to us to redeem us from our sins – and guide us to be strong in faith and knowledge so that we may be gifts to one another. Amen.

Thanksgiving – We give thanks for the gift of nature and for those who love us.

Thursday, 22 May – The Necessity of Incomplete Joy

22 May – Memorial of Saint Rita of Cascia (1377 – 1447)

She was born near Cascia, in Umbria in Italy. She was married at the age of 12 despite her frequently repeated wish to become a nun. Her husband was rich, quick-tempered and immoral and had many enemies. She endured his insults, abuse and infidelities for 18 years and bore him two sons, who grew to be like him.
Towards the end of his life she helped to convert her husband to a more pious way of life, but he was stabbed to death by his enemies not long afterwards. He repented before he died and was reconciled to the Church.
Her sons planned to avenge their father’s death. When Rita’s pleas were unavailing, she prayed that God should take their lives if that was the only way to preserve them from the sin of murder. They died of natural causes a year later.
Rita asked to join the convent of St Mary Magdalen at Cascia. She was rejected for being a widow, since the convent was for virgins only, and later given the impossible task of reconciling her family with her husband’s murderers. She carried out the task and was allowed to enter the convent at the age of 36. She remained there until her death at the age of 70.

 She is widely honoured as a patron saint of impossible or lost causes.

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Acts 15:7-21

After the discussion had gone on a long time, Peter stood up and addressed the apostles and the elders.

‘My brothers,’ he said ‘you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the pagans were to learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.’

This silenced the entire assembly, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans.

When they had finished it was James who spoke. ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say:

After that I shall return
and rebuild the fallen House of David;
I shall rebuild it from its ruins
and restore it.
Then the rest of mankind,
all the pagans who are consecrated to my name,
will look for the Lord,
says the Lord who made this known so long ago.
‘I rule, then, that instead of making things more difficult for pagans who turn to God, we send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from fornication, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town, and is read aloud in the synagogues every sabbath.’

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John 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.’

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So that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.

For over a year, I’ve been journeying with a good friend in her faith journey. As I have experienced the accompaniment of several treasured people in my own pilgrimage, I know that faith companions are God’s blessings. They were random strangers, close friends, re-acquaintances and mentors. Some have stayed the course, while some had left an indelible mark. And with all, I had savoured some fruits of joy in our friendship.

Yet relationships are somehow tinged with a sense of inevitability. I do not say this with a fatalistic tone, but a sense of healthy realism. Along the time I’ve had the privilege of walking with close friends, our shared sojourns were often borne out of some variety of sorrow – a sickness, loss, failure or heartbreak. Our stories have etched into my understanding that all of us seek not just to love and be loved, but more exactly, that this love will bear the fruit of complete joy – not the sense of incompleteness.

In the Gospel reading today, as had been read in various forms over the past few days, Jesus continues to impress upon his disciples about the relationship of love between the Father, him and each other, “Remain in my love… remain in my love… remain in his love”. Jesus tells us that all this is built upon the fact that because “the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

The repetition of three times to ‘remain in’ reveals to us the importance of persisting with Christ in staying with God’s love. God is Love, and we are made in His image – and at our very core, our souls have been impressed with the imprint of God-Love. The sense of our very being having known Divine Love, like clay intimately formed by the Potter’s hands, is such that we’ve been ‘spoilt’ with this first knowledge of love, tenderness, and full-joy. Ron Rolheiser once wrote in a piece, Dark Memory back in 1997:

Inside each of us, beyond what we can name, we have a dark memory of having once been touched and caressed by hands far gentler than our own. That caress has left a permanent mark, the imprint of a love so tender and good that its memory becomes a prism through which we see everything else. This brand lies beyond conscious memory but forms the centre of the heart and soul… Perhaps the old myths and legends capture it best when they say that, before being born, each soul is kissed by God and then goes through life always, in some dark way, remembering that kiss and measuring everything it experiences in relation to that original sweetness… There is the inchoate sense of having once been touched, caressed, loved, and valued in a way that is beyond anything we have ever consciously experienced. In fact, all the goodness, love, value, and tenderness we experience in life fall short precisely because we already know something deeper. When we feel frustrated, angry, betrayed, violated, or enraged it is in fact because our outside experience is so different from what we already hold dear inside.  

And this is why Jesus keeps calling out to us to ‘remain in’ his love. When the humanness of our earthly relationships only extend to us a finite well of love and joy, we taste an inexplicable incompleteness that leave us frustrated and wanting.

But Christ draws us back home, to the place where we reside in dark memory, and experience the fullness of intimacy with Love itself – it is in this space that his joy will be in us, and that our joy will be complete. If only we would come home.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, I thank you for imprinting upon my soul, this first knowledge of perfect love and complete joy.

Prayer: We pray for all who are experiencing trials in their relationships – that they may come back to God through Christ, and find fullness and joy in time.